Fair warning, this post is not going to read like the stats-driven, number-crunching, fact-finding analysis that the title might imply. Rather, this is intended as a personal narrative, an attempt to reconcile my ideals for the franchise with the realities presented.
In other words, why I can't believe my lying eyes.
So, if you're cool with that, then please...continue
To give proper credit, the title for this post (sans the ambitions part) came from a song by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition in the late 60's. Aside from that song being a personal favorite of mine, I think that phrase is pretty relevant this time of year as we begin the evaluations heading into training camp.
From an obsessed, rabid, and borderline-stalker / fan's perspective of course.
First, let me say this about that.
I've been a Cowboys fan since I could remember stuff to remember. My dad was a huge 'Boys fan since they came into the league in 1960, and when I came along in the early 70's he passed that passion on to me. Seriously, I can remember several times where he would pull the whole family out of church because the sermon was going too long and he was not about to miss kickoff. Didn't go over real well with my Grandpa, who was a deacon in the church, but that's an entirely different story.
My point is that I've been a life-long, die-hard fan.
As a kid, I was a fan in the late 70's when we were winning and I was a fan as a teenager in the late 80's when we weren't. I basked in the glory of back-to-back SB's in the early 90's and winced at the ugliness taking place in the post-Troy/pre-Tony years.
Through thick and thin, I've always been a fan of the Star.
With that, I believe, comes a sort of fundamental optimism rooted at its core. We want our teams to do well, so our brain looks for reasons why they will. More a part of human nature than anything else I think.
So, even though I tend to fall victim to my own enthusiastic expectations on a fairly regular basis, I at least try and recognize the bias involved.
Although I have to admit, after the team just up and quit on Wade Phillips a few years ago, I tended not to fall quite as hard.
To be honest, I was at a low point with the team and losing faith.
To be perfectly honest, jaded and somewhat detached might be more accurate (if not a little understated)
Maybe it's because of the roller coaster ride of highs and lows Jerry has taken us on over the years. Maybe it's because as I've grown older, I've become more attuned to the business behind the game. Maybe I'm just not as naive as I used to be about the personalities and politics driving the franchise.
Maybe it's just a flaw in my own perception, compelled and compounded by my own personal neuroses.
Mostly though, I think it was Jerry.
Without going into great lengths about the shenanigans involving Jerry Jones over the years, which could be a series of posts all by themselves, I think it is pretty safe to say that, all things being equal, a decent part of the Cowboys issues in the past have come from Jerry's inability to get out of his own way. Since the Jimmy breakup, we've seen the same antics played out time and again: Jerry does things Jerry-style, big and bold and risk be damned.
And hijinks ensue.
I think the thing that bothered me the most, is that he wants the credit for winning more than he wants to win.
Or at least, it sure looked that way from here.
I mean, how do you expect the players to put winning first, to put the team first, when you have an owner who refuses to do that very thing?
At some point a couple of years ago, I heard an interview where Jerry said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that Jerry the owner would have fired Jerry the GM already. Hypothetically speaking of course. He basically admitted that he knew he wasn't the right person for the job, that it wasn't right for the team, and he was going to do it anyway. Hypothetically speaking of course
I finally realized the obvious. Jerry was gonna be Jerry.
He was the one who ponied up the dough for the team. This was his toy and he was going to be the one playing with it.
So, why does this year feel so different?
Given the recent past, why has the blatant optimism returned? Surely, no sane or rational person would be inspired to such a positive outlook, would they? Luckily for me, I've never been accused of being either one of those two things.
In the immortal words of George "Dubya" Bush, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...well, I won't get fooled again"
So why am I getting fooled again?
I had a client of mine a few years back that was explaining some differences in terminology to me. We were in the studio, it was easily after 2 am, towards the end of a very long day at the end of a very long week. He was having a little trouble getting the timing right on this vocal track we were working on, and it took us awhile to get a few takes we were both happy with. So when he comes back into the control room, he's being pretty hard on himself .
As I'm making a few minor edits and getting the track ready for playback, I told him "Hey man, carrying around the negative stuff like it was a matching set of luggage is just going to weigh you down and keep you from moving forward. You have to focus on the positives. You came in and pushed through, got the job done. Even though it wasn't smooth, you took care of business".
