- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Jones made his first tidy fortune from a life insurance company—owned by his father, Pat—whose value grew in the late 1960s from $2 a share to $135 a share. From there Jones shifted into higher gear, going into the oil business with a company called Arkoma Exploration Co., which operated first in Arkansas and Oklahoma and then branched out to California and Canada. Soon he had his own Learjet. Later he expanded into natural gas and a variety of other enterprises. Only once before in his life had Jones shown any interest in investing in sports: In '66, at the age of 23, callow and freshly graduated from Arkansas, where he earned a masters in finance, he arranged to raise $8 million for the purpose of buying and operating the San Diego Chargers. His father took one look at the easy-come, easy-go bunch of financiers his son had assembled and nixed the deal.
By the fall of 1988. Jones had the money to enter big-time sports with a vengeance. Although a host of other buyers were interested. Bright said, "We had been pointing at Jerry Jones since September. The more I got to know him, the more I knew he was the right man to own the Cowboys." Of course, the feeling was mutual. As Jones said last week, "The Dallas Cowboys are the only team I would want to own. A lot of my friends from college live in Texas now."
Bright had tried to get as much as $180 million for the team, the stadium leases and the outstanding debt. The deal he and Jones finally closed was for less, reportedly $90 million for the team and $50 million for the stadium leases; he also assumed the $10 million mortgage on the Cowboys' headquarters. The sale will become official only after 21 of the NFL's 27 other owners approve it. That's expected to happen later this month.
Unlike the hands-off administrations of Murchison and Bright, Jones has promised to put his fingerprints on everything in the Cowboy organization. "I will sell my house in Little Rock and move to Dallas," he said last week. "My entire office and my entire business will be at [the Cowboys'] complex. This will be a hands-on operation. I want to know everything there is to know, from player contracts to socks and jocks and television contracts. This is my company, and I will be making all the decisions. The Cowboys will be my life!"
This doesn't bode well for Schramm. He ran the Cowboys like his own corner grocery under Murchison and Bright, voting at league meetings as if he owned the whole franchise instead of the mere 3% he has. So powerful has Schramm's influence been in the NFL that he has long been considered the second strongest man in the league, after commissioner Pete Rozelle, his pal. In one of his more insensitive but noteworthy public remarks last week, Jones let it be known that Schramm's days of power were numbered. He said, "Well, Tex is used to standing out front, but he's a little behind me here tonight. He's still going to be an important part of the Cowboys, but it's my vote. I'm the owner."
Jones's businessman's attitude toward the Cowboys is markedly different from the way many major league owners view their teams—as playthings, ego boosters or tax write-offs. Jones has told friends in Little Rock that the Cowboy franchise must be a profit-making operation, for he has invested the bulk of his fortune in it and it will be his primary source of income. This could cause uneasiness in the corral, for the Cowboys have never made much money—in part because of their celebrated penchant for doing everything in high-priced style. The Cowboys have 109 nonplaying employees (compared with 28 for the Cincinnati Bengals, for example), a weekly newspaper, a luxurious training camp in Southern California and a nationally syndicated TV show each week during the season. Texas Stadium is a palace, and the team's 200-acre headquarters and practice complex in Valley Ranch is the most lavish in the league. However, Cowboy income has been squeezed by fixed national TV revenue and by less-than-capacity attendance in Dallas in recent seasons. Jones has told friends that his first acts as head Cowboy will be to slash away at the fat in the budget.
This will make old cowhands very unhappy, but it is nothing compared with the discontent Jones caused by his decision to fire Landry so he could bring in Johnson as coach. The Jones-Johnson friendship is a heartwarming thing, to be sure, going back a quarter of a century to their college days, when Johnson was a defensive lineman and Jones a guard on the 1964 Arkansas national champions. They used to lie in bed at night talking about how much they wanted football always to be a part of their lives. And so it has been for Johnson, who had a variety of college coaching jobs at Oklahoma. Arkansas. Pitt and Oklahoma State before he landed at Miami in 1984. In his five seasons there he racked up a 52-9 record, including a national championship in 1987.
A man of great energy and even greater ambition. Johnson has had his eye on the NFL—particularly Dallas. As Rich Dalrymple. Miami's sports information director, said last week. "I think he was ready to stay here a lot longer, but I do believe the Cowboys job was the one and only job he was prepared to leave any other place for." About six months ago Johnson casually mentioned to Dalrymple that he had a friend who was trying to buy a pro football franchise. Nothing more was heard about that until, suddenly, during their daily lunchtime jog with the coaching staff last Thursday. Johnson said to Dalrymple, "You better be ready to push spring practice back a week. Looks like the guy's going to buy the team."
The next day Johnson was in Dallas with Jones, dining at a Tex-Mex restaurant and refusing to discuss anything with reporters who spotted them. Jones signed the deal with Bright at 3 a.m. on Saturday, and Johnson returned to Miami. By the time the sun rose that morning, a sign painter at the private airport where Jones had parked his Learjet had painted a silver-and-blue Dallas Cowboy helmet on the plane's tail. A few hours later Jones and Schramm took the craft to Austin, where they told Landry that his Cowboy coaching days were over. That act brought forth a spate of praise for Landry and recriminations for Jones, and there was the feel of an obituary in what was said.
Rozelle spoke in tones of grief: "This is like Lombardi's death. Tom's not only been an outstanding coach, but a tremendous role model for kids and fans." Herschel Walker, the Cowboys' star tailback, sounded angry: "The saddest thing is to see someone go not knowing what in the world is going on." Hall of Famer Bob Lilly, who played defensive tackle for Landry for 14 seasons, was nostalgic: ""It's the end of an era, our era. A lot of old Cowboys are crying tonight."