Dallas Cowboy’s Jerry Jones on Trial: The Court of Public Opinion Decides


In the Court of Public Opinion few people are as polarizing than the Dallas Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones. Cowboy fans in general, are typically a highly fractioned group. They are nearly always split on their head coach, starting QB, and even the team direction. But each additional year removed from the last Cowboys’ Super Bowl, fans are congregating in agreement over one issue: their displeasure of Owner Jerry Jones. In the Court of Public Opinion is Jerry Jones Guilty?

December 30, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones claps while standing on the field prior to the Cowboys game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For many years people said Jerry Jones “the owner” is excellent but Jerry Jones, “the GM” is the problem. This is partially true but also very flawed thinking. The role of the owner is to set direction, provide high level negotiations, handle league issues, cash and sign checks and finally hire a president to run the team to profitability and a winning record. If the president is unable to do his job, the owner will replace him.

As just stated, the president is responsible for both making money and winning. Both are important as this team is both an entertainment brand and a corporation. Under the president is a VP in change of the business side and a GM in charge of the football side. They are solely responsible for their area of expertise. If one of them fails to perform, they are punished and/or replaced by the president. All three levels of this hierarchy hold import roles within the structure of the team. This allows each person to focus solely on their specific task so it can be achieved with the greatest possible results.

On the Cowboys, instead of three different people holding these important positions Jerry Jones holds all three.

Oct 28, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones prior to the game against the New York Giants at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

One man in three roles prevents any one of the three positions from being done with maximum time and attention. Do you think any business or cooperation would willingly hire a part time CEO? Of course not because that one job is more than enough work for one man working fulltime. Then why does Jerry feel he can just be part time?

This 3 in 1 structure also prevents any role in the hierarchy from issuing accountability to the subordinate position directly below him (since it’s held by the same man). Jerry said it himself – he would fire someone else as GM if they produced the kind of results he has. By holding all three roles Jerry limits the accountability (consequences) he can apply to the GM for his poor decisions.

The basic capitalistic risk/reward balance is now left nonexistent. In decision-making processes, the decision-maker weighs possible risk against possible reward. If the risk is too great a smart business man will look to something else. Many times that smart businessman will find something else with nearly equal reward and much less risk. The fear of the risk (and its consequences) encouraged the businessman to keep looking elsewhere. Similarly if a GM takes a high risk in hopes of seeing a high reward – and he fails – he is faced with real consequences. As a result most GM’s work night and day and exhaust all available resources in order to cut risk as much as possible. That way they can make the wisest decisions possible since their professional well-being is directly linked to the over-all success of the team. Jerry’s structure does not allow this process to take place.

Since Jerry will never (N-E-V-E-R) fire himself, he takes risks that other GM’s do not. If a GM on another team is really unsure, he will bury himself into research until a decision can be made. He does this because the consequences for error can be severe. Again, Jerry’s environment doesn’t allow this very natural process to take place.

Nov 11, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (center) talks with COO/EVP Stephen Jones (left) and EVP Jerry Jones, Jr. (right) prior to playing the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cowboys defeated the Eagles 38-23. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

To make matters worse, Jerry’s right hand man, COO, Executive VP, and Director of Player Personnel is Jerry’s son, Stephen Jones. Jerry will never seriously fire his son, so again, there is no level of accountability. The two biggest roster decision makers in the organization face absolutely no consequences for poor decisions. How then could they be expected to succeed?

Take the best two personnel guys in the league and have them replace Jerry and Stephen as owners with no consequences and the results will be the same. Fear and accountability are very natural motivators and when they are removed, quality will suffer.

Many argue, “Jerry’s an oil guy not a football guy. He should hire someone to do the football stuff and butt out like all the other owners”. An argument like that distracts from the REAL problem stated above: combining the roles of Owner/President/GM into one position. People can say he’s not a football guy all they want but the reality is – he’s very much a football guy. He was an all-conference offensive lineman and co-captain of the 1964 national championship Arkansas team. After taking 20+ years off from football to make his millions, he reacquainted himself in the NFL in 1989 when he bought the Cowboys. While he steadily increased his role after Jimmy Johnson left, he has been heavily involved in all things football his entire time with the Cowboys. In the first decade alone Jerry’s team made eight playoff appearances, six division titles, four conference championships, and won 3 Super Bowls. Jones is one of only six men to have won three Super Bowls as an owner. He is the only owner in the history of the NFL to win both a collegiate championship and an NFL championship. In addition to being a two-time member of the competition committee he also has served on five other NFL committees as an NFL owner. He is in the Texas Business Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and the Arkansas Hall of Fame.

The point is Jerry is not your average owner.

Nov 18, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam laughs with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones before the game at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Sure Robert Kraft and John Mara aren’t as involved in their teams as Jerry Jones is, but they also aren’t as qualified as Jerry. Jerry has been (mostly) successful and deeply involved in football for over 30 years. Most other owners aren’t involved in, aware of, or even moderately knowledgeable in personnel or operations. Jerry is. In fact, he will soon have more experience than Jimmy Johnson himself since Jimmy decided to retire to Florida over a decade ago, only providing quick analysis on Sundays for FOX.

