First, let’s get this out of the way. For the majority of his tenure as the General Manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones has not been very good at his job. He has followed up incredible success during the first five years of his tenure (a time when the majority of the personnel decisions were handled by Jimmy Johnson) with incredible mediocrity nearly every season since. Many would argue there has not been a more inept General Manager in all of professional football over that time period. While I don’t believe that to be true, I respect the argument and wouldn’t hold anything against someone with that viewpoint. What I would like to point out, however, is what seems to be a recent development in Jerry’s GM mentality that the Cowboys’ fan base has either ignored or is too pessimistic to believe could be true. He has developed patience.
Jerry Jones? Patience? If you’re a Cowboys fan you know these are two things that are not alike. This is the same guy that feels the need to comment to the media about his anger if things are not going exactly towards his plan of more Super Bowls. The guy that has consistently made the short-sighted choice, rewarding players with large contracts before they’ve proven anything and signing big name free agents looking for that “missing piece”. He’s patient? Lately…yes, he has been.
You see, ever since the abomination that was the 2010 Dallas Cowboys season and the appointment of Jason Garrett to the role of Head Coach, Jerry has been acting differently. Many fans like to point to the failure of the 2009 draft class as an indication of Jones’ continuance as a sub-par GM. However, his performance in every subsequent draft has been acceptable to say the least.
Jones has bought into the mission statement that his coach is preaching. The type of players the Cowboys have selected since 2010 have been exemplary of the “right kind of guy” approach that Jason Garrett has preached since he took the reigns at Valley Ranch. Moreover, while the media would like you to believe that Garrett’s seat has the toastiest disposition in the league, Jerry has continued to say that he is not coaching for his job this season. When asked by Bob Costas last season if he believed Jason Garrett was “the right guy in the long run” he responded: “I think you said the right thing at the end there, this is a long term thing with me. I like what I’m seeing, I don’t like that we’re 3-4, but I like direction.”
Jerry gets his say when he wants to. We all know this. If he didn’t, Rob Ryan might still be here. But was that move decided by Jerry alone? I can’t imagine Garrett, a man who seems to live like his life depends on having as little visible personality as possible, was all too mad to see fired a defensive coordinator who’s most memorable moment as a Cowboy (at least for me) was a video of him shouting expletives at the Giants following a defensive stop. Bravado is nice, but when the head coach is trying to create a professional, respectful team sometimes you need to tone it down.
Up and down this roster and in the demeanor with which the players are presenting themselves you can see Garrett’s fingerprints. That doesn’t happen without the General Manager buying into what the coach is trying to do. Even the most vocal detractors of Jones’ heavy-handed approach to managing admit Garrett has had a dramatic effect on Valley Ranch’s culture. But why would Jerry change? What would cause a man with such a huge ego and single-minded mentality to put it aside and embrace another person’s vision?
The answer to this question lies in the ashes of the aforementioned 2010 Season. If you don’t remember, hopes were high that year. The still-fresh Cowboys Stadium was playing host to the Super Bowl, we were coming off the first playoff win of the Romo era, an NFC East Title, and it looked like all that pain was going to finally pay off (Personal Note: I’m 23. I became a fan at 6 years old thanks to a combination of Cowboys loving Grandma, the Super Bowl win over the Steelers, and Emmitt Smith being hecka cool. My memories of the ‘Boys since that first year have been rough. Hope I don’t need to fill you in on the history).
I’ll never forget watching the opening game of that season at a fellow fan’s house, going crazy when Romo hit Roy Williams II (he finally came up big!) for what we thought was the game winning touchdown, then having our emotions crushed by a holding call that reversed the touchdown AND ended the game. From an emotional high to low about as quickly as it gets. That was the 2010 season in a microcosm. That loss leads to a starting record of 1-4. Dallas went into Monday Night trying to salvage the season against the Giants. Then Romo broke his clavicle. Then came the 45-7 beat down at Lambeau that ended the Wade Phillips era. The team rallied for two wins under new coach Garrett but was too far removed from competition to salvage the season. They finished 6-10.
