Jerry Jones, on his way to induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, is best known as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s not that it’s easy to forget that Jones also is the Cowboys’ general manager, but that self-appointment does obscure one thing: Jones is the NFL’s longest-tenured GM, with a 243-205 record, 10 NFC East titles, and three Super Bowls.
That Jones is his own GM is a sign of what the former University of Arkansas offensive lineman thinks of himself, surely, but also connects to his philosophy about running a football team, which is an interesting one.
“The Cowboys have only had two general managers,” Jones said Thursday on a conference call for the Hall of Fame festivities. “One was Tex Schramm, and he was president and general manager for 29 years. Then, when I bought the team, I became that.
“I saw that combination of the proximity between the president and GM, and the head coach, and the fewer people between those guys and, in my case, also the owner, the better I could see it functioning. … It’s about the communication, it’s about influence.”
When Jones took over, he made his old college teammate Jimmy Johnson the Cowboys’ head coach; Dallas made a swift progression from 1-15 the first year to 7-9, then 11-5, then 13-3 and the first of back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs. There is no questioning Johnson’s acumen as a coach, but it’s also doubtless that Jones’ tight structure, laced with familiarity, helped speed up the process.
After Johnson, the Cowboys won another Super Bowl with Barry Switzer as coach, then shuffled through lean years with Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, and Hall of Famer Bill Parcells. Wade Phillips won two division titles in three seasons, but was replaced by Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start in 2010.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
When Jones and the Cowboys endured three straight 8-8 campaigns under Garrett, it was fair to wonder what the next spin of the coaching wheel would bring. Instead, Jones stuck with the man who was the Cowboys’ backup quarterback from 1992-99 and on the coaching staff since 2007.
Garrett, who had been the NFL’s highest-paid assistant coach, won his first division title as a head coach in 2014, then got a five-year, $30-million extension, as an investment that paid off was followed by further investment.
“I knew that ultimately, as owner, this is pro football, and every decision is about financials,” Jones said. “You don’t make one that’s not financial. So, I knew that with the commitment I made – which at the time which was the largest that had ever been expended for any sports entity – I knew, with that commitment, I had to understand and manage everything.
“It was just a question of eliminating, but also following the lead of a very successful management structure that Tex Schramm and Tom Landry had under the previous owner.”
The other side of that very successful management structure is off the field – and that’s where Jones has been even more successful than the Cowboys have been on the gridiron. That comes from an understanding of the product honed long ago.
“When I first was buying the Dallas Cowboys, I asked for an appointment with a man named Dan Burke, and he was the chairman of Cap Cities, and they had just bought ESPN, and they owned ABC,” Jones said. “I got an appointment with him … and I was asking him about the future of television and the future of the NFL as it related to television.
“He said the huddles, the intermittent breaks in the continuity of the game, between the plays, the huddles give every opportunity to give the product on television exposure. He said that you could basically hire every producer there is in Hollywood, and they couldn’t come up with all the soap operas that go on, on and off the field, that you have with pro football. It’s the greatest television you could even dream of.”
Jones has taken that theory and run with it, with his bombastic approach keeping the Cowboys relevant all year round. The league, with plenty of help from its media partners, has followed suit, and the result has been the ballooning of the league’s commercial success that is as big a reason for Jones’ enshrinement as the performance of the team he owns.
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