It is official. Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones has been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He goes in as a contributor, recognizing not just how he has transformed the Cowboys into the most valuable sports franchise in the world, but more importantly how played such a major role into turning the entire NFL into a money making and marketing juggernaut. As has been said elsewhere, the league would not be what it is without his influence and leadership.
There are many reasons his election is very, very well deserved. But it is extremely ironic as well. There was a time when he was the most hated man in Dallas for firing legendary coach Tom Landry. Then there was the tumultuous relationship with head coach Jimmy Johnson, resulting in the messy and rather acrimonious divorce. Two decades of struggles followed, with the Cowboys just now beginning to get things straight. He has certainly made his share of mistakes, basically having to learn how to be an effective GM on the job. He always had a great handle on being an owner, but the day-to-day running of an NFL franchise took some hard lessons.
But now the future looks very bright in Dallas, and just as Jones took a lot of well-deserved heat for the miscues and mistakes, he now deserves the credit for what he and his staff have built. And he also should be recognized as the best owner in the league. He has been frequently ridiculed for keeping the GM title for himself, but he alone among all owners takes full responsibility for his team. He cannot put the blame on his underlings, because he truly lives the old credo “the buck stops here”.
In short, he has the guts to fully own up to his decisions. Other owners have to decide who to hire, and who to fire when things go wrong, but don’t take the heat Jones endures when things go wrong. And many put some pressure on their staffs about personnel decisions, although that happens out of sight. It is laughable that some so-called “analysts” characterize Jones as a “meddler”. Folks, when he steps in and makes a call, he is not meddling. HE IS DOING HIS JOB! How can a general manager meddle by making the final decision on any aspect of football operations? That is the literal job description of a general manager.
Many have seen his taking the general manager job as a sign of ego, but that is not his real motivation. He is completely invested in the success of his team, and he is simply unwilling to ask anyone else to take the final responsibility for that. This is what sets him apart from all the other owners. He doesn’t just own the team. He works every day to make the Cowboys the best team he can. There is no laying down the law behind closed doors and then going back to a fancy office while the staff and coaches try to figure out how to make it work even if they disagree. Jones is fully and truly a part of his team, in a way that no other owner is. And he wouldn’t want it any other way.
It shows in the relationship he has with his players. For him, they are not disposable assets. They are real people, whose struggles he empathizes with. Look at this quote from former player Greg Ellis.
We lost the game and we're in the locker room. Jerry's there and the coach is doing the regular deal talking to us. And Jerry, man, he assisted me in taking my equipment off, my shoulder pads. I thought that says a lot about him as a person. I was a second-year guy and he's helping me take my stuff off because he saw the despair in my eyes. But he did his two cents to let me know that, "Hey, it's one game we lost. The world's not coming to an end. Let me help you out."
Jones is such a larger-than-life character in so many ways, it is easy to miss this very human, very caring side of him. He has been accused of putting making money ahead of winning, but that is a pure and simple lie. Winning is supremely important to him, partly because it is so important to his players and coaches. He understands the sacrifices they make for the game, and honors that. No other owner does it better. Few come even close.
Some have questioned his election to the Hall of Fame, because there are always those who don’t fully understand these things. Many still see him as a joke because he insists on being his own general manager. But he has grown into that job, and made the Cowboys the flagship franchise of the NFL. Along the way, he has gone out of his way to help his players and staff in ways that he doesn’t have to.
He does because there is no better owner in the NFL. And hopefully he will see his team make it all the way to the top soon. No owner in the league has done more for his team than he has.