When you think of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, what comes to mind?
Perhaps you think of ego. The successful businessman has made himself the front-and-center face of the Dallas Cowboys ever since he purchased the franchise in 1989. When head coach Jimmy Johnson got too big for his britches, at least in the eyes of Jones, he was fired and replaced with his college football rival Barry Switzer. He serves as his own general manager, a role few owners would dare insert themselves into.
And whenever there’s some kind of drama involving NFL owners, Jones always seems to be at the center of the storm.
Maybe you think of his business acumen, which made him a millionaire and eventually a billionaire as the owner of the Cowboys. Jones not only owns one of the centerpiece franchises of the league but he has also positioned himself with financial stakes in many of the league’s partners as well as companies that profit off of the NFL (Papa Johns, DraftKings, FanDuel, Legends Hospitality).
In 1993, he opted out of a league-wide licensing deal in order to create his own deals with sponsors for much more money. He played a pivotal role in helping the Rams, Chargers, and Raiders move, decisions that he’ll personally profit as his merchandise and concessions company enters into new stadium deals. If there’s a financial decision that benefits the NFL, you can be assured that it benefits Jones, and he’s made it that way on purpose.
Maybe you just think about how rich he is. When you’re the owner of a football team valued over $4 billion, you get to throw your weight around pretty much whenever you like. You get to build Jerry World and all the tax breaks that come with it. You become royalty in the Dallas-Fort Worth region. You can almost single-handily launch a coup against the commissioner of the NFL and still sit pretty after it fails. Basically, you can do whatever you want.
However you see Jerry Jones, you probably see him as the kind of owner who would not stand for futility and mediocrity when it comes to his football team. He seems like the kind of person who sees every season in which you do not win the Super Bowl as a failure. He seems like the kind of person happy to jump the gun and make rash decisions in order to accomplish that goal.
All of that makes it so fascinating and confusing that he continues to employ Jason Garrett as his head coach.
Garrett has been the head coach of the Cowboys for eight seasons now, making him the second-longest tenured coach in franchise history (he’s still got a long way to go to catch Tom Landry’s 29 seasons). He’s coached the team longer than two-time Super Bowl champion Jimmy Johnson (five seasons) and fellow Super Bowl champion Barry Switzer (four seasons). You would imagine, given all of that pedigree, that Garrett must have some pretty impressive hardware on his shelf.
And yet…he does not. Not counting 2010 when he coached the final eight games of the season after Wade Phillips was fired, Garrett has only led the team to two winning seasons and two playoff berths. In his seven-plus seasons at the helm, he has a grand total of one playoff victory and has never even reached an NFC Championship Game, let alone a Super Bowl. His Cowboys will miss the playoffs again this season and there’s a possibility they will finish 8-8 for the fourth time in Garrett’s tenure.
If Jeff Fisher will be perpetually remembered as the coach who always finishes 7-9, Garrett might as well be “the guy who can get to 8-8,” which somehow seems worse. And at least Fisher has a Super Bowl appearance to fall back on.
By all NFL logic, Jones should probably move on from Garrett by now. We’ve seen him take the Cowboys to the pinnacle of regular season success and we’ve seen what he did with it. We’ve also seen him take a lot of talented Dallas squads and lead them to uncomfortable mediocrity. He’s pretty much shown the league what he’s capable of and while his 66-52 overall record is nothing to scoff at, it’s not the kind of record that usually keeps you employed without a trophy or two to back it up.
And yet…Jones seems more than happy to sit tight on The Jason Garrett Experiment. When asked about whether or not he plans to fire Garrett following the season, Jones made it pretty clear that he has no intentions.
“His job is not at issue here at all,” Jones said.
“Let’s just say that it’s not in the best interest of the Cowboys right now to be considering a head coaching change,” Jones said.
Jones did acknowledge the possibility of changes Garrett’s staff due to expiring contracts for certain assistants.
“As far as the rest of the staff, we’ve got a lot a large coaching staff and we’ve got a lot of different contracts that are at various times coming up,” Jones said. “We’ll look at that. That doesn’t mean there will be any material changes, but we will look at it. We did some really good things with our staff this year in many areas.”
So how do we make sense of this? That an owner willing to go to war with his own players over protests while simultaneously going to war with his commissioner is also more than happy to stick with a coach who hasn’t proven his ability to win when it matters over and over again?
Perhaps the answer is so obvious it’s staring us in the face. Loyalty. Garrett’s father was a longtime scout for the Cowboys under Jones. Garrett played for the team, backing up Troy Aikman at quarterback for eight seasons. He returned to the franchise in 2007 as an offensive coordinator and bided his time until he was elevated to interim head coach in 2010 and head coach shortly thereafter. His younger brother Judd works in the Cowboys front office.
The Garretts are a major part of the Dallas Cowboys family and Jerry has basically watched Jason for most of his adult life and groomed him into becoming head coach of the team. And we know Jones has a thing for loyalty as the first head coach he ever hired (Jimmy Johnson) was a teammate of his from Arkansas. The second head coach he ever hired (Switzer) was an assistant coach when Jones played there.
So is the code that simple to crack? That Jones is willing to go to stomp or backstab anyone who gets in the way of his success unless that person has proven themselves loyal to Jones at every stop, at which point he suddenly loses his desire to put victory ahead of humanity? So long as Garrett keeps his head above water and swims at a mediocre pace, is his job safe inside an institution that will keep covering for him with shiny new objects? It’s hard not to see it any other way.
May we all be so lucky to have a billionaire benefactor willing to put up with our run-of-the-mill job performance in perpituity.