Like team, Jones is man on move Owner won't sit still, be it firing Landry or leading Cowboys' rapid rise to top

John Steadman

February 02, 1993|By John Steadman

PASADENA, Calif. -- As Jerry Jones was the center of attention, a sportswriter who believes confession is good for the soul looked him dead in the eye and asked if he kept a file of stories that were written after he took over the Dallas Cowboys and, as his first official act, sent Tom Landry into retirement.

He was told he had been annihilated. Jones didn't come out swinging, resort to profanity or turn his back. Obviously, he didn't take the insults personally but, in all truth, they were intended to be.

Now four football seasons later, he is owner of the revitalized, Landry-less Cowboys that have won the Super Bowl and own the championship of the National Football League.

Jones is a different kind of an owner in that he has a football background at the University of Arkansas and works as his own general manager.

He paid a reported $140 million for the franchise and an imposing office/training complex located on 200 acres in Valley Ranch, Texas. It's his belief, since he had no partners in the deal, that the purchase was an all-time record in professional sports because it was a one-man transaction.

"I wouldn't have bought the team if I wasn't going to run it myself on a daily basis," he said. "I delegated my other businesses [oil and gas exploration] to great managers. I'm 100 percent Dallas Cowboys. I never worked harder in my life."

The status quo is not a recognizable condition with Jones. He puts it succinctly: "Nothing stands still. If you're not moving forward, you get knocked flat."

Jones is all optimism, not an emotional speech-maker but a confident believer. Everything is positive. "My buying the Cowboys was not the most astute financial investment," he says. "I could have done other things with the money that would have been more profitable."

Growing up in Little Rock, Ark., his father owned a grocery business and in high school, even when two-a-day football practices were being held, he still had to put in two hours at the store.

"Dad was from the Depression era and knew how to work and made sure I realized it, too," Jones recalled.

Jones looked away, paused briefly and then offered a different kind of a thought: "If I had not been a success, then I should have been ashamed of myself because of the parental guidance had and the way I was raised."

Not too many multi-millionaires from modest, so-called middle-class backgrounds remember the old folks when they attain the kind of affluence Jones has. It's an important point in the assessment of any man's character.

The team's 1-15 experience of his rookie season, after terminating Landry and also sending general manager Tex Schramm, the two architects of the Cowboys, into retirement, was a brutal awakening.

"The roughest day of my life was Christmas Eve," Jones said. "We wanted to finish with a win against Green Bay to give us a good start for 1990. But we lost. It was the kind of a day, Christmas Eve, where I would have been having a wonderful time with my family.

"At 4 a.m., I got a call at home to tell me every commode in Texas Stadium, where we were playing, had frozen up. And we never got the facilities straightened out."

Jones, 50, was co-captain and starting guard on the 1964 Arkansas team that went undefeated, beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and achieved the national college championship.

But he doesn't wear the ring. "I used to have it on all the time, but jewelry irritates my skin," Jones said. "I will wear the Super Bowl ring. I plan on going to the doctor to find out what I have to do to correct the problem."

It was because of his friendship with Jimmy Johnson, a college teammate who had been successful coaching at Oklahoma State and Miami, that he hired him to replace Landry. And Jones had once been a coach himself, at a different level, of course.

"For six years I coached a 10-to-13-year-old football team called the 'Mean Machine' in the Little Rock YMCA League," Jones said. "We won the championship every year. I'd be at a meeting in Oklahoma City and, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, excuse myself and tell everyone I had to make football practice back in Little Rock.

"Sometimes I flew in the company plane or went commercial, but I got there. My two boys played and a daughter was the cheerleader. I have a picture of them that is important to me."

Jones found out, almost immediately, the way he handled Landry and Schramm wasn't popular in Dallas. "My enthusiasm for what I was doing was perceived as being insensitive," he said. "I understand how Tex and Tom felt. I got off on the wrong foot. I burned some bridges and after that 1-15 start I couldn't turn back."

Being in a high-risk endeavor, drilling for gas and oil, means Jones knows not every day is like the Super Bowl. "Sixteen years before I took over the Cowboys, I was at Love Field in Dallas and gave the lady behind the car rental desk my credit card. She checked it and said, 'Young man, you've got to pay your bills.' "

But tough times were only temporary. If there's one word that defines Jones it's aggressiveness. He insists negative reactions don't influence him. "Opportunity comes from trying. You have to go for it," is what he says and, as simple as it sounds, is his approach to every decision he makes.

The Dallas Cowboys, but mainly the Jones boy, have done it differently. He came to pro football from the oil fields but had an understanding of the sport as a former player and has proceeded, in only four years, to beat 27 owners at their own game.

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