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Thursday, February 5, 2009
Another Cowboy rides away


Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' reputation for being a renegade helped him forge a friendship with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in the early '90s. And based on Jones' recent moves, it's becoming difficult to tell the men apart.

 
  Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
  Jerry Jones was unable to get Dan Reeves to stay with the organization.

Since taking over the Cowboys in 1989, Jones has emulated his GM predecessor, Tex Schramm, when it comes to selling his product. He's one of the most accessible owners in professional sports, in part because he loves the attention. But since the Cowboys' season ended with an embarrassing 44-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones has basically gone underground.

Just before disappearing from sight, he made the worst sales pitch of his illustrious career in a call for continuity that centered on head coach Wade Phillips suddenly changing his personality after 30 years of back-slapping. For the first time anyone can remember, Jones informed reporters at the Senior Bowl that several topics were off limits, including anything that seemed remotely pertinent.

Privately, he has conducted a witch hunt to identify the anonymous sources who've had ESPN's Ed Werder on speed dial this season. When I reached a longtime Cowboys employee by phone two weeks ago, he spoke in hushed tones as he explained that an internal e-mail had warned people in the building not to speak to the media unless they have clearance from the club's public relations office. That's in stark contrast to the beginning of the Phillips era, when Valley Ranch basically turned into a public park.

Phillips may have been the first head coach in club history to decline interviews at the Senior Bowl because "[P.R. director] Rich [Dalrymple] told me not to talk."

The latest gaffe involves a beloved member of the Cowboys family, Dan Reeves. At his end-of-the-season news conference, Phillips indicated that he would consult with former associates about how to clean up the mess at Valley Ranch. Reeves played and coached under Tom Landry before head-coaching stops with the Broncos, Giants and Falcons. Phillips had replaced him as head coach in Denver and Atlanta, but the two men had remained friends over the years.

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  Rise and fall of the 2008 Cowboys.

As I understand it, Phillips recommended that Reeves be brought in to serve as a consultant. Jones already had fired Phillips' close friend and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and Phillips thought Reeves' expertise on offense would allow him to devote most of his time to the defense. It seemed like such a good fit that Reeves moved into an office at Valley Ranch on Monday before details of his contract had been finalized.

A local TV station first broke the news of Reeves' presence at Valley Ranch on Tuesday evening. The next morning, Werder reported that Reeves would report directly to Jones. And by late Wednesday afternoon, Reeves was out of a job. (Cue the "Benny Hill" music.)

"I thought the thing was done, and we finally agreed on what the title was going to be," Reeves told ESPN late Wednesday. "I didn't want to have a coaching title and not have authority coaching-wise. I wanted to work with him [Jones] and Wade and help in any way that I possibly could. We finally agreed the coaching thing wouldn't be in there, but then the contract changed and there were some things in there I couldn't see being in there, and they were important to him. He made a lot of concessions, but this was something that was important to him, and I just didn't feel like I could live with it. So it didn't make sense for us to go forward."

It sounds as if Reeves wanted one of those coveted "vice president of football operations" titles like the one Bill Parcells has in Miami. Of course, Reeves wouldn't have the same juice as Parcells because of Jones' presence, but he would've had a say in several different areas.

 
  Nelson Chenault/US Presswire
  Dan Reeves played for and coached under Tom Landry.

Once Jones and Reeves couldn't agree on a coaching title, they started drawing up a front-office position. Reeves wouldn't identify the deal-breaker, but my gut tells me it had something to do with the new stadium. Reeves is smart enough to figure out that he was being brought in as a figurehead to help restore some dignity to the franchise. And despite his desire to get out of the house for a couple years, the position wasn't what he wanted.

Jones probably was asking Reeves to participate in moving some high-priced suites at his $1.3 billion stadium, which opens this fall. Reeves would do a lot of things for $1 million or so, but selling seats isn't one of them.

And in case you're not paying attention, there was something else at work here. One of the things that has frustrated Phillips to no end is the fact that he basically has no authority over offensive coordinator Jason Garrett. When Jones made Garrett the highest-paid assistant in the NFL, he unwittingly divided his coaching staff. I'm told by sources close to Phillips that he was bothered by the Terrell Owens-related drama in the locker room, but felt as if he had to let Garrett handle the situation.

In a sense, Reeves would've given Phillips a conduit to Garrett. (See what I mean about subterfuge?)

Reeves would've basically served as a spy for the head coach, and that's why Phillips was pushing the idea in the first place. Don't forget that Garrett tried to hire his own defensive consultant heading into the 2007 season. He made a power play to get his friend Dom Capers hired as an assistant. Stewart, Phillips' hand-picked defensive coordinator, balked at the idea and Capers walked away.

We've spent so much time talking about this divided locker room that we forgot to notice that the same thing has occurred with the coaching staff. And it all goes back to Jones, who's responsible for creating such a combustible foundation.

On Wednesday evening, poor Dalrymple was forced to craft a news release announcing the end of Reeves' three-day stay with the organization.

"We had two very good days of dialogue with Dan Reeves, and both the Cowboys and Dan had an interest in working together,"
Dalrymple said. "By Wednesday afternoon, we were unable to reach an agreement on all of the details of a contract, and both parties were comfortable with the fact that Dan would not be joining the organization."

From reading Reeves' quotes, I'm not sure how comfortable he was walking away from the opportunity. He's too gracious to say it, but he probably realized how far this once proud organization has fallen.

And for a man who cut his teeth under Landry, even a $1 million consulting job isn't worth trading in your credibility.