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Being Jerry Jones

While Doug Mataconis will love this interview, James Joyner and I need a stiff drink or two after reading (however, I cannot afford the Johnny Walker Blue):  Jerry Football

The facts:

Since the start of the 1997 season, the Cowboys have established themselves as the NFL’s masters of mediocrity, with a record of 136-136 and only one playoff victory. Each of the past three seasons, Dallas has finished 8-8, missing the playoffs by losing its final game ignominiously to a different division rival. Each subpar season further separates Jones’ first flush of glory — three Super Bowl titles in just four years, the last Lombardi trophy raised in January 1996 — from front-office dysfunction and fans’ impatience stretching nearly two decades now: the litany of blown draft picks and trades, hapless head coaches, overpaid and underachieving free agents and squandered on-the-field chances.

The delusion:

"We would have thought that, with Romo as our quarterback, with a coach, a young coach, like Jason Garrett, that we should have been in better shape to compete," Jones says at Valley Ranch. "So I’d be highly critical.

"On the other hand, I would have to look at what the GM has been — what he’s been in the past and, I would like to think, capable of what he can do in the future."

At some point, you would think, he would have to admit that 1989-1996 and 1997-now are two district eras.

Oh, really?

"I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want to win the next Super Bowl," Jones says, smiling.

Well, except not bad enough to hire a real GM.

And here’s the problem with Jones:

"When we were on the clock, I said, if we pick the other guy — any other guy — it would be a ticket to parity, more 8-8 seasons," Jones says. "The only way to break out is to gamble — take a chance with that first pick, if you wanna dramatically improve your team. That’s why I wanted Manziel, but I was the only guy who wanted him. I listened to everybody … and I’m … not … happy …"

Jones likens himself to a riverboat gambler whose success depends on a well-honed "tolerance for ambiguity." It’s a fancy way of saying that when a big bet goes south or the accumulated risks outweigh the potential rewards, he can still function at a high level.

"The riverboat gambler can be his most charmin’, he can be his most clever, the smartest, and not know it’s all gonna end on the next card and he’s gonna be thrown overboard if it’s the wrong card," Jones says. "And a part of havin’ a tolerance for ambiguity is looking for the more positive and bein’ able to handle the negative because you’ve got more goin’ on."

Riverboat gamblers don’t win Super Bowls.  Jerry wants to be the smartest man in the room who finds the diamond in the rough and through all the smarts he has about other about other things just doesn’t see that this is at least part of the reason that Dallas has been .500 for so long:

On the Radio City Music Hall stage, as Martin donned a Cowboys baseball cap and hugged Goodell, Jones seethed back in the draft room. "There’s only one thing I wanna say — I’d have never bought the Cowboys had I made the kinda decision that I just made right now," Jones whispered to Stephen. "You need to drive across the water rather than lay up. And we laid up for this one. … We just didn’t get here makin’ this kind of decision."

No joke, years of being the riverboat gambler has led to .500 ball.

To wit:

Fans can recite Jones’ personnel misses and flops: Passing on Randy Moss in the 1998 draft (Jones apologized for this a dozen years later); trading four draft picks for 28-year-old wide receiver Joey Galloway, who never caught a pass from Aikman, in 2000; drafting QB Quincy Carter in the second round despite coaches’ and scouts’ warnings about his problems; choosing RB Felix Jones over Chiefs star Jamaal Charles and Coach Phillips’ choice, Titans star Chris Johnson. When I ask Jones for a decision he wants back as GM, he doesn’t hesitate. "I think when we traded two No. 1s for Roy Williams," he says of the 2008 trade for the Lions receiver who was released in 2011.

Except, well, Jones gets it wrong. The Cowboys didn’t actually trade two first-round picks for Roy Williams. They gave up a first-, third- and sixth-round pick in 2009 and got a seventh-rounder in 2010. It seems a bit unfair to correct Jones like this — the man has been GM for 25 years and shouldn’t be expected to know the particulars of every transaction carried out under his name. Or perhaps the three picks the Cowboys gave up just felt like two first-rounders. But at the same time, this is his biggest regret as GM — and he can’t get the details right.

