Jerry Jones is many things as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, some good, some infuriating, but above all, he is a man who wants to win. During his ownership, he has used widely varying approaches to do that. He started with wild success, winning three Super Bowls in the first six years, but since then the team has gone through a long and frustrating drought regarding playoff success.
I looked at the first four coaches under Jerry in Part 1 of this article. Now, here is a look at the most recent hires and how I think Jerry Jones has changed and evolved. Most importantly, it is a summary of how I feel he is running his team now, and the relationship he has with his coaches and a very important member of his family, son Stephen.
This, of course, is one man's opinion. It reflects what I think I can see of how Jerry has tried to handle things, and was inspired by the recent media talk about current head coach Jason Garrett being on the hot seat this year. I found that such speculation contradicted what I believe is really going on inside Valley Ranch. I wanted to do this entire analysis to share with the readers at BTB, who by and large are one of the best informed fan communities anywhere. I am mostly interested in seeing if you see logic and reason in what I say, or if you take issue with my conclusions.
The way I see things after the jump.
Bill Parcells After the failure of Dave Campo, Jerry's first attempt to promote a head coach from within the Dallas organization, Jerry hired his first experienced NFL head coach. Bill Parcells had won two Lombardi Trophies with the New York Giants, Dallas' fierce rival in the NFC East, and was pretty clearly anything but a yes man. He was about as complete a change of direction from his predecessor as possible and it seems obvious that Jerry was willing to give him more control over some things than Campo had.
He was also not a coach who could be viewed as staying for the long term. He already had a history of leaving coaching jobs after a relatively short stay and had retired twice, stating after his stint as head coach of the New York Jets that he would never coach again. He also had complained after leaving the New England Patriots that he had not been given enough input on player acquisition, or, as he put it, "They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries. Okay?" This would lead one to believe that he was given some assurances that he would be in control, or at least have a strong input into, draft decisions. He also signed many free agents that he had coached in other places, such as Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, Vinny Testaverde, and Aaron Glenn.
However, Jerry Jones still appears to have continued to wheel and deal on his own. He acquired several high priced veterans during Parcell's tenure, including wide receiver Terrell Owens. Parcells never would refer to Owens by name, calling him "the Player", which could be construed as an indication of his disapproval of the move. In the 2005 draft, he was apparently overruled when the team picked DeMarcus Ware instead of Parcells' choice, Marcus Spears, with their first pick (although he was not able to complain much since Spears was still available and chosen later by Dallas).
Parcells definitely improved the team's performance in the regular season, posting three winning seasons out of his four and getting into the playoffs twice, but the team was unable to capitalize, losing both of the playoff games. He did make one significant contribution of lasting impact by making Tony Romo the starting quarterback in his final year. But after that year, the 2006 season, he retired for the third time. It is rumored that he wanted more money, and Jerry Jones did not feel his performance justified it. If true, Jerry probably made an intelligent decision in letting him leave.
Wade Phillips Perhaps influenced by the improvement in the Cowboys' win-loss record, Jerry went with another experienced NFL head coach, Wade Phillips, in 2007. Phillips was certainly a less abrasive personality than Parcells, and his choice may have reflected the strains of dealing with a difficult and egotistic head coach. But there were also some red flags in Phillips' past that perhaps should have been given more weight. His first head coaching job with the Denver Broncos ended after he was perceived to have lost control of the team. And his last game with the Buffalo Bills was a playoff loss that was widely blamed on his decision in 1999 to replace Doug Flutie, who had led the team to the postseason, with Rob Johnson, under whom the team lost the game. It cast a shadow over the rest of his tenure and he was fired after the next year.
He was chosen by Jerry after he had interviewed ten candidates. One of the other prospective head coaches was Jason Garrett, and Jerry Jones hired him to be the offensive coordinator under Phillips. The belief is that Garrett was seen as not having enough experience to become a head coach at the time, and was brought on board by Jerry as a future option should Phillips not work out. Whether that is true or not, the perception could not have been a comfortable thing for Phillips to deal with.
He did get off to a very good start, helped by Garrett's offense, which was ranked as the second best in the NFL. He went 13-3 in his first year, but playoff success continued to elude the team as they lost to the New York Giants, eventual Super Bowl winners. The disappointing end to the season led to one of Phillips' most famous ill-advised statements, when he claimed that the bye week the team earned that year was the equivalent of a playoff win. He returned to the playoffs in 2009, and had the first postseason win since the last Dallas Super Bowl. But the success was short-lived as the Minnesota Vikings dismantled Dallas the following week.