I told him that partly because I believe it to be true, but mostly because we still had another track to lay that night and I needed his head in the game.
He looked at me for a second with an almost quizzical look on his face, and began to slowly shake his head.
"Nah man..." he said slowly in his southern-Alabama drawl, "business is what lawyers and bankers do". Then he leaned forward and slid his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose, looked me straight in the eye and said "Tonight, I took care of Bidness" pausing slightly, " Bidness is where you step up and handle yo sh*t".
There was another slight pause, and before he sank back into the sofa he added "But you right about the rest of it though".
And that's what I feel about the Cowboys this year.
This year, the Cowboys are taking care of Bidness.
When I first noticed the change, I was hesitant to embrace it. I simply couldn't believe my lying eyes.
But there it was.
I told myself it couldn't be.
But there it was.
So I decided to take a closer look before making any rash judgments, because in the back of my mind I could still see Jerry's shadow looming, waiting for his chance to make his presence felt.
I do, after all, get most of my exercise from jumping to conclusions.
I think for the most part, the thing that's had the biggest impact, is that Jerry hasn't been acting like Jerry. He's been more...I don't know...subdued, I think would be a good word for it.
Now, I don't believe a leopard changes his spots, but I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks, if you'll pardon the mixed metaphors.
And those new tricks, I think, were influenced mostly from two directions.
The first turns out to be Jason Garrett.
Looking back, it seems pretty obvious to me that Jerry works best with a strong-willed HC, one that has a specific vision of what he wants and a pretty good idea of how he wants to get there. Guys like Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells. I know at first Garrett may not seem like he fits that mold. He's not as out-spoken or boisterous as Jimmy, and he isn't as intimidating or demanding as Parcells.
But, don't be deceived by the wolf in the red-haired sheep's clothing
I think it's easy to underestimate Jason Garrett. He's soft spoken and somewhat reserved, and sometimes people can perceive that in different ways. But there is a strength behind the unassuming demeanor, a resolve that I think is beginning to take hold in the organization.
He speaks of The Process. A systematic series of actions that produce something, or lead to a particular result (as defined by Websters). In other words, he has a plan and a vision. He speaks of the Right Kind of Guy, emphasizing character, specifically football character. Doing the right things the right way for the right reasons. A team first mentality.
I don't think it took all that long for the players to believe in The Process. I think the majority of the team bought into it almost immediately. You've heard the players repeating the mantra in interview after interview: Accountability. Maximum effort. Get a little better everyday. Focus on the small details and the larger success will come.
Doctrines that are a byproduct of being a RKG.
No, the hardest thing isn't winning over the players.
The hardest thing is changing the culture of the front office, especially when that front office has a GM with a lifetime gig. But I think we can see evidence that The Process is beginning to take hold in the uppermost levels of Valley Ranch.
Case in point. At the end of the 2012 season, we had just come off a loss, for the second year in a row, that sent us home instead of to the playoffs. Jerry made promises that it was going to be an "uncomfortable" off-season. Out the door went Rob Ryan and his 3-4 defense. In came Monte Kiffin and his Tampa 2 version of the 4-3. JG got stripped of the playcalling, with Bill Callahan taking over in a move that I think undermined the HC. The entire situation had FUBAR written all over it. Games were lost in horrible fashion. The Detroit game. The Saints game. The Green Bay game. Ugh. The offense couldn't stay on the field. The defense wasn't just bad, it was historically bad as we struggled with both injuries and the switch to a new scheme.
And the hamstrings, my God, the hamstrings.
Fast forward to the end of the season.
We had just come off a loss, for the third year in a row, that sent us home instead of the playoffs. Jerry, to his credit, didn't overreact but instead made reasonable changes. Rod Marinelli was promoted to DC, which made a lot of sense. Still the same defense, just a variation on a theme. Scott Linehan was brought in as passing game coordinator and playcaller. Again, makes sense. Linehan and Garrett both share the same basic offensive philosophy. Although he ended up keeping both Kiffin and Callahan on staff, which admittedly is reminiscent of old Jerry, I do believe he actually empowered Garret with those moves.
