Two decades later, Jerry Jones still has tight grip on Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jerry Jones couldn't wait to start running the Dallas Cowboys.

The very day he took over -- a Saturday two months into the offseason -- Jones dumped the team's revered coach and gave the job to a former college teammate. The Arkansas oilman put himself in charge of everything else, "from socks to jocks," critics be damned.

Twenty years and three Super Bowl championships later, only the stakes have changed.

Timeline: Jerry Jones as the Cowboys' owner

Feb. 25, 1989: Jones buys the Cowboys and lease rights to Texas Stadium from Bum Bright. Jones fires Tom Landry, the only coach the Cowboys had ever had, and hires former University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson as the replacement.

April 18, 1989: The NFL approves the sale of the Cowboys to Jones. Tex Schramm resigns after 29 years as team president.

April 20, 1989: The Cowboys take future Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

Oct. 12, 1989: Running back Herschel Walker is traded to the Minnesota Vikings in a deal involving five players, six conditional draft picks and a 1992 first-round selection. With some of the draft picks acquired from the Vikings, the Cowboys took running back Emmitt Smith, who became the NFL's career rushing leader, and safety Darren Woodson, who retired as the leading tackler in team history.

Dec. 11, 1991: A victory over the Philadelphia Eagles secures a wild-card spot -- the Cowboys' first playoff appearance since 1985.

Jan. 31, 1993: Aikman throws four touchdown passes as the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills 52-17 to win Super Bowl XXVII. It's Dallas' first championship since the 1977 season.

Jan. 30, 1994: The Cowboys beat the Bills 30-13

in Super Bowl XXVIII for a second consecutive title.

March 29, 1994: Johnson surprisingly steps down as coach.

March 30, 1994: Barry Switzer, an assistant at Arkansas when Jones played there, is hired as the Cowboys' coach.

Sept. 9, 1995:Deion Sanders signs a seven-year, $35 million contract, making him the NFL's highest-paid defensive player.

Jan. 28, 1996: The Cowboys become the first team in NFL history to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX.

Dec. 28, 1996: The Cowboys beat the Vikings 40-15 in an NFC Wild-Card Game. It's Dallas' most recent playoff victory.

Jan. 9, 1998: Switzer resigns after going 40-24

in four seasons.

Feb. 12, 1998: Chan Gailey is hired as coach.

Jan. 11, 2000: Gailey is fired after going 18-14

in two seasons.

Jan. 26, 2000: Dave Campo is promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach.

Dec. 30, 2002: Campo is fired after his teams posted three consecutive 5-11 seasons.

Jan. 2, 2003: Bill Parcells is hired as coach.

Nov. 2, 2004: Arlington, Texas, residents approve

stadium referendum.

Sept. 19, 2005: Aikman, Smith and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin are inducted into the Cowboys'

Ring of Honor.

April 10, 2006: Ground is broken on a $1.1 billion stadium, which will open for the 2009 season.

Jan. 22, 2007: Parcells retires after going 34-30

in four seasons.

Feb. 7, 2007:Wade Phillips is hired as coach.

May 22, 2007: NFL owners select the Cowboys'

new stadium as the site of the 2011 Super Bowl.

Wednesday marks exactly 20 years since Jones stormed onto the scene, and his grip on the Cowboys' organization is as strong as ever.

From his point of view, there's no reason to ease up.

Jones restored the Cowboys to glory faster than anyone expected in the early 1990s, and ever since, he has kept them among the NFL's most visible teams, quite a feat considering Dallas has gone 12 seasons without winning a playoff game. Along the way, Jones has improved the way business is done throughout the league, greasing the skids by helping negotiate roughly $25 billion in television contracts.

The best part for Jones is that the $160 million he pulled together to launch all this has now moved one decimal point to the right -- the Cowboys are worth $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. Jones also now has a spot on the magazine's list of billionaires, although he has plunked down a bunch of money into building a futuristic $1.1 billion stadium for his team. So far, it looks like another wise move, considering the place has lured a Super Bowl, a Final Four and the NBA All-Star game before it's even built.

