September 7, 2013

For Dallas Cowboys, it’s still Jerry’s World

Entering his 25th season with the Cowboys, Jerry Jones is obsessed with getting his team back to the top.

A visit to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ office is taking a trip down memory lane.

*  All the greatest highlights of nearly 25 years of ownership — this season he passes Clint Murchison as the longest-tenured owner in Cowboys history — are on full display.

*  There are Super Bowl trophies. Replica hands of Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman. The shoes of Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. And photos galore of Jones with Smith, Michael Irvin, former coach Bill Parcells, as well as various international dignitaries. There is even a photo of Jones and former coach/friend/adversary Jimmy Johnson from 1989.

*  It all pays homage to a time gone by.

*  Asked why there were no recent pictures, aside from AT&T Stadium renderings — nothing of quarterback Tony Romo, whom he just signed to a $108 million contract, or anyone else on his current roster — Jones initially was defensive.

“I don’t have any ones I want to take down,” he said. “Where you see those guys are at the stadium, and of course, these are memories around this room. This particular room, it has highlights. It has Aikman’s hands. I don’t have Romo’s hands. Maybe it’s not time for those Romo hands.”

Jones then grew quiet before continuing.

“But you are right,” he relented. “That’s fair. You look around this room, and you don’t have any memorabilia of a sixth Super Bowl or a team that won a sixth Super Bowl. What you’ve got speaks for itself.”

What it speaks to more than anything is the conundrum that has become Jones’ legacy, which by most accounts should result in his one day being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — based on three Super Bowl titles and his contributions to the NFL in marketing and television since buying the team in 1989.

But they, too, are seemingly vestiges of a time gone by. Outside of his $1.2 billion show palace in Arlington, Jones has come to be known as the failed general manager of a bad-to-mediocre football team, which is 104-104 dating to 2000, including 16-16 the past two seasons, with one playoff win since 1996 and three consecutive years out of the playoffs.

So while he is pleased with his accomplishments as he enters his 25th season, he is not satisfied in the least. The failures have eaten at him more and more each year, while the noise from the critics has grown louder.

It has Jones heading into the 2013 season obsessed more than ever with making the Cowboys winners again.

“I didn’t think I was average or I wouldn’t have stepped up and bought the team,” Jones said. “I never thought that average was satisfactory. Never, ever. I never thought we would be sitting here with that kind of record over the last 10 years. If we had at least one more, possibly multiple Super Bowls, to add to what we have done over the last 15 years, a lot of this would go away, and it should.

“The reality is that it isn’t there. I know how to make it go away. That is to get here and have some success and compete at that level. I can’t have this thing end or have a look at the total picture and have not had more success on the field. We have to do it.”

When Jones, who turns 71 next month, talks about the end, he’s talking about his own mortality as well as his mortality in football.

Jones whimsically thought about being around as long as former coach Tom Landry and former general manger Tex Schramm (both 29 years) when he bought the team, just because they did it, though he admittedly came in with no more than a five-year plan.

“Yes. Oh, yeah. Yes,” Jones said repetitively when asked if he thinks of his mortality now. “I do think of health. I think of doing the best I can do so I can perform, so I can function. I have always joked that I wanted all of this to be used up right at the end. So they would say, ‘He used every ounce of it.’ That would be your physical. That would be everything. That’s living it to the fullest and trying to get the most out of it. But the reality of where you are in life makes you think of your own mortality.”

For the record, Jones said his health is fine. He didn’t repeat the comments of a week ago about having the brain of a 40-year-old. He even admitted to having some natural issues that come along with age, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“I have none that keep me from functioning or planning on doing my work for the next 15 or 20 years,” Jones said. “Now, we know things are going to probably adjust in that period of time. But I don’t have any compromising health issues that would not allow me to stay involved for a long time.”

Typical Jones, he goes from talking about his mortality to talking about working for the next 20 years.

Stephen Jones, his oldest son who is taking on more and more as the team’s executive vice president, is not surprised. He said his dad is just energetic as ever and motivated to get the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl.

“I don’t think the guy ever quits thinking and ever quits moving,” Stephen said. “So I think his energy level is good if not better than I’ve ever seen him. He’s more motivated, more pushing buttons than I’ve ever seen him.

“Bill Parcells said it right away. He said, ‘I can tell right away Jerry’s just like me. He’s a 10-toes-high guy. He’s not going to quit working out here and making this place better, making the Cowboys better until unfortunately he’s 10 toes high.’ ... Obviously, getting the Cowboys back to a situation where we can get in the playoffs, win playoff games and compete for championships is very important to him. He wants to hold everyone accountable, including himself.”

When Jerry Jones looks back at his legacy, he includes the involvement of his family. Stephen is in charge of personnel, manages the salary cap and is on the league’s competition committee. Daughter Charlotte Anderson was recently appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as chairman of the NFL Foundation, making her the first woman to represent club ownership of a major sports league foundation. Jerry Jones Jr. is the team’s chief sales and marketing officer. And there is no overlooking Jerry’s wife, Gene, and her work with the family charities.

“It’s been far more rewarding than I ever planned on,” Jerry Jones said. “My plan was for my family to join and be involved. I never dreamed it would include and depend on their ideas and the execution of their ideas. I get a lot of credit for their ideas and their execution. They have made serious contributions, and Gene, she is amazing. When we started, I should have raised the kids, and she should have made the money knowing what I know now.”

But the wide smile displayed while talking about his family turned into a defiant grin. It’s the same one that has followed his 25-year journey from maverick newcomer in 1989 to the stubborn elder statesman who remains motivated to not only prove his critics wrong by making the Cowboys winners again but to do it his way as owner and general manager.

“I have to do it my way, or I help prove the point of my critics,” Jones said. “When I say my way, I have to do it under the system and the direction that we have had. And when we do you are going to hear the biggest I told you so. ... Or as Irvin once said, ‘I want you to report it with the same intensity.’”

And then maybe, just maybe, he can get some current pictures on the wall.

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