You can also feel Garrett's presence in the personnel on the team.
Want to take a guess how many offensive lineman Jerry had drafted in the first round prior to JG becoming HC and opting for Tyron Smith in 2011? That's right, none. Nada. Zip. The big goose-egg
So we go from a total of zero since '89, to 3 in the last 4 years. I don't think that was Jerry's idea all by himself.
Those were totally Garrett moves.
I know in 2012 we had a small hiccup, as there was the appearance of a Jerry-time special where we traded a 1st and 2nd for Morris Claiborne. Not hating on Mo as a player, just the concept of giving up two players in the top 50 for one in the top 10.
Another smaller hiccup in 2013. Mass chaos and confusion with Shariff Floyd still on the board. We end up doing the RKG thing and trade back for Fredbeard, and what would turn out to be T-Will, but you could still feel the dysfunction in the organization.
No Jerry. That's a bad Jerry.
Oh well, baby steps.
But for the most part, Garrett has a lot of the players he wanted, a team full of RKG's.
There was yet another test in the draft earlier this year. Going into the draft, we were decimated at the DL positions and there was a top flight DT in Aaron Donald who likely would be gone before we got on the clock, plus a couple of top rated pass rushers that were likely to be gone even before that. Further complicating things, there was a polarizing QB on the board who would make a savvy marketing guy's mouth drool.
And from what I remember, Jerry's not too shabby in the PR and Marketing department.
It is extremely plausible that the old Jerry would have traded up for Donald, or maybe even Clowney or Barr . At the very least, old Jerry likely would have snagged Johnny Football with that pick, lest he be reminded of the time he passed on Randy Moss.
But he didn't, once again opting for stability over splash in selecting Zack Martin, another 1st round OL.
Again, you can just feel Garrett guiding this decision.
To be fair, we did trade up in the 2nd to nab D-Law, and gave up a 3rd rounder along the way. Two picks in the top 100 for one guy in the top 50, who the team felt was the last double-digit sack guy on the board. Seems to me like maybe a more restrained version of the Jerry-time special.
While I'm still against trading away top 100 picks on general principal, at least this one I can understand and live with a little bit better.
Baby steps, Jerry. Baby steps.
But Garrett by himself I don't think was enough to warrant this type of change in Jerry.
Enter Stephen Jones.
While I do believe it is mainly Garrett's vision that is giving the team direction, I firmly believe it is the younger Jones that is quietly steering the ship.
While it's easy to get lost in the cryptic innuendo and double-talk that often surrounds Jerry, his son Stephen...eh, not so much. Slowly but surely, Stephen has emerged as the voice of reason in the front office, echoing Garrett's basic philosophy and adhering to the process part of The Process.
There was this from Stephen in 2013:
"If you don’t have a supreme emphasis on the draft every year, you’re dead. You’re dead. Every now and then you supplement it with free agency. Player acquisitions is 365 days a year. There is a lot of ways to do it. But first and foremost, premium, supreme is the draft. We've had years when we've played free agency and some years when we don’t sign anyone because of the cap situation. But obviously last year we went hard. And you can’t do that. If you have a salary cap you can’t do that every year."
The 'last year' he was referring to of course was the then big FA signing of Brandon Carr, so I took that comment with a grain of salt. But it was refreshing to hear none the less. At least it was an acknowledgement of where the focus needed to be as they built this team.
Then earlier this year, I heard this from Stephen:
"If we don’t learn from what has bitten us then shame on us,’’ said Stephen Jones, the team’s chief operating officer. "Unfortunately, we have been paying guys who are over 30 years old a lot of money up front and it hasn't worked for us."
That got my attention, and not just the fact that he said it. It was that he said it, after they did it.
What's that old adage about pudding and proof and what not?
D-Ware? Gone. Jason Hatcher, coming off a career year in sacks? Gone.
If we're honest, the real litmus test came with Demarcus Ware. There was no way that Jerry from a few years ago lets D-Ware walk away from this team. With what he's meant to the franchise over the years? With the shape our DL was in?
There's no way he's cut. Restructured? Yes. Cut? No.
That Jerry reworks contracts, pushes money back, or anything else he can do to keep the players he wants.
