The 'Cowboy way' has become a failure

February, 3, 2011
2/03/11
4:00
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Jerry JonesMatthew Emmons/US PresswireJerry Jones had hoped his team would be playing in Cowboys Stadium for the Super Bowl XLV title.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Pittsburgh Steelers backup center Doug Legursky had a difficult time making eye contact with reporters during the NFL carnival known as Super Bowl media day on Tuesday. It's not that he was being disrespectful, but like a kid seeing snow for the first time (or ice in North Texas), Legursky was awestruck by a JumboTron that hovered over 60 yards of the field like a spaceship in search of a docking station.

No matter what you think of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- and Forbes Magazine indicates you really, really dislike him -- the man's a marketing genius. He has somehow kept the Cowboys national brand strong despite all the losing over the past 15 years. The man presides over the most relevant 6-10 team in the NFL. And I'm already hearing the national media talk about the Cowboys as a bounce-back team in 2011.

Much like the New York Yankees, there's always going to be interest in the Cowboys. Given the option of flexing out of a nationally televised matchup involving a 5-8 Cowboys team, I don't think any network would pull the trigger. Jones began a news conference Tuesday at the Super Bowl media center by saying he didn't want to take anything away from the Steelers and Packers. Then he spent the next 42 minutes doing just that.

Over the past 15 years, Jones has become the league's leading illusionist. He has somehow been able to keep the Cowboys in the conversation despite producing only two playoff wins in that span. The Oakland Raiders may be the laughingstock of the league, but they've at least been to a Super Bowl since the Cowboys' dynasty ended in the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the Steelers are in the midst of putting together a dynasty that could rival Chuck Noll's run in the 1970s. They've now been to three Super Bowls in six seasons. And against all odds, the Rooney family has done it without switching head coaches every couple of years -- or ever.

Steelers president Art Rooney II could take a seat on radio row, which I wouldn't advise, and not be recognized by 75 percent of the talk-show hosts. If Jones showed up, they'd treat him like Brooklyn Decker in a two piece. I'm pretty sure I saw Rooney standing off in the distance during media day, surrounded by a handful of reporters. Not far away, reporters breathlessly asked defensive end Brett Keisel about his beard grooming. (One male reporter asked and was granted permission to run his fingers through Keisel's beard, which somehow seemed appropriate on that day.)

The Rooneys almost seem amused that folks find their belief in continuity so revolutionary. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would have to do something like naming his offensive line coach defensive coordinator to even get them to raise their eyebrows. Oh wait, that's another Pennsylvania team.

I'm sure Rooney didn't think he was saying anything profound Tuesday, but something on the 67 quote sheets I received via BlackBerry really got my attention. The Steelers' president was asked why his organization rarely made splashy moves, say, signing Terrell Owens or Albert Haynesworth.

"Panic doesn’t seem to work," he said. "Let’s put it that way. There are enough people that seem to have gone through that mode and our feeling is that you pick good people and you try to stick with them if you have good people. There are ups and downs in any sport, but if you have the right people in place, you’ll always have a chance to be successful and that’s what we do. Every year, we have a single goal, and that’s to try and put a championship team on the field and everybody in the organization understands that is the goal. We don’t try and make it too complicated."

What I love is that some of my friends try to constantly separate Jerry Jones the owner from the Cowboys' general manager. There's a belief, which doesn't make sense to me, that Jones is a great owner, but a terrible general manager. I certainly think he's an excellent stadium-builder and salesman, but I always thought that part of owning a successful company was hiring the right people -- and letting them do their jobs.

[+] EnlargeJason Garrett
AP Photo/Mike FuentesJason Garrett has been charged with turning the team around on the field.
Jones has constantly undermined his head coaches over the past 15 years because players know that he's ultimately pulling the strings. Yes, I know that he hired a strong head coach in Bill Parcells in 2003, but he has admitted (to a hidden camera in a seafood restaurant) that Parcells was here to help him convince taxpayers to contribute to his crown jewel, Cowboys Stadium.

New head coach Jason Garrett, God bless him, stood up at his introductory news conference last month and talked about doing things the "Cowboy way." But no one really knows what the hell that means anymore. I guess it's a reference to the Jimmy Johnson years, but that's ancient history by NFL standards.

My colleague Mike Sando wrote a column Thursday about how the once-proud 49ers organization has been in the wilderness for years. But the Cowboys are in a much different situation. At least 49ers fans realize how awful their team has become. Mark my words that by August or whenever the lockout ends, fans and media will convince themselves that the Cowboys are ready to challenge for a Super Bowl. These are the Sultans of September -- except for this past season of course.

At least Jones has attempted to own up to his team's failure during his public appearances, which are numerous.

"I've done my worst work when I thought I had a pretty good hand," he said. "We certainly didn't play, didn't coach, didn't general manage, didn't own up to expectations."

But within moments, Jones was talking about how the Cowboys could make like the Packers and return to the Super Bowl next season. He did surprise everyone with his recent pronouncement that Garrett would have "final say" when it comes to hiring and firing coaches. But I'm pretty sure Jones has retained the right to fire Garrett.

I spent some time this week talking to Cowboys legends such as Tony Dorsett and Lee Roy Jordan about what the Cowboys have become. They both like Jones on a personal level, but remain somewhat skeptical that things will change.

"The first time [Jones] overrides Jason with one of the players, then Jason will have lost credibility or any discipline," Jordan said. "Every time he overrides the coach from then on, it will steamroll. I hope for everyone involved that Jerry has learned his lesson."

And for Cowboys fans, it never hurts to dream.

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