Jerry Jones has been the owner of the Dallas Cowboys for 33 years. After buying the team in 1989 for $150 million, Jones’ marketing wizardry has transformed the Cowboys into the most valuable franchise in sports, coming in at $5.7 billion as of this writing.
Jones is a Hall of Fame owner, and deservedly so, as he’s become involved in some of the biggest money-making deals in NFL history. Jones got involved in contract talks for NFL broadcasting rights that saw TV networks get into bidding wars, including the beginning of FOX Sports now airing NFC football games. These days, everyone wants a piece of that and the competition is fierce.
Jones is also the founder of Legends, a project management business that is responsible for some of the most glorious (and revenue-generating) football stadiums in the league. The Ram’s So-Fi Stadium and the Raiders Allegiant Stadium are examples, and they just struck a deal in April to work on the new Buffalo Bills stadium. Make no mistake about it, Jerry Jones is a marketing genius.
But as great as he is as an owner, his ability as a general manager leaves much to be desired. This wasn’t always the case. An early taste of success led Jones to believe that creating a championship football team was easy peasy. After all, he took over a spiraling franchise then coached by the legendary Tom Landry, and transformed them into Super Bowl winners a mere four seasons later. Let’s say that again. He took over a bad team (that even started 1-15 during his first year as owner) and in four short years, they were holding the Lombardy Trophy.
Most Cowboys fans will be quick to remind people that it was the addition of Jimmy Johnson, not Jerry Jones, who was responsible for this huge turnaround. Johnson, who was a college teammate of Jones back in their playing days at Arkansas, just so happened to be the hottest college coach commodity after compiling a 52-9 record over five seasons with the Miami Hurricanes, including winning a National Championship in 1987.
Johnson completely remodeled the roster aided by the extremely favorable Herschel Walker trade that landed the Cowboys a plethora of draft picks (one of which was future Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith). The rise of the Cowboys consisted of winning one game (1989), winning seven games (1990), winning 11 games and making the playoffs (1991), to finally winning back-to-back Super Bowls (1992 and 1993).
The return to Cowboys glory was magnificent, but it was also short-lived due to these 14 words uttered by a drunken Jones who just so happened to be within earshot of the Dallas media.
“There are 500 coaches who could have won the Super Bowl with our team.”
The ego-charged feud between Jimmy and Jerry was certainly not one-sided, but what owner in his right mind would make a statement like that after coming off of two Super Bowl victories? The feud became so heated that it was decided that Jimmy Johnson would no longer be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys the following season in 1994.
Jerry, in all of his supreme confidence, replaced Johnson with what he believed was the next best thing in Barry Switzer. The legendary Oklahoma coach just so happened to coach both Jones and Johnson during their playing days at Arkansas. Like Johnson before him, Switzer had a successful college coaching résumé. In a three-season stretch from 1985 to 1987, Oklahoma only lost three games; however, those losses came at the hands of Johnson’s Miami team. Switzer’s exit at Oklahoma was also a little less appealing than that of Johnson as he left the Sooners amidst a time of controversy. There was just a whole mess of things happening from illegally paying players to their quarterback being arrested for soliciting cocaine.
Despite the mess he left behind, Switzer had a great relationship with Jerry and the Cowboys owner knew that he would be able to have the control he wanted by hiring his good pal for the head coaching job. With the residual players of Johnson, the Cowboys still found success the following two seasons, including another Super Bowl victory in 1995, but then things went south in a hurry. The Cowboys lost five straight to close out the 1997 season, finishing just 6-10 on the year. Just like that the Barry Switzer era was over.
As we all know, the Cowboys have not been able to come close to the success they had in the early ‘90s. The team has not been able to reach the conference championship game since that 1995 season, a painful feeling that grows stronger with each new year.
Last year, the NFL recognized Johnson for his accomplishments and elected him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, his own pro football organization has yet to put him into the Cowboys Ring of Honor. Here we all sit nearly 30 years from when these two guys were hugging each other’s neck holding a trophy together, only to still be subjected to the most pathetic showing of power from Jerry Jones. Recently, when asked about putting Jimmy in the Ring of Honor, Jones simply stated, “I don’t have a timeline.” That’s unfortunate.
Could this refusal to acknowledge Jimmy Johnson be some type of curse? Has Jones’ reluctance to honor the guy he once fought against for validation somehow created some type of universal grudge that won’t allow the Cowboys to advance past the divisional round of the playoffs? Unless you believe in curses, that’s not likely the thing holding this team back; however, most will agree that Jones’ power-hungry meddling into the inner workings of the football operations has been a detriment to the team over the years. Could the key to newfound success be Jones’ willingness to step away and let the football people do their job?
Putting Jimmy in the Ring of Honor would just symbolize that Jerry’s finally decided to stop acting like a child. But for the Cowboys to reach the pinnacle of success once again, it’s going to take Jerry to go one step further and just be an owner. Be an owner who lets Will McClay and company do their job. Be an owner who doesn’t micromanage his coaches and allows them full control. And be an owner that doesn’t create a circus-like environment on a day-in and day-out basis so their players can focus on what’s really important. Winning. If Jerry Jones can muster up the ability to do all those things, then, that Super Bowl curse has a much better chance of being lifted.