Believe it or not, it has been 16 years since Jerry Jones rolled in to town as the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. During that time, he has nailed down one mega-stadium deal, won three Super Bowls, hired five head coaches, and fended off countless attacks in the media. Now the 62-year-old is trying to steer a struggling franchise that won just six games last year back to the spotlight. I sat down to talk to him about the team’s future, eminent domain, and why the Cowboys didn’t come home to Dallas.
THE BOSS: “I’ve had a lot of criticism in the years since I’ve been with the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones says, “and that’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Rowlett: Were you ever close to a deal that would have brought the Cowboys back in Dallas?
Jones: When you say a “close” deal, we all know that it had to be voted on. I knew we had huge support among voters in Dallas County, more than 60 percent. The challenge was in getting a few people to take it before the voters. It was inconceivable to me that I couldn’t convince Mayor Miller and members of the Dallas County Commissioners Court what kind of deal this could be for Dallas County. I just couldn’t get it done and couldn’t get them to see it. And I probably was the wrong messenger because it looked self-serving. But I felt very strongly about what it could do for Dallas. My side of the table would probably have invested more than 400 million in Dallas, and that’s without taxpayer money. It was such an opportunity for Dallas and Dallas County. And it wasn’t until I visited with the mayor and realized that she wasn’t going to support it, that it dawned on me that it wasn’t going to happen. We hadn’t reached a point where were talking about who was going to do what, and it was just a partnership, conceptually, that was on the table. I knew financially that I was ready to make a big commitment and it ought to have been done. But, yes, most of the time when I was talking to Dallas I thought we were going to get a deal done.
Rowlett: Was Mayor Laura Miller the biggest stumbling block, as her critics have claimed?
Jones: She just didn’t think it was the type of thing—like we ultimately did in Arlington—that she could do. She wanted it done on a more favorable basis. And at that time I had two thoughts: that we ought to get it done in Dallas, but if we didn’t, I’d just stay in Irving at Texas Stadium.
Rowlett: Why do you think the Cowboys are so important to Dallas?
Jones: Well, whether it’s misplaced or not, the visibility that the Cowboys bring to our area is real. The number one programming in all media today is NFL football. The ratings show that. And the number one television team is the Dallas Cowboys. In the Olympic survey, which we didn’t have anything to do with, it showed that Dallas was one of the top two or three cities in all the United States for the Olympics. When asked why, it came back that Dallas is a good sports city, that it has the Dallas Cowboys. And the emotion that’s involved is unique, and it does make jobs and professions for our area. They don’t do ticker tape parades except for war heroes, the astronauts, and for the men and women who win games. That is a positive asset, and I think that’s what the Cowboys do for Dallas and will continue to do for Dallas.
Rowlett: And for Arlington…
Jones: That stadium in Arlington is going to be great for this area. It’ll also be good for our fans because it’ll provide better accessibility. I had wanted the stadium and the team to have a downtown Dallas presence, that was a personal thing, but when I saw that it wasn’t going to happen, immediately Arlington came up, and now I think this is going to be a great thing. There will be a lot of other things besides football happening there and this will be a state-of-the-art facility.
Rowlett: Some people will be forced to move to make way for the Stadium. Does this issue of eminent domain concern you?
Jones: Well, we have worked with the Legislature on this. And it has long been established that municipalities have the right to take property for the public good.
Rowlett: But are you worried about public relations? Do you think the team’s image will be hurt as these Arlington residents are forced to make way for the stadium?
Jones: You know, I’m very sensitive to the rights of anyone who owns property. That’s the way that I’ve lived my life. On the other hand, the revenues they’ll receive is very attendant to what the property is worth. Where it’s causing someone to leave, I understand, and I’m very sensitive to that, but they won’t have to sell for less than the value of their property.
Rowlett: With the inclusion of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin into the Ring of Honor, does that close the door on older players from the Landry era, people like Charlie Waters and Drew Pearson?
Jones: No, not at all. Those players, too, made valuable contributions toward making the Cowboys what they are today. There is no chronological order or step that we go through when we think about who ought to go in there. But these three players who’ll be inducted in September are all likely Hall of Fame Players, and it was so unique to put the three of them in as a team. And my philosophy with most things is that if it is something you are going to do, and the time is right, do it now.
Rowlett: You are a committee of one choosing who goes into the Ring of Honor. Have you ever thought about expanding that committee?
Jones: I have and decided against it. But there are always other people who contribute to the decisions that I make: coaches and former players and writers and people who covered the clubs at the time, plus our fans, and I get literally thousands of communications on who ought to be in the Ring of Honor. So, it’s really not just me making a decision off a list of names. It’s based on input from a lot of people.
