Nearly 20 years later the dynamic between Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson still intrigues Dallas Cowboys fans. I talk to Cowboys fans all the time about the state of this team and, inevitably, they get nostalgic about that era. The same words always escape their mouths: “Man, I wish Jimmy were still here.”
If Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt were the relatively harmonious trio that fueled the Cowboys’ consistent greatness for nearly two decades, Jerry and Jimmy were those two brothers down the block who fought about everything. Compromise rarely existed in this relationship.
The fued that never ends
Every few years, almost like clockwork, the past comes up again. Jerry talked with NBC’s Bob Costas last week and all everyone in Dallas wanted to talk about was how Jerry said he would fire any general manager that presided over a Cowboys team as underperforming as this one. Of course, Jones owns the team; he is the general manager. and he made it abundantly clear he wasn’t about to fire himself.
Jimmy said that a few years into his ownership, Jerry got bored with making money and wanted in on football decisions.
When Jimmy talked with Dan Patrick on the radio on Wednesday, all he wanted to talk about was how Jerry fibbed to Costas about how involved he was in personnel decisions when Jimmy was head coach. Jerry told Costas that Jimmy had plenty of input, but that he had final say in personnel from Day One of ownership.
Jimmy said he had it written into his contract that he had to sign off on all personnel decisions. Jimmy’s statement to Patrick was that Jerry said "I’ll be in charge of the finances, you’ll (Jimmy) be in charge of the football. We’ll make history.”
Jimmy told Patrick that a few years into his ownership, Jerry finally got bored with making money and wanted in on football decisions.
With Jimmy and Jerry. the Cowboys won two Super Bowls. Then Jerry told anyone that would listen that he could win Super Bowls with any coach and, well, you know the rest.
Deep down we know Jimmy was right
You really do know the rest, if you’re a Cowboys fan that has any interest in the team. The real question is why we’re still interested in watching these two Texas-sized egos clash every few years like a well-timed prize fight?
Perhaps it’s what could have been. Cowboys fans who side with Jimmy believe that with him at the helm the Cowboys would have won the Super Bowl for the 1994 season, the one that went to San Francisco, and they would have been the first team to win four straight Super Bowls, perhaps more.
Deep down we know Jimmy is right; he built the Cowboys’ talent pool. Had he stayed the Cowboys might have remained competitive longer in that era because of his expert talent evaluation skills. We’ve learned in the free agency era that player development is paramount to sustaining success.
The real question is why we’re still interested in watching these two Texas-sized egos clash every few years like a well-timed prize fight?
Look at the New England Patriots if you need a model. It’s not hard to figure out the difference between the Cowboys with Jimmy and without him. There’s plenty of evidence.
Here’s a list of the players the Cowboys drafted in the five years Jimmy and Jerry were together: Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski, Emmitt Smith, Jimmie Jones, Kenneth Gant, Russell Maryland, Alvin Harper, Erik Williams, Leon Lett, Larry Brown, Darren Woodson and Brock Marion. The Cowboys didn’t hit on every player, but they hit on a bunch.
Here’s a list of the top players drafted by the Cowboys the first five years after Jerry was without Jimmy: Shante Carver, Larry Allen, Sherman Williams, Eric Bjornson, Alundis Brice, Kavika Pittman, Randall Godfrey, Stepfret Williams, Dexter Coakley, David LaFleur, Steve Scifres, Greg Ellis, Flozell Adams and Darren Hambrick. There aren't nearly as many recognizable names on that list. The Cowboys didn’t miss on every player, but they missed on a bunch.
Perhaps that’s the perfect illustration of the difference between life with Jimmy and life without Jimmy. Perhaps that’s why Jimmy is perfectly willing to chime in when he feels Jerry is taking too much credit.
Neither Jerry nor Jimmy knew where they would be in nearly 20 years. But here they are.
Jimmy is a respected football commentator and mentor to current NFL coaches; Jerry sells pizza.
And the Cowboys, well, you know the rest.