Commentary

Why Jerry Jones' team won't win

Out-front owner has built great entertainment but not a Super Bowl winner

Originally Published: November 1, 2013
By Skip Bayless | ESPN.com

Allow me to qualify (or disqualify) myself before I say what I'm going to say about Jerry Jones ...

1. I wrote three books on Dallas Cowboys teams owned by Jones and spent hundreds of hours with him from 1989 to 1996, once even interviewing him over lunch at his Dallas estate.

2. The second book, "The Boys," undercut Jones' image among Tom Landry worshippers -- that of the "football-dumb hillbilly egomaniac from Arkansas" -- by giving him the general manager credit he deserved for helping build his first Super Bowl winner. Coach Jimmy Johnson was so outraged by the book that he told reporters I was banned from Cowboys facilities. Jones overruled, telling me I was always welcome as long as he was the owner.

[+] EnlargeJerry Jones
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsSkip says Jerry Jones has fostered a fun and entertaining team in Dallas -- one that leads the league in mediocrity.
3. I've often defended Jones on "First Take" as the shrewdest of businessmen and marketers with a plunger's guts … defended him as an owner/GM who did play football at a fairly high level (starting guard on Arkansas' 1964 national championship team) and who, with final say on all draft and free-agent moves, has consistently helped stock some of the NFL's most talented rosters … and defended him as an extremely likable man with a good heart and unsinkable spirit.

4. I grew up a Cowboys fan, attending my first game in 1960, the first year of their existence.

That said, I've reached this painful conclusion: I'll be surprised if one of Jerry Jones' teams ever even comes close to winning another Super Bowl. Jerry has never been as driven to win as Jimmy was and good-cop Jerry hasn't been nearly as effective after he split with as bad a cop as ever coached, Jimmy Johnson. Now, Jerry is far more ringmaster than ring winner.

Jerry has succeeded only at building the most entertaining team in sports -- too often for the wrong reasons. Year after year Jerry's Cowboys lead the league in building false hope and losing spectacularly. His Cowboys remain America's Team, in large part, because Cowboys lovers and the many, many Cowboys haters know that just when they start looking like a Super Bowl team, oh my god, did you see that?

They blow it in some astonishing way, as they did late against Denver (Tony Romo, from 506 yards passing to game-losing interception) and Detroit (Lions, 80 yards to win in the final minute). And Jerry all but applauds his team for another edge-of-seat moral victory, tells the media he saw so many positives, and backslaps his players for … for what? Putting on yet another great show?

The Cowboys fan in me is getting increasingly sick and tired of watching Jerry Jones enable his team to lose without fear. Super nice guys Romo, Jason Garrett, Jason Witten and DeMarcus Ware now lead the league in post-loss patience -- in handling tougher and tougher media questions with shrugging imperturbability -- because they aren't afraid of being held accountable by the owner.

Players know the bucks stop with Jerry, effectively their coach/GM/owner, and as long as his seats are filled and his TV ratings are through the roof and Forbes still ranks his team the NFL's most valuable, and he remains the world's best-known sports owner and the most famous figure in fame-crazed Dallas and gets to address the media in the locker room after every game (no owner or GM does that) … players will be made to feel absolutely no urgency to win.

Jerry just keeps using one of his favorite words to describe his quarterback and team -- "relevant." The Cowboys are at least as talked about now as they were when they were winning three Super Bowls in four years. Monday after Monday, today's Cowboys dominate the debate -- heck, "First Take" dedicated last Monday's first 30 minutes to their loss in Detroit (and Jerry would've been proud of our ratings).

Naturally, nuclear overreaction to Dez Bryant's sideline tirades overshadowed the fact that Dallas is now 4-4 with a defense that has fallen to dead last among 32 NFL teams and that has already allowed an NFL-record four 400-yard passers in a season (with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to come). If only the owner would launch into a tirade after a loss.

I don't believe anyone in this franchise or on this team takes winning nearly as now-or-never seriously as many early '90s Cowboys did because this team's sole leader -- the owner -- has gotten lost in his mirror.

Jerry Jones has mastered the art of promoting himself and his team while winning all of one playoff game in the past 16 years and making the playoffs only six times in those 16 years. That lone win came at home against Donovan McNabb in his final game as an Eagle just a week after the Cowboys had beaten the same Eagles at home. The last time Jerry's team played in an NFC Championship Game was before the 1995 Cowboys won the Super Bowl.

Let this sink in: The same Jones-owned Cowboys who should've won four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s have since then led the league in mediocrity AND celebrity. Jerry's genius: The Cowboys still attract the media coverage of a Super Bowl champ though they have missed the playoffs the past three seasons with a combined record of 22-26. Yep, they're still the Wow-boys.They're also 132-132 since 1887.