Dale Hansen is correct:

"Jerry Jones has become one of the biggest jokes in north Texas," says Dale Hansen, a venomous, 34-year veteran sportscaster on WFAA in Dallas and the critic Jones most despises. "He has one of the most important jobs in all of American sports, maybe in the world: He is the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. And based on his record, there is not a single team in the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA or the NHL that would hire him to be their general manager. Hell, he couldn’t get a job in Major League Soccer as the general manager. … It’s almost tragic that he has allowed it to happen — not only to the Dallas Cowboys but to himself."

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Jim Henley says:

    OR, the NFL is structured to make most teams go .500 over the long term, and under Jones the team is very slightly over .500 since the day he took over in 1989, a 25-year span. Don’t get me wrong: I’m from DC and I traditionally root for the Steelers, so hating Jerry Jones comes easily to me. But across 25 seasons, ceteris is pretty well paribus.

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  2. Jim Henley says:

    Eagles are +26 games over .500 in the same 25 years, so they’re a solid 9-7 team. Giants +20 over 25 years, so not quite the elite record of the Eagles. Washington is about -15 in the same span (starting to doze a little…), so they’re kind of the Cowboys in reverse. Steelers are, admittedly, +45 over the span, so almost 10-6. Pats are +32. Cardinals are -49.

    This is all impressionistic, but I bet a systematic look at all the teams with a 25-year history (to cover Jones’s ownership period will find many more teams in the Washington-Dallas region -15/+15 than the Pats/Steelers or Bengals/Cards regions.

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  3. Boyd says:

    Then again, what’s the common thread over those 25 years?

    We’ve been telling you this for years, Jerry, but you need to fire your GM and hire a new one. Or go ahead and pass the reins to Stephen. We loyal fans of the team are most certainly not your fans.

    Fortunately, the Scotch whisky I’m drinking right now is as good as ever.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “Jerry Jones has become one of the biggest jokes in north Texas,” says Dale Hansen, a venomous, 34-year veteran sportscaster on WFAA in Dallas and the critic Jones most despises. “He has one of the most important jobs in all of American sports, maybe in the world: He is the general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.

    That quote right there says all you need to know about Dallas, and Texas, to conclude that they deserve Jerry Jones. They are the epitome of hubris. So is he. A match made in Hades.

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  5. @Jim Henley: I take the point, although by the same token the team has had other, rather lengthy, eras of success (as have others).

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  6. @OzarkHillbilly: On the one hand, you have a point. And while acknowledging the hyperbole in Hansen’s statement (after all, he is a sports commentator), you could take that same basic sentiment and apply it to the New York Yankees, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the LA Lakers and, in the past, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

    Some franchises/teams are more important than others.

    Despite my bias, which I acknowledge, running the Dallas Cowboys is a lot more significant than running the Cincinnati Bengals, for example (just look at which teams gets prime time slots, regardless of what their records are).

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  7. C. Clavin says:

    I had the tremendous honor to work for the Cowboys staff (TV production) under Jimmy Johnson in 1990. A dream job for this football fan. That was Emmitt’s rookie year. We went 7-9 that year. A huge improvement over the 1-15 year in 1989.
    I had to quit after the season ended because Jerry Jones was such a tremendous douche bag.
    They went 11-5 the next year…and won the Superbowl the next…1992.
    And they won two more times after that…all pretty much traceable to a single deal Jimmy made with Herschel Walker as bait…possibly the single greatest deal in the history of the NFL.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herschel_Walker_trade
    Jerry keeps waiting for lightning to strike again. But his ego won’t allow him to see is that the HW deal was the result of cunning and smarts. Not riverboat gambler luck.
    If Jerry Jones wasn’t such an a-hole I would have 3 Super Bowl rings to go with my 3 Emmys. I won’t ever forgive the man.

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  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    you could take that same basic sentiment and apply it to the New York Yankees, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the LA Lakers

    and indeed I would.

