Jerry Jones is seen around the NFL as a bit of a joke at times. He aggravated this perception with his now infamous "glory hole" remarks, and still show absolutely no ability to resist offering his opinions to the world whenever a microphone comes within visual range.
But who is the joke really on? He owns one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world, which plays in perhaps the most sophisticated and envied stadiums in existence. This is despite a long championship drought and recent run of regular season futility. The evidence is clear that he is a very savvy, perhaps truly brilliant businessman.
Of course, it is not his ownership of the Cowboys that inspires the constant criticism bordering on hostility. It is his constant meddling in the running of the team, his dominance over many of the head coaches he has hired since the messy divorce with Jimmy Johnson with the attendant lack of on-field success. And since he is the owner and has every intent of remaining the GM, there is not much chance for change.
Except for one thing. There has been a change in the Cowboys front office. Although many observers do not perceive it, the team is now run by a committee of three. Jerry Jones is still a major voice, and certainly the loudest one heard by the public, but increasingly the GM responsibilities are shared with his son and heir apparent Stephen Jones, while the team itself has been thoroughly claimed by Jason Garrett.
This is masked to a great deal by Jerry's self-appointed role as chief spokesman for the franchise, coupled with the natural reticence of Garrett and a large degree of discretion on the part of Stephen Jones. But since Garrett assumed the head coaching job, much of what Jerry says to the media seems to come from what he is told by the head coach.
There does not seem to be disagreement between them on much of anything. There is no tension over an acquisition, as happened between Jones and Bill Parcells over Terrell Owens (whose name never passed Parcells' lips, being designated by him as "The Player"), or a move that seemed largely dreamed up by Jones like the acquisition of wide receiver Roy Williams.
The dramatic draft day trade has long been a staple of Jerry's management style, but the most recent big move, the trade to get sixth overall pick Morris Claiborne this year, was negotiated by Stephen Jones, who then was seen on the phone holding the St. Louis Rams to the original deal when they tried to squeeze another draft choice out of the Cowboys.
What appears to be different now is that Jerry Jones is exhibiting a degree of trust in his two main lieutenants. The explanation that makes the most sense is that he has two men with whom he has long histories, men he has watched grow and flourish. They also know him well and how to work with him. Further, Stephen Jones and Jason Garrett have forged a strong bilateral relationship. If push comes to shove, they are now the first combination of opinions that can back Jerry Jones down when they are on opposite sides of a question from him.
This does not mean that Jerry Jones has reduced his input to that of a figurehead. He still is deeply involved in decisions about the acquisition and retention of players. He is just far more likely to take the other's viewpoint over his own, once again because of that trust factor.
This is helped greatly by Garrett's very cohesive and comprehensive approach to finding his preferred kinds of players. While talent is still the major thing the team seeks, it also places great weight on work ethic and the desire to continually improve. This undoubtedly appeals to a man who has built the empire that is the Dallas Cowboys. He willingly gives Garrett great rein in putting the team together and running it on a day to day basis.
While this is a very different way of running his franchise than most think has, it is not a way that is set in stone. The one thing above all else that matters to Jerry Jones is winning, and that will not change as long as he is still with us. He is pleased with what is happening and the acquisition of exciting, dynamic players like Claiborne, Tyron Smith, DeMarco Murray and Brandon Carr. He has some patience, understanding that the team cannot rebound from the 1-7 start that cost Wade Phillips his job.
Seeing a very different approach in training camp and practice from the admittedly soft approach Phillips took is encouraging to him, but the results will have to follow. This is going to be a challenging year. The schedule looks to be more difficult than the one that produced the 8-8 record in 2011, and it is possible the Cowboys could be a measurably improved team and still lose more games in 2012.
That is not to say Garrett is on the proverbial hot seat this year, or is likely to be on it in 2013. But if, by then, the team is not seeing some success, measured of course by making the playoffs and advancing at least a round, then all things are subject to reconsideration.
But if the team can win another game or two this year, then Jerry will feel vindicated and continue in his support of the direction of his Cowboys. And one other advantage that Garrett has is that, when Jones takes credit for what happens when the team improves, Garrett has no real problem with letting the performance speak for itself while Jones basks in the attention. If success comes in the next two or perhaps three years, this could be a long running relationship.
Jerry would deserve a lot of credit. He has largely quit behaving the way he used to where it matters. Just don't expect him to be quiet any time soon.