Rowlett: Smith, Irvin, and Aikman were also surrounded by excellent players. With NFL parity, can you see a time when you could have another team that strong?
Jones: No. I think the system prohibits that. So I don’t see it happening again. You just can’t keep a nucleus completely together because you’ve got a limit as to how much you can totally spend for the team.
Rowlett: So, you think parity has hurt the Cowboys?
Jones: I do. The Cowboys have the ability to be a high revenue team, and we could be very competitive under circumstances where we could pay players. So, to some degree, it is a disadvantage. But I also understand that the NFL enjoys great popularity and viewership today, and that is also part of this system.
Rowlett: How close are the Cowboys to making a showing in the playoffs?
Jones: Under the right set of circumstances, we can compete. And because of parity, if you can compete, you have a chance to win it all. We have the best talent that we’ve had since Bill Parcells has been our coach. In fact, I think we have the best talent that we’ve had in the last six to eight years. And that’s because we have been able to get through free agency a veteran quarterback [Drew Bledsoe] who shouldn’t have been out there. He’s one of those guys who’s usually not available. He’s experienced, and he’s durable. We also have some experience with our coach who knows this system and that is invaluable. We have a couple of good backup quarterbacks who can help out if they’re needed. So I feel good about our quarterbacks. And if you are good at the quarterback position in the NFL today, you have a chance.
Rowlett: Do you and Bill Parcells ever strongly disagree?
Jones: We can have some pretty strong differences of opinion. But I have such respect for his experience, for his judgment and intellect, that I really want to be sensitive to his opinions and evaluate the direction in which he wants to go. I sense that he feels the same way about me. So we are not careless with our relationship. And when we have decisions to make we are very deliberate, without the emotion and conflict that some people thought we would have. Consequently, it works real well. I know I have had to make some decisions he didn’t agree with, but on the other hand, we are really doing well together.
Rowlett: Your critics have said that you have an ego that won’t let you relinquish too much control. Is that fair criticism?
Jones: I think they’ve sold me short. Before the Cowboys, I worked with some very smart and very strong people, and I learned that when we were working toward the same goals that I needed to be a good listener, and to take their direction sometimes when my own preference would have been to go a different way. And that’s something I’ve done with Jimmy Johnson and with Barry Switzer and with all of our coaches. So if there is any perception of my being unyielding, that’s an overkill.
Rowlett: What drives and motivates you?
Jones: The win. And I like doing what is hard and what people say you can’t do. I’ve had a lot of criticism in the years since I’ve been with the Dallas Cowboys, and that’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It never seems to let up, but it’s an inspiration and I really feed off of it. And I’ve done my worst work when I get too many pats on the back.
Rowlett: Have you ever, even for an instant, regretted buying the Cowboys?
Jones: No. It is such a labor of love for me. I’ve had a lot of people say it’s all about money for me and I’m financially oriented relative to the Cowboys. The fact is, buying the Cowboys was not a good financial decision at the time. Many people who evaluated it for me said it wasn’t a good business decision. But that wasn’t why I bought the team. I did it because I wanted to be a part of the NFL, and I really wanted to be a part of the Dallas Cowboys. It was not an investment as much as it was change in my career. I changed my occupation. And I’ve never wavered, even though we’ve had some really down times. The lowest I’ve ever been was when we lost to San Francisco in a game that we think cost us a Super Bowl. But even then, and in our down seasons, I’ve always looked ahead and wanted to correct the problems, and I was always motivated more than just feeling remorse.
Rowlett: Was your biggest mistake with the Cowboys when you quickly dismissed Tex Schramm and Tom Landry?
Jones: Yes. And you know, I had great advisers and some of the best P.R. firms in this country. [Former owner] Bum Bright wanted to make those changes, but they advised me to be a standup guy and go make them. And it was probably one of the biggest P.R. disasters that I ever could have been involved in. So there was that one. But I would probably say there was also my approach to quarterbacks since Troy [Aikman] finished his career. I have not wanted to make the huge commitment that you have got to make at the top of the draft to bring in another Troy Aikman. If I had that to do over again, I’d probably go with a veteran quarterback and draft a young quarterback to develop under him, rather than having a Quincy Carter just step in right out of the chute and then go with him for several years.
Rowlett: So, you are pretty sold on Drew Bledsoe?
Jones: Yes, I am. He shouldn’t have been out there. He is very durable and has all that experience. You put that with some accuracy and that’s what you need with a quarterback.
Rowlett: Do you see a time when you’ll step back from the day-to-day operation of the team?
Jones: Certainly not anytime soon. I am more energized than I have ever been and, God willing, I don’t see a time when I won’t be doing what I’m doing.