In truth, since 1989 Jones has sought advice from other NFL owners—primarily Davis, another owner who also serves as general manager. Jones spent hours learning from Davis. Jones learned about coaching the coach through extended player holdouts. Davis's theory: Let the key veteran holdouts sit safely at home, and force the coach to play backups and rookies and develop depth. Keep holdout starters from getting to camp too early and getting hurt or burned out in the heat. Let them get anxious to play. Let them soften their contractual demands. Then, a week or so before the regular season starts, give the stars a fair deal.
Johnson's eye-rolling response: "Yeah, Jerry listens to whomever he wants to listen to. It's usually the last guy he talked to. The fallacy to [the Davis holdout theory] is that Al has always had older teams. I promise you, if we don't get these guys in until the regular season, we will not be as good a football team."
And yet Jones is now regarded among his fellow owners as one of the NFL's shrewdest operators.
Is it the truth that haunts Johnson?
In a darkly sarcastic mood Johnson once said that his girlfriend, Rhonda Rook, knows as much about football as Jones does. Johnson said, "Sometimes she'll say, 'Why do you let him say what he does [to the media about his trade involvement]?'...I don't know. I've gone from angry and hostile to trying to be a good company man to trying to tell the truth to I really don't care. He owns the club. What can I do?"
But in the hours after the Bear game, Johnson could no longer contain himself, and the confrontation in Jones's suite could have set off a full-blown battle for authority. That it did not is a reflection of the man at whom the anger was directed. Through Johnson's three-week reign of terror, Jones was the one person in the organization who shrugged it off. The day after Johnson confronted him, Jones said he had seen Johnson at other times even more "puffed up" with anger. Had Jones's relentless optimism made him oblivious to the depths of Johnson's bitterness? Was he being a little naive?
No, said Jones. "Jimmy's smart enough not to push me too far. He knows I can be volatile too. I tried to explain to Jimmy that I respect the sanctity of the locker room and sidelines, but that there are certain things [such as entertaining Bandar and important sponsors] that just have to be done for the good of the club. Really, I have a better relationship with Jimmy than I've had with any partner I've ever had."
As the pressure built on Johnson's Cowboys last season, Jones constantly provided a bright-side balance and perspective. "Look, Jimmy hasn't changed one iota from the way he was in college," Jones says. "I knew exactly what I was getting into."
When Jones hired Johnson, he knew that he was getting a coach with a rare eye for talent and a unique ability to prepare teams physically and emotionally. At a press conference the night he bought the team, Jones said, "Jimmy Johnson will be worth five Heisman Trophy winners and five first-round draft choices." But Jones was also cocky enough to think that he could harness Johnson's explosive talent.
So the day after the 1992 regular season ended, Jones said he was going to ride out Johnson's thunderstorm. He actually said that Johnson's behavior might even be good for the team. "My instincts tell me to let it run its course," Jones said. "Whatever, for lack of a better word, squirrelly things Jimmy might do, they can be the kinds of things that go into winning a Super Bowl. The team's saying, 'Jimmy did this, Jimmy did that,' and all of a sudden a lot of energy is building and you're working and pushing and pulling and you win it all."