by Jim Harris
Posted 2/26/2009 12:17 pm
Twenty years ago this week (Feb. 25 was "D Day"), Arkansans were all agog, and proud, that a native son from Rose City was riding into Dallas and buying the NFL's Cowboys.
Texans, as we remember it, couldn't believe it. Some still can't.
Jerry Jones paid around $140 million for the franchise and Texas Stadium in Irving, and since then he's been probably the most visible and talked-about owner in the league. At the same time, he's also won three Super Bowl rings, but those came in the first seven years of his ownership.
The past 13 years, though, have been a roller-coaster of coaching and personnel changes, and next season the Cowboys will abandon the 38-year-old Texas Stadium for Jerry's new space-age complex in Arlington that could seat up to 100,000 fans. He has a team that most believe is the most talented in the NFL, but one that couldn't even make the playoffs in 2008.
Dallas-Fort Worth sportscaster Dale Hansen of WFAA, Channel 8, had a sit-down in Florida with Jimmy Johnson, who came to Dallas along with Jones in 1989 as the head coach and general manager, and built America's Team back into a Super Bowl champion before splitting with Jones in early 1994 in a clash of egos. Johnson soon would surface in Miami with the Dolphins, the same city where he established his coaching credentials leading the University of Miami to greatness, before retiring to his boat and beach life (where, as you'll see, Hansen caught up with Johnson for the interview).
Jones, meanwhile, made himself Cowboys general manager when Johnson left. In those early years with Johnson coaching, Jerry was dealing with the business end and paying the bills and the huge debt he'd run up in buying the team. He found, though, after four years that taking care of the business end wasn't as much fun as trading for a second-team offensive guard, Johnson said, and being talked about in that wayby Cowboys fans and the media.
A laid-back, amiable Johnson was asked by Hansen about the relationship with Jones back in their heyday, and the state of the Cowboys these days. Johnson said that Dallas is still the NFL's top franchise. Jerry also didn't meddle back then, he says.
Johnson says he saw Jones at the recent Super Bowl and told him " 'I want you to win so bad that it hurts me when you don't ... I want you to win' ... I might not have been able to say that maybe 15 years ago ..."
Johnson explains of Jones' determination to be involved:
JJ: "After I left, he wanted to have fun, he wanted to be part of it. I understand that, he's the owner, he has a right to do that."
Hansen: "He has a right to do that, but don't you think that's responsible for the fact that they haven't won, other than that one year with the [Barry] Switzer year, but 12 years without a playoff win? Isn't that at least in part because of the way he's run the operation?"
JJ: "I think sometimes when you have players, especially today's players with a lot of money in the bank, they've got all these big bonuses, so really, there is no fear there. They have to have one person to answer to. If they are afraid of one person or if they have great respect for one person, there is more of a unit, more of a team. And I don't think they can answer to 2 or 3 bosses."
And, when Hansen notes that Johnson also had some stars who at times might be considered "bad guys," the former coach says:
"We had such a hammer on all those guys. They knew, without question, that I would cut them in a heartbeat. And I wouldn't have to answer to nobody. They knew if they crossed me, and I didn't believe in them, they were gone."
Hansen asks Johnson why the Cowboys haven't won in the same fashion as they did in those early days when the JJs were working together:
Jimmy: "Jerry knows how to win."
Hansen: "Then why isn't he winning."
Jimmy: "I think he's his own worst enemy on that. He knows how to do it. It has happened before. But by the same token he wants to be a part of it. (laughing) There is the problem ... He's willing to go out and get the talent but he'd gotta have somebody to pick 'em and make sure to pick the right ones."
Also, Channel 8's poll of Metroplex viewers found that 65 percent believe Jones should not be his own general manager, and that 49 percent have a lesser opinion of the franchise than they had 10 years ago. Only two other team owners also serve as GM's of their team -- at Oakland and Cinciinnati, two franchises that have struggled mightily of late.
As Hansen adds in this video from WFAA, no one questions Jones' commitment to winning, his passion or his willingness to spend money to make the team better, but his choice to also be GM "is a terrible mistake."
There's good archival video on the WFAA website as well on the days when Jerry and Jimmy first rode into town.