    Despite my bias, which I acknowledge, running the Dallas Cowboys is a lot more significant than running the Cincinnati Bengals, for example (just look at which teams gets prime time slots, regardless of what their records are).

    Tee hee hee. And then you reinforce the hubris of your bias. I can assure you that Dallas’s prime time slots mean exactly bupkiss to Seattle, or San Fran or Pittsburgh or Baltimore, or Denver or NO, or NE or…. any other relevant team in December. Dallas doesn’t even play in a relevant division!

    (jus trash talkin here)

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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: correction: Alabama is still relevant.

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  10. @OzarkHillbilly:

    Tee hee hee. And then you reinforce the hubris of your bias. I can assure you that Dallas’s prime time slots mean exactly bupkiss to Seattle, or San Fran or Pittsburgh or Baltimore, or Denver or NO, or NE or…. any other relevant team in December.

    Indeed, except that’s not the point. Those ratings mean an awful lot to the networks and the NFL (and, actually,. by extension to the other teams’ owners because of revenue sharing).

    Seriously, setting aside anything about preferences, there is no arguing the empirics here: as even in their pathetic, mediocre state Dallas games drive ratings.

    This should not be hard to acknowledge (just like I can acknowledge that a Lakers’ game is going to get better ratings than a Spurs’ game in a national time slot).

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  11. C. Clavin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Dallas’s prime time slots mean exactly bupkiss

    Beyond the money involved…players take playing in primetime really seriously.
    They know the rest of the league is watching…and they want that spotlight.
    I mean…really want it.

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  12. James Joyner says:

    Aside from whether Jerry Jones has the football judgment to be an NFL GM—and the evidence there is decidedly mixed—a major part of the problem is that being an NFL GM is a full-time job and Jones has multiple full-time jobs. He’s the owner and president. He’s the owner of AT&T Stadium and the chief deal-maker for getting major sporting events held there. He’s a key player in NFL management, one of the four or five owners with the most pull. It’s just not possible to be a great GM and also do all those other things. Given that Jones’ track record in the others is so much better, it’s obvious which hat he should hang up.

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  13. Jim Henley says:

    James, I will play Jerry’s advocate for whatever perverse reasons, but let me be very clear: these are my pretty sincerely held views; I’m not just trolling you.

    From Jones’s perspective:

    * He likes being GM.
    * Many GMs he could hire would be worse. Many GMs currently serving are worse.
    * Over the long term, his performance is literally mediocre, which are the results the league is structured to provide: some up years and some down years with a very strong center over time at .500.
    * An awful lot of short-term NFL performance is luck.
    * Cowboys could get lucky!

    I think the only reason I don’t completely buy the forgoing is the lack of playoff victories, but there again: luck bulks large; the structure of the tournament means every team but one ends the playoffs with a loss.

    A problem that bedevils us is the NFL commentariat’s sloppy use of language. They tend to confer the term “mediocrity” onto franchises that are genuinely bad – e.g. Arizona. So when we encounter a genuinely mediocre team like the Cowboys we don’t know what to think. We’re constantly told two things about Jones’s team:

    1) he is a bad GM
    2) who keeps hiring bad coaches

    But a bad GM should be reflected in a bad roster. On top of talent and coaching there is nothing. So how does consistently bad GMing and coaching produce mediocre results over the long term. They should not. They should produce bad results over the long term. The Cowboys have better-than-bad results over the long term. Do you want to ascribe all of that surplus performance to the coaching? Then the coaching must have been brilliant, and those guys must be working somewhere else now, with excellent records, right?

    Finally: Jimmy Johnson had mediocre results post Jerry’s World. Like a real man, he blames that on other people – ** koff koff* Dan Marino ** koff koff ** – but that’s why there’s a Jimmy Johnson Rule.

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  14. PT says:

    @Jim Henley: Of course a Steeler fan thinks Jerry as the GM is no big deal!