2010 was highly anticipated. A familiar narrative surrounded Dallas as it was considered to be very talented, and Jerry Jones openly talked about Dallas being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium that year. But the season opened with a couple of tough losses, and by the time the team staggered to mid-season with a dismal 1-7 record, it was widely believed Phillips had lost the team. Jerry made the difficult decision to fire Phillips at that point, the first time a Dallas coach was terminated during the season. But given all the missteps and the "cupcake" environment that the team had, Jerry had no choice. And he took lessons from all that in his next move.
Jason Garrett Jerry now went back to another strategy he was familiar with, promoting Jason Garrett from the staff to be the interim head coach. Garrett had interviewed for other head coaching jobs in the previous two years, so Jerry may have seen this as a use-or-lose scenario. Finishing out the season 5-3, he gave every indication that he was able to get the team behind him. From the very beginning he set out to change the culture of the team, and his performance is seen as earning him the full time head coaching job for 2011.
He also brings a skill set that should appeal to Jerry. He is not at all outwardly egotistical, and does not seem in any way bothered or threatened by Jerry's need to be in the spotlight. And given the way Jerry often uses the same phrases and concepts that Garrett espouses, it seems at times that Jerry is as much a spokesman for Garrett as for himself. There is no drama with Garrett's activities, and all his moves seem well considered and logical. Any disagreements or issues are worked out behind the scenes, and the top management generally presents a unified front to the world. He also is bringing in assistant coaches that, to all appearances, mesh exceedingly well with his philosophy and objectives. And as disappointing as the 8-8 season in Garrett's first full year is to some, it is movement in the right direction. The restoration of a full offseason after the disruption of the lockout in 2011 gives a valid basis for the belief that this season will see the improvement continue.
And by this time, there were other changes going on in the way Jerry Jones was conducting himself. With the opening of Cowboys Stadium, the most spectacular sports venue in existence, he now had a secondary focus as it became the scene for college bowl games, high school playoffs, an NBA all-star game, and high-profile boxing matches. Although its image was marred by the weather plagued and poorly managed Super Bowl XLV, it is still a prime setting for major events, and an important part of Jerry Jones' business and income stream.
Also, a new power has emerged in the Dallas Cowboys front office. Jerry Jones' son Stephen is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Cowboys, but in many aspects, he functions, at least at times, as the de facto general manager. The clearest example of this is the trade up to draft college blue chip cornerback Morris Claiborne. Stephen set up a contingency trade with the St Louis Rams just to be ready if Claiborne should fall to the number six pick held by the Rams, although it was not expected that this would happen. Then, when to the team's surprise he was still available, Stephen stood firm and made the Rams honor the original deal of Dallas' first and second round picks when the Rams tried to pry an additional pick out of the Cowboys. This showed not only how much power he holds with the team, but also that he may be less likely to make impulsive decisions than his father. We will never know, but I suspect that Jerry might have caved and thrown in another pick for this very shiny new toy.
As the 2012 season draws closer (albeit with agonizing slowness), what kind of owner is Jerry now?
He still is a loyal one when the people are "his". I feel this was a big factor in Garrett's hire. Jerry has known him for years and I believe he has a great trust in Garrett. I think he is less impulsive than he once was, or at least he has learned to listen to his two key partners, Garrett and Stephen Jones, when they tell him to tap the brakes. Moreover, I think Garrett has more latitude in player choice and all the other aspects of running the team than any coach since Jimmy Johnson, certainly more than anyone since Bill Parcells. And all indications are that Stephen Jones is Garrett's firm ally.
That is a very important thing. Jerry Jones talked, famously, about the "window closing", which is mostly perceived to refer to the aging of core players Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, and Jay Ratliff. But it also may be as much a reference to Jerry's own time as the active owner and general manager. He turns 70 this year, and it does seem clear that he has already begun the transition of power to the heir apparent, Stephen Jones. While he may still make some unexpected deals, I think it is becoming less likely as age inevitably slows him down. He now has two other people that he trusts to help him run the team in Stephen and Jason Garrett, and this is something he has never had before. And he has his history of coaching hires, with all the good and bad aspects. He shows every evidence of learning from them. I flatly believe these things make him the best owner he has ever been. He still is a very intelligent, savvy man and a true force in the NFL, no matter how badly John Mara may want to hinder him. If making better decisions at the top leads to success on the field, the Dallas Cowboys should see some very good years in the immediate future.