Jones built a shrine to himself -- JerryWorld, now AT&T Stadium -- which has played host to a Super Bowl, an NBA All-Star Game, a Manny Pacquiao fight and many big college games. Yet Cowboys opponents have treated it as almost a national-stage neutral site. Jerry's team is just 21-16 (counting the one playoff win) in his stadium.

It's almost as if Jerry has created more of a can't-look-away reality show than a potential championship team. The formula: Assemble just enough tantalizingly talented underachievers revolving around at least one agonizingly immature potential star who has battled off-field issues (Dez) to keep Cowboys lovers hoping for the best and haters expecting the worst. This is the NFL's version of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

Congrats, Jerry. You win … nothing.

Does Jerry need to hire a proven football man to make personnel decisions? No, Jerry has done well enough as GM -- and besides, he bought the team to run it, so fading into the background is simply not an option. No, what Jones needs more than ever is a Jimmy, a polar-opposite partner as driven to win as Jerry is to entertain.

That's why he and Jimmy Johnson blended so beautifully. Jimmy could barely contain his rage to dominate. Jimmy motivated by fear -- even his stars dreaded his win-or-else blowups. Forget the affable, chuckling Jimmy you see on Fox. On the team plane after a 1992 loss in Washington -- Jimmy's young Cowboys had blown a 17-10 lead after three quarters and lost 20-17 -- I witnessed him go psycho and tear into players (stars included) who dared to joke around in the coach section.

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AP Photo/Charles KrupaRemember these days? The Cowboys were scared of Jimmy Johnson, and that meant win or else ...
Result: That '92 team broke through a year ahead of schedule. Yet: The Cowboys almost certainly wouldn't have won that Super Bowl without the trade Jerry pulled off with rival San Francisco for Charles Haley (against Jimmy's better judgment). Jerry also made several smaller crucial moves that season and did an underrated job of reining in or spurring on Jimmy on draft days.

But Jimmy simply couldn't stand Jerry taking or getting a lick of credit, and Jimmy finally insulted Jerry one too many times in front of staffers. After they had won two straight Super Bowls, Jerry fired Jimmy … and hired ex-Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, a Jerry favorite who had played at Arkansas ahead of him.

If Jerry hadn't pulled off signing Deion Sanders away from San Francisco, Switzer might not have won that third Super Bowl with a team Jimmy had taught to win. Jerry and Barry were two good cops running easily the NFL's most talented team.

I thought Bill Parcells would be Jerry's next Jimmy. But Parcells is a Jersey guy who, in his final coaching stop, never seemed quite comfortable in the Hollywood that is Dallas. Jerry forced a player on Parcells (Terrell Owens) who was more headline-maker than difference-maker. Parcells did make the playoffs twice in four years, but he lost badly at Carolina and Romo's muffed field-goal hold ended a spectacular loss in Seattle.

Now Jerry has a pet coach (Garrett), a pet QB (Romo) and a pet receiver (Dez) he defends to a pathetic fault. He bet Valley Ranch (Cowboys headquarters) on Romo with a six-year, $108 million deal including $55 million guaranteed, even though Romo repeatedly has proved to be, as my debate partner Stephen A. Smith constantly reminds me, "an accident waiting to happen." I'm convinced Jerry reinvested in Tony Oh-No in part because he's just so damned exciting to watch.

Last offseason, Jerry huffed and puffed and vowed "changes will be made." The scapegoat? Take-no-guff defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, whose unit had been decimated by injuries. Ryan's New Orleans defense is currently 12th of 32 teams and they're fourth in points allowed.

Jerry replaced him with the legendary Monte Kiffin, 73 -- Jerry's kind of storytelling crony. Monte did a stint at Jerry's school, Arkansas, with Lou Holtz. Yes, Kiffin's Cowboys defense also has lost some key performers, but dead last?

Who really cares? Jerry is still able to sell the illusion of hope because -- gusher luck! -- his team still leads the NFL's worst division at .500. But it isn't really based on quality. The Cowboys have lost to four over-.500 teams and beaten four under-.500 teams.

Heck, maybe his Cowboys can win it at 7-9. Wouldn't that have the country buzzing.

I'm sorry, Jerry, I can no longer defend you. You have your three rings, now you just want your three-ring circus. For you, winning playoff games is now optional and my Cowboys deserve better.

Skip Bayless

First Take host
Skip Bayless joined ESPN after a career as a sports columnist that includes stops in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and San Jose. He can be seen Monday through Friday on First Take.

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