Turnaround hinges on Jerry Jones


IRVING, Texas -- The two best stretches Jerry Jones has had in his first 25 years as owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys occurred with strong head coaches running the franchise and providing direction.

First, Jimmy Johnson. Then, Bill Parcells.

Johnson's teams won two Super Bowls and his players provided the core that won Super Bowl XXX. Parcells built a rugged, physical team that won a division title and made two playoff appearances in four seasons. We also know most of the core of the Cowboys' teams that went 33-15 in the regular season from 2007 to 2009 were acquired during Parcells' tenure.

Jones is a highly intelligent man. You'd think he'd understand the correlation between having a strong head coach -- forcing him to take a less prominent role -- and the team's success. But it hasn't happened yet. Who knows if it ever will.

This much we do we know. If Jones doesn't change his approach, the next 25 years will be a barren as the past 17 seasons.

It's not really that complicated. Oh, Jones has 100 reasons why his approach works. And any time he's asked about hiring a general manager, he recites those reasons. Apparently, one playoff win since 1996 isn't enough to change his mind. If that doesn't do it, then nothing ever will.

Jones won three Super Bowls in his first 25 seasons as owner. No way, he matches that during the next 25 years. He can only blame himself.

Winning in professional sports is about the organization, because players and coaches come and go. The best organizations make good personnel and coaching decisions, allowing them to consistently win. In the NFL, it's no coincidence that the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants have been consistent winners. Each has a strong organization that allows it to overcome a bad year, a bad draft or a bad decision.

The Cowboys are 136-136 since the start of the 1997 season and have been the epitome of mediocre, and there's no tangible evidence that it's going to change anytime soon. We're talking about an organization that hasn't been to the NFC championship game since the 1995 season. Only Detroit (1991) and Washington (1991) have longer droughts.

If we're honest, the odds of Jones building a team good enough to topple San Francisco and Seattle -- the NFC's two best teams -- in the four seasons before Tony Romo's career probably ends are miniscule.

The next time the Cowboys make a legitimate run at a title, DeMarcus Ware, Jason Witten and Romo won't be part of it. Do you trust Jerry and Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett or whoever is coaching the Cowboys to put an elite team together?

It wouldn't be so bad if the Cowboys had made it to the Super Bowl or even advanced to the NFC Championship game from 2007 to 2009, when they won 33 regular-season games. But those teams managed just one playoff win.

All you can do is shake your head.

Think about it. From the mid-'60s to the mid-'90s, the Cowboys were contenders to win pro football's championship for all but a handful of years. It's an amazing streak of consistency, a testament to the way Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt worked together to put a quality team together.

These Cowboys are largely irrelevant. Sure, they produce good national TV ratings, but that's because they elicit emotion from fans. Folks either love them or hate them, and casual NFL fans will watch the Cowboys because of their Q rating.

While winning is cyclical because the draft process and the schedule formula is designed to create parity, there's no guarantee that the Cowboys will eventually become an elite team again.

Detroit and Cleveland are the only non-expansion teams that have never made it to one of the first 48 Super Bowls. The Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans have each lost their only Super Bowl appearance, while the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles are 0-for-2. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills are each 0-4.

That's a lot of teams that have yet to win a Super Bowl in nearly half a century.

The most loyal Cowboys fans deal in hope, faith and optimism. The rest of us deal in the reality that the Cowboys might not play or win another Super Bowl in our lifetime.