But he didn't do any of those things, instead he gave him his walking papers.
Quick sidenote. I'm not at all saying I didn't want D-Ware here. On the contrary, I really wish he could have retired as a Cowboy. In my mind, he'll always be a Cowboy no matter where he finishes his career (a la Emmit Smith). His legacy in Dallas is beyond reproach, and I feel he is as close to a sure-fire, first-ballot HOF'er as you can get. But to keep him at that price, with all the holes we need to fill, would have been a detriment to the team.
Also of note is the addition of Will McClay. He will turn out to be every bit as important to the success of this team as Marinelli on defense or Linehan on offense. He'll be a sort of administrative coordinator, if you will. Keeping clear and open communication between the scouts, coaches, and front office. Keeping everyone focused on a singular goal.
I know there's no empirical evidence to say that Will McClay's sudden inclusion to the top of the hierarchy was the result of Stephen Jones. But, as this move just reeks of common sense and sound judgment, he gets the points anyway.
Those smudges you see are from Stephen's fingerprints all over this team.
But let's be forthright and genuine here. While I believe that Jason and Stephen have had a great deal to do with the influences on Jerry's behavior (or lack thereof), they are just that...influences.
Jerry still sits in the big chair. Jerry still signs the checks. Jerry is still Jerry.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him listen to smooth jazz.
No, I think there was something else going on, something deeper, something that resonated louder than his HC whispering in one ear and his son whispering in the other.
In the type of ironic twist that life seems to enjoy throwing at us, I believe the thing that finally got to Jerry was the same thing that has hindered him so often: his ego.
Maybe it was missing the post-season after yet another heart-breaking loss to a division rival for the third straight year that did it, I'm not sure. But I think that at some point he took a long, hard look at his legacy and was not happy.
I'm not talking about the business side of things (yes, the kind that lawyers and bankers do). I think his legacy on the business side of the NFL is unparalleled. There is no question that the NFL in no way, shape, or form becomes the behemoth it is today without Jerry Jones. Absolutely no question.
But in his heart of hearts, hidden in the deep, dark recesses of his soul, I thoroughly believe Jerry wants to be remembered primarily as a football guy.
I think that was the driving force with him initially buying the Cowboys in '89, and I believe that's why he so steadfastly stays in the GM role to this day.
No, he doesn't want to be remembered as Jerry the business man, he wants to be remembered as Jerry the football guy.
As he's looking back, the only real success, the ultimate success, came with Jimmy Johnson (and no, Barry Switzer does not count). I think that's why the 'not getting credit' thing bothered him so much. I think that's why he made it easy for Jimmy to walk.
I'm not trying to insinuate that Jerry was wholly responsible for the breakup with Jimmy. I think Jimmy wanted to leave, and in fact, had already made up his mind to do so. But I do maintain that Jerry did indeed feel slighted by the perception that it was all Jimmy, and in essence opened the door and showed him the way out.
And while I'm throwing caveats around like they were candy, let me add this about Switzer: I'm not saying he was a bad HC, I don't think you win 3 national championships and 150+ games if you suck as a HC. All I'm saying is that when he won his SB, he was basically coaching Jimmy's team. That team was pretty much plug-n-play. He didn't have to do too much, and Barry was definitely OK with that.
Anyway, as much as the lack of public recognition with the Jimmy situation bothered him, I think his lack of ultimate success post-Jimmy bothers him even more.
There are many adjectives you could use to describe Jerry, I know I've used quite a few that I couldn't print on this page, but stupid is not one of them. I think he realizes that at this stage of his life, the vision provided by Jason Garrett, along with the steady hand of his son Stephen, is his best option to regain his former glory, and make his mark as a football guy.
Now, is this what really is going on in Jerry's head? I think it's impossible for anyone who doesn't have a 'JJ' monogrammed on their bathroom towels to really know.
And admittedly, my thoughts are really nothing more than sheer speculation mixed with a little wild conjecture and sprinkled with a pinch of supposition.
And then there is that whole bias thing lurking in the background.
But in my mind, I see this:
One day not long ago, Jerry looked in the mirror, put on his big boy pants, and said "It's time to take care of Bidness".