The Dallas Cowboys: A Family Business Executing A Very Deliberate Transition Plan

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Mar 26, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett speaks to reporters at the NFL Annual Meetings. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Well, if you close out the sports page and head over to forbes.com, or some other trusted business source, you’ll find that a sound family business tranistion plan is supposed to be gradual. Slowly, over the course of many years, the older generation gives more and more responsibility and accountability to the next generation, so that members of the organization hardly notice the change. The actual hand off should be as seamless as passing a baton in a relay race. Executed correctly, when the business formally announces the son is now CEO, people say, “Really? That’s strange. I thought he was CEO.”

So says small business and personal finance commentator Dave Ramsey, who has spoken and written extensively about the challenges of transitioning power in a family business from one generation to the next. Stephen Jones appeared to handle the Melton signing very capably, landing the team’s top priority free agent without over-paying him. How much Jerry was involved is hard to say, but both are adamant that Jerry still runs the show. A recent Ramsey blog post seemed particularly relevant to these Cowboys:

“The hardest transition emotionally is the first generational transition because the founder is a hardhead. I’m a founder. I’m a hardhead… Yet the paradox for those of us who are founders is if we really love the business we’ve built, to not systematically, predictably transition it is to guarantee the death of the thing we love.”

While no NFL franchise can be confused with a typical family business, look at what Mark Davis has done in Oakland since his dad Al died in 2011. Al Davis was very famously in charge of his beloved Raiders to the bitter end, and his successor seems ill prepared to execute the responsibilities of ownership.

A well-thought out, deliberately executed succession plan is just smart business, no matter how big and successful and secure the company may be. Whatever else is said of Jerry Jones, few question the man’s business acumen. Is he still in charge at Valley Ranch? Absolutely. Is he preparing his successor like a smart business owner should? I think so.

Son Stephen has been more and more out front of the football operations in recent years. That’s completely natural as the Executive Vice President and COO of the team. Up to this point, though, he’s been out front and standing shoulder to shoulder with his dad. Jerry’s absence during the Melton signing was unusual, if not unprecedented, and perhaps another gradual step in what might be a very deliberate process.

And it’s a process in which Garrett appears to enjoy a central role. At the NFL owners meeting this week, Garrett calmly spoke to a media machine that smells blood in the water about the challenges of building a program with an eye to the future. Garrett’s in the final year of his contract with three straight 8-8 campaigns in his rear view mirror, and in years past a four-year playoff drought would have Jerry brandishing his hook.

But Garrett’s not talking about short-term help to make a 2014 run. He’s not sweating the loss of Ware and Hatcher. He’s not talking like this season it’s playoffs or bust. Neither is Jerry. Nor is Stephen, for that matter. They all seem to be pulling in the same direction – building through the draft, using free agency sparingly, and establishing some organizational continuity.

That’s how perennial contenders in the NFL are built and sustained. That’s not how Jerry has run things – at least not until he turned 70. Jerry will be 72 this year, and it could be he’s gradually giving a hand-picked successor more and more responsibility so the team will be in capable hands when he retires to his owner’s box. Perhaps at some point in the next decade or so, Jerry will formally step down and hire himself a competent GM. If he does it right, no one will even notice.

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Tags: Dallas Cowboys Jason Garrett Jerry Jones Stephen Jones

  • Alex Darden

    There’s definitely something different about things lately. We’ll know for sure if JFF falls 2 #16. Cuz if Jerry is still the main man pulling the trigger there is no way in hell he passes on that marketing oppertunity. No matter how many holes our team has (QB not being one of them) Not a knock on Manziel by the way.

    • Earl Robertson

      I disagree of Johnny falls to 16 and cowboys pass on him then Jerry is still calling all the shots!!! No way Jerrry will draft a qb with Romo still in Dallas. Now a football guy probably would make that pick so that in 2 or 3 years cowboys would have a qb ready like Rogers was with GB

      • Alex Darden

        Meant to put that down here. My bad.

    • Alex Darden

      I see what you mean about his love for Romo but if you ask me Jerry is a business man that only loves one thing more than winning and that’s money! I could see all bets being called off if JFF made it to us. The Texas prodigy playing for America’s team?! Jerry would call HBO before the 1st round is over to get hardknocks in Dallas this summer. And yes I do agree we need to start grooming a QB. But not with a 1st round pick. Can’t pay your QB 100 mil and be drafting a QB in the 1st round. That’s not being a smart football guy.

      • Earl Robertson

        Too me romo isn’t the problem but I’m not sure anymore he is the solution either! There is for sure more holes on this team that picking a qb in first round doesn’t make sense unless Johnny ranks 3 rd overall and he is there at 16 then to me be dumb to pass on him! But probably a mute point! 1. I see Johnny going to one of the 5 teams ahead of the cowboys that really need a qb, 2. Jones is still calling the shots 3. Cowboys might not have Johnny rated that high! I like Johnny just don’t like his size

      • Earl Robertson

        But u r right jerry loves money more then anything

  • Old Frog

    I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that Jerry is very committed to building the “Stephen and Jason Show” and neither of them are in any danger of being terminated. I believe that now more than ever.

  • jrcowboy49

    Manziel will be a bust! All hat and no cattle!

  • SmartThinking

    Would someone please show me where there’s a “deliberate transition plan,” in place for this team because I don’t see it. All I see is big Jones’s personnel mistakes and errors in judgment, again and again and again.

    Jones deliberately got this team into Cap trouble. And now that he’s had to release a few players who’ve gotten rich from his lack of football business sense, everyone is shouting to the heavens that “Jerry’s a changed man!!!”

    He picks up two tomato cans, an injured felon and a reject third string QB from one of the perennially worst teams in the sport and now, suddenly, Jones is the smartest guy in the room.

    Doesn’t anyone wait to have it proven to them before proclaiming big Jones a totally new man?

    Big Jones has said this team is not rebuilding. He’s only acquired one true starter in FA and Melton doesn’t possess the stats the guy he replaced does. Both he and his son are on record stating they can pick up defensive linemen, the very players this team needs a lot of, in the later rounds, well after all the difference-making players will be gone.

    Jones hasn’t made one move or said one thing that makes be believe he’s thinking about the future of this team.

    Can someone show me just one concrete, justifiable example of what Jones has done that leads you to the conclusion he’s implementing a new philosophy? I want to believe but I’m not gonna be led down another garden path by big Jones and his spin machine again while the team gets no better and nothing really changes.

  • [email protected]

    I noticed that Jerry is letting Stephen take on more and more and in my opinion is a good thing for the team. Like Jerry not being there for the Melton signing. And I think Jason’s job is safe. He will get a new contract at the end of the season if not before. They were smart not redoing contracts to save Ware and Hatcher and Austin. Ware and Hatcher were getting older and Austin stayed hurt through out the season. Sure it was tough to see them go but it was time for a change. And bring in some younger and healthier players.

  • disqus_kLJwdEdnOL

    I’ll have to see much more proof that Jones has finally seen the light before I will buy into it. He simply has too much ego to make drastic changes to his way of handling the team. Most of the recent changes can be attributed to salary cap issues which is something that we all know Jones created. It’s tough to be optimistic after seeing almost twenty years of mismanagement.

    • John

      I hear you. In truth, there’s no “proof” here that Jerry’s doing anything. It’s just four or five observations that suggest the organizational philosophy is shifting. They may be connected; they may not. A family business transition plan explains those observations more completely than any other theory, but the situation is fluid and that could change as more data is compiled. What they do in this year’s draft – trading up or down or staying put – could force a reassessment, or buttress the theory further…