If you’re reading this, you probably remember. That season sucked. Jerry remembers too. That was a tough one for him. Losing is tough for Jerry in general. No owner in the league cares more about having a winning football team than he does. You can talk all you want about him doing his commercials and building the outrageous stadium…but if you think he doesn’t care about winning you’re delusional. During that season he told a reporter that it might be the lowest year of his life. That reporter, 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, was tasked with following Jones that year. His mission produced a 14-minute video that is, at least for me, the most compelling glimpse I’ve ever seen of the man who watches over the team we love. As Pelley says during the introduction: “Winning is a lot more fun, but losing reveals more of a man’s character.”
I encourage you to watch the whole video but if you want to get to the point, fast forward to the the 3:15 mark. The scene is Cowboys Stadium a week after the Romo injury. The ‘Boys are on their way to a loss against Jacksonville and Jones is in his press box feeling (and looking) in “agony”. Following the loss he takes blame in the locker room and retreats to an interview with Pelley. He looks defeated. But he’s not. The thing about Jerry is, he’s an optimist. His failures are his motivation. When asked about his performance he says: “I’m making a big F or a D-…so hopefully this butt-kicking I’m getting will produce some B’s or A’s.”
That is why 2010 was so important. It forced Jerry to look in the mirror and admit that he screwed up in a way only utter failure can. He was embarrassed in about every way possible. He loves this team too much to see it fail and do nothing. And he’s smart enough to know when he is the problem.Still don’t believe me? I understand. The anti-Jerry sentiment among us Cowboys fans is strong. So how about we consult someone with an insiders perspective.
Here’s what Bill Parcells had to say:
“Oh yeah, definitely. I think it’s distorted,” Parcells said. “I think there’s a definite misperception. I just think everyone thinks things are a certain way. I didn’t see it to be that way. I think Jerry is a good businessmen and a good listener. What you have to do is make sense to him. You’ve got to make sense to him. If he thinks you’re making sense, he’ll alter his opinion. I enjoyed him. I like him. I like him a lot.”
“I knew he had a lot of passion for his work and his job and his organization. I could name a few organizations I don’t feel that about. The owner is just blasé about ‘if we win we win, good; if we don’t, that’s all right.'”
“But Jerry isn’t like that. You want to be somewhere where it’s important to the people and certainly it’s a high-profile franchise without question. I just felt like those are the kinds of things I look forward to. I was trying to do something at a place like that. I like them. I think they’re a good group. I think they’re passionate. I think they’re trying to be successful in the business. Hey, that’s all a coach can ask for.”
You see, Jerry cares. That’s why he changed. That’s why he’s being patient. That’s why for the first time since Jimmy Johnson we have a coach at the helm who he listens to and respects (Parcells counts as well, but he was too worn by years of coaching to stick around for the long run). He has done something that is hard for all of us to do and that is probably even tougher for someone with the ego of a self-made millionaire and three time Super Bowl champion. He’s acknowledged his mistakes and is trying to learn from them.
It’s how he turned himself from a guy that was getting his credit cards declined to the owner of one of the most valuable and successful franchises in the world of sports. The 2010 season made him realize that his impulsive decision making was the common thread that ran through a decade and a half of mediocrity. So he’s developed patience. He has embraced a message of continuity and stability preached by his new Head Coach, signed the franchise Quarterback to a long-term deal, and is drafting and developing instead of going after Free Agents.
You all can stay pessimistic and believe this is a smoke-screen if you want to. The track record is there; I’ll admit that. But there’s also evidence change has finally come to the Cowboys. I’m gonna believe Jerry on this one. I like the passion I’ve seen in this team since Garrett showed up and I believe he does as well. They don’t roll over, they don’t give up, they’re never out of it. They care. Jerry Jones respects that sort of mentality. He knows it well.