"Jerry always challenges you to think differently," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. "That is a very healthy challenge that has added value and innovation to our league. He has boundless energy and can always be counted on to devote time to league matters on a wide range of issues. He also respects history and tradition, and under his leadership, the Cowboys continue to be one of the premier franchises in sports."

But then there's the other perspective of Jones, the one held by many of the folks he insists he's trying to please -- the fans.

Most Cowboys supporters have long since gotten over the firing of Tom Landry and the ousting of Jimmy Johnson. They've become immune to players being arrested or throwing tantrums, and they've learned to roll their eyes at the occasional references to "Coach Jones."

Still, the last year or so has tested the resolve of even the most faithful.

The Cowboys were the NFC's top team in the 2007 season, then flopped in the playoffs. They took a bigger plunge in 2008, going from 3-0 and living up to their hype as a Super Bowl contender to missing the playoffs. They capped the nosedive with a no-show performance in Philadelphia.

Yet Jones doesn't seem ready to shake up things for 2009.

He dismissed the notion of too many personality clashes in a locker room that featured a malcontent like wide receiver Terrell Owens and troubled players such as cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones and defensive tackle Tank Johnson, and he has stuck with Wade Phillips, a coach known for regular-season success and postseason failure. All Jones has done so far is boot Pacman and rap Phillips on the knuckles.

Phillips' defensive coordinator was fired, and the coach was told to take over the duty. The offense, meanwhile will continue to be run by Jason Garrett, the coordinator hired by Jones and widely presumed to be Phillips' eventual successor. Phillips was allowed to bring in Dan Reeves as a sounding board, then had to say goodbye after a few days when, according to Jones, "it became apparent to me that we weren't on the same page."

The latest news is that Phillips is under a gag order. Jones decreed himself the lone voice of the organization because he doesn't like some things that have been reported lately, mostly about whether T.O. will return. (Salary-cap implications make it likely that he will.) It's a classic case of the spotlight that Jones craves shining too brightly for comfort.

Bottom line: After 20 years, Jones is still straddling the line between being viewed as the problem and the solution, a dichotomy often described as "great owner, horrible GM."

"I still have faith that the Cowboys are going to be in the thick of it the next couple of years," said Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, who's considered a patron saint by Cowboys fans. "I sent Jerry a note recently and told him I feel the pieces are there and can be put in place. I wished him the best and to hang in there. I know he cares a lot."

Then Staubach dropped the hammer, the indisputable fact that overwhelms every love-him-or-hate-him debate -- those three Super Bowls.

The New England Patriots are the only team to receive as many Lombardi trophies in the past 20 years. Heck, in the 43-year history of Super Bowls, only the Pittsburgh Steelers (six) and San Francisco 49ers (five) have won more than the three that Dallas has earned on Jones' watch. The Cowboys have five total Super Bowl titles.

It helped that Jones inherited wide receiver Michael Irvin, was able to spend his first draft pick on quarterback Troy Aikman, and that the Minnesota Vikings gave up a stack of players and draft picks for running back Herschel Walker -- commodities the Cowboys used to land running back Emmitt Smith and safety Darren Woodson. Aikman and Irvin already are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, likely will join them when he becomes eligible next year. Woodson, meanwhile, retired with the most tackles in team history.

Now Jones is driven by the challenge of winning with a new set of players, a group without Johnson's fingerprints and, as the years go by, without Bill Parcells able to soak up too much credit.

As this 20-year anniversary approached, Jones was far more interested in looking forward than back. Yet last week he gave a few thoughts about the road he has been down.

"It is beyond anything I could've ever imagined to be a part of the Cowboys and the NFL and sports for 20 years," he said. "I wouldn't trade anything for any part of it. From that standpoint, I feel fortunate. I couldn't have dreamed it would be as challenging, that it would be as rewarding."

Asked for any regrets, Jones said, "The positives far outweigh the negatives that I can think of."

But as soon as those words came out, Jones thought of something.

"I would have liked to have won more Super Bowls," he said. "I really would have liked to have won more Super Bowls.

"Three is not enough."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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