Jerry Jones really is a good man. He is a glass-half-full optimist. He has a wonderful heart. He loves his family.
And, yes, he loves his football team. I did say his team. He is owner, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys.
Is he "Coach Jones," too, as I fondly jest with him?
"No, I am not," said Jones. "Dave Campo is the head coach of the Cowboys."
||I know what we're dealing with here -- the meddling owner syndrome. It's funny, but you never hear of the meddling GM. The fact that I'm an owner-GM is why we're having a long conversation on whether I'm undermining Dave (Campo). ”
||— Jerry Jones
Campo's status as head coach of America's (former) Team has been under scrutiny since the day he took the job. The most recent attack on his credibility came Sunday when the Dallas Morning News reported -- using Jones as a primary source -- that Campo must share player substitution decisions with the owner, even on game day.
"Let me be real clear: Dave, on game day, makes the decision as to who starts and who is going in and out of the game," said Jones. "It does Dave a disservice to suggest otherwise."
Otherwise, that's about the only concession Jones will make to Campo. He unashamedly admits that he is involved in deep, deep aspects of the football team, even to the point where he is involved in discussions with his coaching staff about playing time and strategic decisions during the week leading up to the game.
(In other words: Watch out, Redskins).
"Yes, I do get involved with those things," said Jones. "I am watching film all morning on Monday. As the week goes along, we discuss all the things relative to the game. I'm at every practice. In general, the way it works around here, if we talk about the status of a player, we work through that."
What if there is a disagreement between Jones and Campo on a player's status as a starter or sub for a game?
"Never had that happen," said Jones in a snappy reply. "That's where this issue is a mouthful and gets chewy. We work those things out during the week, but not on game day. Where I come from in my job, I have the final say on the 53-man roster, but it's Dave's responsibility on who takes the field on game day. Everything else up to that point is reconciled."
It's clear that Jones has been in control of the most important position on his team -- the quarterback. Jones made the call on drafting Quincy Carter. He made the call on sacking Tony Banks. He made the call on starting Carter. He doesn't really deny it. He simply characterizes it as consistent with the role of general manager.
"I never planned on Troy Aikman's career ending as abruptly as it did, but I do know that we have to identify our quarterback of the future," said Jones. "We need to find out about Quincy Carter because we will go get another one if we have to. A general manager always has to be concerned with the longterm vision of his franchise."
Ironically, injuries to Carter -- a torn hamstring now will keep him out at least a month while Anthony Wright continues to play QB -- will hurt the Cowboys' ability to assess his NFL potential. The Cowboys are likely to sign Ryan Leaf now that doctors have said his wrist injury can be managed until surgery is required after the season. Next April, the Cowboys figure to have a top-five draft pick that could be used on another quarterback.
The problem, as usual, concerns whether Jones is qualified to make that assessment on a quarterback. The question, as always, is why Jones even bothers to fill the role of the general manager. He provided the answer on the very day he purchased the Cowboys in 1989 when he said loud and clear that he intended to be involved in everything from "socks to jocks."
In fact, Jones is refreshing enough to admit he does not feel guilty about his role.
"Having the ability to manage the team is why I bought the team," he said. "It was always unique. When you look at other teams and other ownerships, you can never recall that when someone buys a team that he also says -- as I did -- that he intends to make a career change and become manager of his football team."
Of course, Jones and I differ somewhat on interpreting his ownership/general manager in the early days when Jimmy Johnson was his coach. My recollection is that Jones was consumed with turning the Cowboys from a red-ink team financially into a profitable organization during the first two or three years of his ownership while Johnson assembled a team that ultimately would win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992-93 and add a third in 1995 under Barry Switzer.
"No one, not even Jimmy, ever had the authority to call the NFL and make cuts or trades, other than me," said Jones. "Technically, what it amounted to is that he would make recommendations, and I usually concurred. There were only one or two times when I did not concur, but we would discuss it and work it out."
Jones cited the acquisition of 49ers defensive end Charles Haley as an example of his contribution to the Super Bowl years.
"Jimmy didn't spend a lot of time on that," said Jones. "The real thrust is that 99 percent of my conversations about Charles Haley was with (defensive coordinator) Dave Wannstedt."
Of course, it is true that once Jones brilliantly got his organization profitably into the black, his desire to meddle more deeply in football matters is what led to his divorce with Johnson.
Jones steadfastly denies running a dictatorship that in effect has run his franchise aground.
"I am a delegator," he said. "I have a large personnel and scouting department. I have the largest coaching staff in the NFL. I am a great listener (note: true, he is). Decisions around here are made with a lot of thought and discussion. And I do allow my (employees) to make a lot of decisions."
Still, by Jones' insistence in being the team's general manager, he makes the coach look bad with players, media and fans. Campo is in a no-win situation.
"I know what we're dealing with here -- the meddling owner syndrome," said Jones. "It's funny, but you never hear of the meddling GM. The fact that I'm an owner-GM is why we're having a long conversation on whether I'm undermining Dave.
"You don't hear anybody saying anything about (Bills president-GM) Tom Donohoe standing in the coaches' box during a game, overlooking the offensive play-caller. Nobody says a word. But as an owner, I catch heat. I'm aware of that."
Jones catches heat because, once Johnson left, the perception (also the reality, I believe) is that he became a real GM who has been responsible for this team's dive from dynasty to mediocrity to almost slapstick.
"I understand the challenges we face right now," said Jones. "But I would assure you and our fans that I feel confident that the same principles we applied to build a Super Bowl team are the same principles we are using to fix it."
In fairness to Jones, and contrary to speculation, the Dallas Morning News story never suggested Jones also was calling selected plays.
Now if Jones really wanted to protect Campo's 0-4 start, maybe he ought to admit to calling plays.
Oh, yes, I did ask Jones the question you wanted to ask: "Will the owner fire the GM?"
You gotta love him.