Not many men can boast that resume.

Did you know in 2005 the great Bill Parcells himself wanted to draft Marcus Spears with the #11 pick instead of DeMarcus Ware? Did you know that it was Jerry who dug in his heals and drafted Ware instead? Parcells only relented when he was convinced Spears had a better chance of falling to #20 (where Dallas had their 2nd first round selection). Jerry also controversially passed on Sean Merriman that year and received criticism for choosing Ware over Merriman over the first 2-3 years of their careers. You don’t hear much about any of that now, do you?

But the facts are the facts. Jerry has only one postseason win since 1996. ONE. While successful drafts have occurred, complete failures have also occurred. This is a sign that the GM is not weighing risk/rewards and merely swinging for the fences. When jobs are on the line in the GM position, GM’s are forced to make tough decisions about under-performing players. With no fear or accountability, Jerry never has to make those tough decisions and repeatedly keeps mediocre and under-performing veterans on team rather than perusing excellence. For this reason the Court of Public opinion finds Jerry Jones’ entire business structure to blame and finds the Owner guilty.

December 9, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones walks on the field before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The Court of Public Opinion also finds Jerry’s arrogance to blame. With Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones (friends and teammates from Arkansas) working together, they built a dynasty. Most intelligent people rightfully attribute the Cowboy’s early success to Jimmy Johnson but they have to give Jerry some credit for building the winning environment and making tough front office, coaching, and roster decisions. Jerry called himself GM back then too but everyone knew Jimmy had more to do with that roster than Jerry. With that said, Jerry did have more to do with building that dynasty than he gets credit for. He did more than the other league owners ever did but he didn’t get any credit for it. It’s the lack of acknowledgement that ultimately lead to Jimmy leaving town.

Jerry probably felt if he could build another team of HIS players he would be the common denominator linking first round of success with the next round of success. People would then see him as the mastermind rather than Jimmy. But to ensure another coach didn’t get all the glory again he set off to hire weaker, more submissive head coaches who would defer to him more often. Someone unimpressive to the media but effective enough to carry out Jerry’s bidding. Jerry needed someone who could take the blame in failure but give him credit if they succeeded. After Jimmy he hired, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, and Dave Campo.  With each new coach Jerry assumed more and more power. Only after realizing his team was void of any young talent did he concede to hire a proven coach in Bill Parcells. Parcells was accomplished enough to build a young new roster, respected enough to quiet the talk about Jerry only picking weakling coaches, and old enough to walk away before success would be reached. When Parcells retired he was replaced by more “Yes Men” in Wade Philips and finally current head coach, Jason Garrett.

Jerry is now compelled to micromanage his staff rendering them impotent to complete the most basic of their job functions. Most NFL head coaches are empowered to collect the staff of their choosing in order to implement the team philosophy. Jerry Jones has removed that empowerment and has dictated the staff Jason Garrett (and Wade Phillips before him) would be forced to work with. Players see this. Together with Jerry Jones personal open-door policy, he undermines the power and effectiveness of the head coach. Always a sucker for a microphone Jones will often contradict his coaches sending mixed signals to both players and staff.

If Jerry was only concerned about winning and hiring the best man for the job, fans would see more coaches of Bill Parcells’ ilk and less of the other guys. But Jerry refuses to win unless he gets the credit. That’s why no matter what happens he will continue to hold all three positions of Owner/President/GM.

At the end of the day Jerry only has himself to blame since he’s solely responsible for building this ridiculously ineffective team model. He will never change. He will never relinquish power. The only hope for Cowboy fans is Stephen will see the error of Jerry’s ways and one day hire qualified people who will be held accountable for their actions. If he takes over Jerry’s old role of Owner/President/GM and subsequently surrounds himself with family then nothing will have changed. With no accountability people do not work optimally. When you’re a billionaire of a money-making machine like the Dallas Cowboys you can operate any way you desire and you’ll still be rich.

Sep 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on the field prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones could be an effective Owner or President, or even General Manager (if he was subjected to accountability) but he just cannot be all three. One person can’t work part time in multiple roles and expect to produce at the level of an individual dedicated to just one role. Nepotism doesn’t work because in order for accountability to work, realistic consequences must exist. Jerry is thus NOT GUILTY of being a bad GM but rather GUILTY of being a bad owner who built a system so obviously flawed. Additionally he is guilty of Blind Arrogance for continuously placing himself above the success of the team.

Some say he won’t change until all fans band together and stop buying the product. That’s true because Jerry would notice quite quickly he’s losing money but it’s just not a realistic idea. The word Fan is short for Fanatic (defined as a holder of extreme or irrational enthusiasm or beliefs). The fans will always be there and at least in the near future, so will Jerry. Stephen Jones is the only true hope for a better tomorrow. Hey, miracles can happen but in the meantime let’s just hope Stephen can see what we can all see …and what Jerry clearly cannot.