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  15. Jim Henley says:

    @PT: I’m less of a Steeler fan than I used to be, but your comment still makes more sense than you intended. ;)

    That is, most teams react very quickly to changes in performance by making changes at the coach/GM level. The Steelers do a lot less of that. They seem to have figured out that:

    * ups and downs happen
    * we believed you were good enough to do the job
    * you have had really good years, so we were right

    So coaches like Cowher and Tomlin don’t get fired for going 6-10 a couple of times. 6-10 happens.

    Most of the league is superstitious and committed to a fantasy of absolute causality. Team had 12 wins and got to the conference championship? Extend the coach! Now! Team went 5-11 twice under the exact same coach? It’s “time for a change!”

    Complete madness. But it lets owners and fans imagine their lives are rich in meaningful events.

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  16. PT says:

    @Jim Henley: I’m just having some fun my man. We’re talking about sports after all.

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  17. bill says:

    the only thing the cowboys have going for them is due to them being allowed to remain in the nfc east after the re-alignment. take out that market and they’re the chiefs or something. i don’t mind watching them lose, especially since i’ve live there since 1990.

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  18. @Jim Henley:

    But a bad GM should be reflected in a bad roster.

    You mean like the roster that produced the third worst defensive performance in NFL history last year?

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  19. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “Some franchises/teams are more important than others.”

    NO, No, a thousand times No!!!

    Dallas has believed this since the era when they called themselves “America’s Team”, as if rooting for the Giants or the Eagles or the Steelers made one a traitor. It’s never been true, and it’s frankly offensive to the rest of us.

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  20. @Moosebreath: The New York Yankees aren’t more important than the Pittsburgh Pirates? The LA Lakers aren’t more important than the New Orleans Pelicans?

    Come now.

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  21. (I fully understand umbrage over “America’s Team” and I can, likewise, understand why some people love to hate Dallas. But it is rather clear that some teams in some sports are more important than others in the overall scheme of things).

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  22. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “The New York Yankees aren’t more important than the Pittsburgh Pirates? The LA Lakers aren’t more important than the New Orleans Pelicans?”

    “But it is rather clear that some teams in some sports are more important than others in the overall scheme of things”

    No. In what sense are they more important? Do the Yankees get 4 outs per inning because they are the Yankees? Do Laker players get to commit an extra foul per game because they are the Lakers? Will either team make the playoffs over a team in their division which has won more games because they are more important? Or do they still play by the same rulebooks and have to earn their wins in the same manner as the rest of the teams?

    You can say they have a larger fanbase, and therefore the networks are more likely to carry their games in prime slots. You can say they have a greater history of success and therefore there is more to discuss about their past. Neither of these things make them more important.

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  23. Jim Henley says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Stephen that’s unusually weak for you. We’ve established incontrovertibly that over the long haul of Jerry’s tenure as GM, the team is exactly middle-of-the-road in success. (Over the long haul of his ownership the team is ever-so-slightly better than mediocre.) Our expectation in advance is that a mediocre team will have up stretches and down stretches over time, and will have good-performing and bad-performing units. So you don’t settle anything by pointing out that the team had a bad-performing unit over a short term. Come on, man, you’re sounding like a sports radio-show caller. ;)

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  24. Jim Henley says:

    @PT: Sure, I get you. It’s all fun and games.

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  25. James Joyner says:

    @Jim Henley: I find Jerry exasperating but, like you, don’t think he’s the worst GM in the NFL. He’s mediocre, not awful. But mediocre is unacceptable for the Cowboys, Steelers, Packers, and a handful of other historically great franchises.

    Frankly, a lot of what passes for “genius” in the NFL is good fortune. Bill Belichick can do no wrong. But how much of that is a function of having lucked into an all-time great quarterback in Tom Brady in the 6th round?

    Jimmy Johnson came into a team that was epically bad and had Michael Irvin already on the roster and Troy Aikman sitting there. He parlayed the Herschel Walker deal into a lot of great talent. And, let’s not forget, his heyday was before real free agency. The team he built was already starting to lose its second tier stars to other teams as he was heading out the door. Jerry made some bad moves—most notably the Joey Galloway trade and the infamous “backup draft” of 1994—trying to eek out another championship before the window closed on the handful of true stars on that roster.

