Jerry Jones isn’t a man who dwells on regrets, but he’s always second-guessed himself for his decision to personally fire the legendary Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Jones, who is in Indianapolis for the NFL combine, told reporters over the weekend that he would’ve left Landry’s coaching staff intact for another season if he had it to do all over again.
That seems ludicrous to me when you consider that Jones might’ve lost the opportunity to hire his former college teammate Jimmy Johnson in the process. What I do know to be true is that Jerry believes he acted on some bad advice from a P.R. expert in deciding to fly to Austin and fire Landry in person. First off, you should never interrupt a man’s round of golf. Jones has told me this story countless times over the years. But I’m bringing it up again because Tuesday is the 25th anniversary of Jones purchasing the Dallas Cowboys from H.R. "Bum" Bright. Jerry could’ve let Bright play the bad guy in Landry’s demise.
"He said, ‘I’m the one who should make this change.’ You shouldn’t. You should have a clean slate. I will make the change,’" Jones recalled while talking to reporters Sunday. "I wanted to and felt that it was pretty obvious that changes were being made because I was taking the team, and I wanted to look Coach Landry in the eye, visit with him about that rather than having it done just through the actual purchase closing procedure that would normally come. But that would’ve been something that when I look back at hindsight, I could’ve taken Bum up on his offer to make those changes."
Let’s take a look back at some of the more memorable moments since Jones took over on Feb. 25, 1989:
Oct. 12, 1989: The Herschel Walker trade is considered one of the most famous transactions in NFL history. The Cowboys used one marquee player to lay the foundation for three Super Bowls in the 1990s. I won’t name names, but there were local writers who thought this trade was crazy. It’s still remarkable the Cowboys were able to land so many players and draft picks for Walker. The Cowboys turned one of those picks into Emmitt Smith in the 1990 draft. And thus the Triplets were in place.
Aug. 26, 1992: Jones had just hired his longtime buddy Larry Lacewell, a former college coach, to be his director of college scouting. Not long after he reported for work at Valley Ranch, Lacewell received a call from a 49ers official who wanted to know whether the Cowboys were interested in the talented but troubled Charles Haley.
"I’d honestly never heard of the guy," Lacewell told me a few years ago. "I think the note sat on my desk for three or four days before I finally walked it down to Jerry’s office. When I told him what it was, he nearly dove over the desk."
Haley would become the most dominant pass-rusher on three Super Bowl-winning teams.
Jan. 31, 1993: The Cowboys win their first Super Bowl of the Jerry Jones era, 52-17, over the Buffalo Bills. Troy Aikman, a first-round pick in 1989 out of UCLA, threw four touchdown passes and it was obvious the Cowboys had the makings of a dynasty.
Jan. 30, 1994: The Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills 30-13 for their second consecutive Super Bowl win. Emmitt Smith was named the MVP with 30 carries for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Safety James Washington could’ve easily been the MVP with an interception and a 46-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
March 29, 1994: Jimmy Johnson resigns from the Cowboys. Jones and Johnson had not been on the same page for some time, although most folks thought they’d at least make it work for one more season. But a run-in March 21 at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando set things in motion. By March 30th, Barry Switzer had replaced Johnson as head coach. NFL personnel experts across the league rejoiced at the thought of Jones trying to choose players without Johnson in the room.
Sept. 9, 1995: Jerry Jones signs Deion Sanders to a seven-year, $35 million free-agent contract. Jones has told me many times in the past this is the contract that caused him to lose the most sleep. It seemed exorbitant even to him. But Sanders did play a vital role in the Cowboys’ third Super Bowl win in the 1990s.
Oct. 8, 1995: Jerry Jones challenges NFL owner Paul Tagliabue by signing separate sponsorship deals with Nike and Pepsi. The league sued Jones for $300 million and then he countersued for $750 million. The two sides eventually dropped their lawsuits. Jones had established himself as a maverick owner and an irritant to the old guard. But he eventually became one of the most respected owners when it came to league business.
Jan. 28, 1996: The Cowboys win their third Super Bowl in four season with a 27-17 victory over the Steelers. It was a sweet win for an organization that couldn’t solve the Steel Curtain in the 1970s. It was also redemption for Barry Switzer, who’d made a disastrous decision ("Load Left") in a loss to the Eagles that season.
Jan. 2, 2003: Jerry Jones is so desperate to return to relevance that he hires the legendary Bill Parcells. Jones actually took a backseat to Parcells and deferred to him on personnel decisions, with one memorable exception. Parcells likened the Cowboys’ job to working in the "big room" in Vegas.
March 19, 2006: Jones goes against Parcells’ wishes and signs former 49ers and Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. T.O. was very productive for the Cowboys on the field, but he had an accidental overdose that caused a huge distraction during his first season. He also followed his usual path of dividing the locker room. Stephen Jones finally convinced his father to release T.O. after the ’08 season. The team finally won a playoff game the next season.
April 10, 2006: The Cowboys and the City of Arlington break ground on what will become the $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium. Though Jones still talks of more Super Bowls, his legacy will be mostly tied to this enormous structure. Jones wants it to become as familiar as the White House to folks across the country. And just as he predicted, it has become one of the top sports venues in the world. The Final Four’s headed this way in April.