Jerry Jones is one colorful individual. As the man in charge of the Dallas Cowboys for the past 30 years, he’s been one of the most prominent owners the NFL has ever seen. Sometimes loved, sometimes hated, but there is never a dull moment with Jerry as his words and actions have created mountains of headlines over the years. He was quick out of the gate to create controversy in Dallas, starting with the dismissal of the two most successful coaches in the history of the franchise.
Tom Landry was legend. Not just in Dallas, but in football as a whole. An innovator of so many different things, the man with the fedora brought so much success to the Cowboys. From 1966 to 1985, Landry’s Cowboys produced 20 consecutive winning seasons that included 12 conference championship appearances as well as five trips to the Super Bowl. His success is a big part of why the Cowboys have the highest winning percentage of any team in the NFL.
Jimmy Johnson only coached the Cowboys for five seasons, with the last one resulting in the second of back-to-back Super Bowl wins with the team. He and Jerry had been friends dating back to their college playing days at Arkansas where they had roomed together because their last names were next to each other alphabetically. Those all seem like good things, yet when their elevated egos clashed, the honeymoon was over and all those good things came to an end.
In just his first five years as owner of the Cowboys, Jerry had made the decision to part ways with both of those guys.
Strangely, while both of the decisions were made at opposite ends of team success, they share one common factor, and it’s that same factor that’s held this team back ever since - Jerry Jones’ obsession of being the guy who makes this team a Super Bowl winner.
In Landry’s case, firing him turned out to produce positive results. Despite the fan base souring on Landry after three straight losing seasons, capped off with a 3-13 finish in 1988, Jones received a lot of criticism for firing him. Of course, looking back now, it seemed like it had to be done. There definitely could’ve been a better way to go about it, but those claiming the game had passed him up sure looked to be on to something after the Cowboys climbed to success so quickly with Johnson. And it’s that quick climb that would have this rise to the top come crashing down in a hurry.
Some people don’t realize just how football savvy Jerry Jones is. They see him as an oil man who doesn’t have a clue about what it takes to win football games. It’s easy to forget that he played college football, and as owners go - you might not find anyone more knowledgeable of the game. However, as general managers go, that’s a completely different story. Jones’ belief in himself is elevated as he has this grandiose conviction that he has the know-how to make the necessary football GM decisions that will turn the Cowboys into a championship football team again. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.
Jerry is only as good as the people around him. Partnered with a guy who has a great feel for college talent, he was able to build a dynasty with the help of excellent draft selections (hat tip to the Herschel Walker trade). But since the departure of Johnson, Jones’ Cowboys have struggled to reach greatness. Some people will say that Jerry is all about the money and it comes at the expense of winning football games. Make no mistake about it, Jerry wants to win.
During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Jones tells a story about a “meaningless” preseason game in Japan against the Houston Oilers. After learning that the winner of that game would receive the prize of a samurai sword, Jones hightailed it down to the sideline informing Johnson he wanted that sword. Johnson, who had already pulled his starters, knew the objective of this game as he was preparing his team for the upcoming season. There was no way he was going to deviate from his game plan to get Jerry his sword. The Cowboys lost and the Oilers owner took home the samurai sword. Instead, Jones took home the prize awarded to the losing team - a small little geisha doll.
Winning matters to Jerry and it’s that obsession that has gotten him into trouble. He believes so much in his team, that there have been many years where he proclaims this is the season the Cowboys return to the Super Bowl. He gets an itch that his team is just one player away, and the next thing you know he’s trading precious draft capital for players like Joey Galloway or Roy Williams. He’ll even bring the hated Terrell Owens to the team to spark the offense despite that notorious showing of disrespect on the star. Does Jerry have no shame?
The Cowboys are fortunate to have an owner who wants to win so badly even though he doesn’t know the right way to go about it. The good news is that over time, Jones has managed to put some nice pieces around him. His son Stephen has done a fantastic job handling the salary cap. Will McClay is leading the charge of a scouting department that keeps churning out great players. And now they have an experienced coaching staff to help mold those players into winning performers on Sunday.
Jerry hasn’t always been a favorite in Dallas, and there are still many who cling to the hope that he may one day step down. While the fire for winning still burns hot, he at least now has set aside his ego and let others who are smarter than him do the things they are good at.