    For the last 15 years, the Cowboys have been unsuccessfully trying to replace Troy Aikman. They floundered for years before handing over the reins to Tony Romo, who is a well above average quarterback. A great find for an undrafted free agent. But inconsistent drafting and bad bets in free agency have meant not enough talent around him. The current offense should be quite good—a great offensive line, an above average quarterback, and some excellent talent at receiver, tight end, and running back—but the defense is woeful.

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  26. @Jim Henley: To be honest, I am not trying to mount a full scale analysis of the situation, so it is a weaker argument that I would usually make. I could go down a list of roster mistakes to make the point, but I shall refrain for lack of willingness to invest the time.

    I do think, and I think this is a supportable fact, that GM and HC matter–and can matter a lot. Look at the Colts and what there were and what they became under Bill Polian.

    Likewise look at the ongoing difficulties in Washington as Snyder has tried to emulate the Jerry Jones model.

    The Patriots were once run pretty poorly, but have been consistently good now for what, a decade and a half?

    It is possible for sustained period of success or failure to be linked to who is running the team. I am not even sure why this is controversial.

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  27. @Moosebreath: Look, let’s forgot team loyalty and who’s a fan of whom. Here are the top 10 regular season games of last season in terms of TV rankings:

    Here is a list of the top ten games of the season. The Cowboys are involved in 5 of them. The Broncos and Packers were involved in 3 each. There is no doubt that in terms of last season, the Packers and the Broncos were better teams and were far more relevant to the season itself. However, in a league driven in significant measure by TV revenue, Dallas is a consistent draw, making them one of the more important franchises in the league.

    1. Raiders-Cowboys, CBS Thanksgiving Day Game, 11/28, 31.7 million
    2. Packers-49ers, FOX Sunday National, 9/8, 28.5 million
    3. Packers-Lions, FOX Thanksgiving Day Game, 11/28, 28.3 million
    4. Broncos-Cowboys, CBS Sunday National, 10/6, 28.3 million
    5. Broncos-Chiefs, CBS Sunday National, 12/1, 28.1 million
    6. Cowboys-Giants, FOX Sunday National, 11/24, 27.9 million
    7. Packers-Cowboys, FOX Sunday National, 12/15, 27.8 million
    8. Seahawks-49ers, Sunday National, 12/8, 27.6 million
    9. Eagles-Cowboys, Sunday Night Football, 12/29, 27.4 million
    10. Eagles-Broncos, Sunday National, 9/29, 27.0 million

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  28. Moosebreath says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We are talking past each other. I conceded already that they have a bigger fanbase. I just disagree that makes them more important than any other team. Indeed, I think the only measure for being more important than any other team is their likelihood of making the playoffs and winning the Super Bowl (which after all draws far more fans than any regular season game). Otherwise, we are back in the days of “America’s Team” where the networks implied to fans in other cities that they were supposed to root for the Cowboys, just because they were the Cowboys.

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  29. @Moosebreath: The SB draws more viewers regardless of who is in the game–unlike, say the World Series or NBA Finals where the ratings are very much driven by who is playing.

    Hence, by my definition of “important” I have no problems saying that the LA Lakers are more important to the NBA than are my team, the San Antonio Spurs.

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  30. bill says:

    @James Joyner: the pats won 11 games with brady out for the season- i don’t think it’s the qb. sure, they missed the playoffs that year but that was a fluke, 11 wins is stoic with your main man gone for the year- it’s the culture,and coach- brady’s an above par qb, and aikman was way over rated.

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  31. James Joyner says:

    @bill: They also benefit a lot from their steady success. They can attract a lot of free agent talent on the cheap on the sheer basis of their recent history. Much like star players will take less to play with LeBron, many will do so to play with Brady and Belichick and the chance to win a ring on their way out.

    I’m not saying Belichick isn’t a great coach. They’ve built a solid system and made it work consistently. But Brady has been a constant as well.

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