What exactly is Jerry changing?

Jerry Jones’ response to the first question at Monday’s press conference:

“I think that uh, uh, we, uh… are not…uh, recognizing, uh… the need to play, uh, in a winning way.”

It took him 27 seconds to say that.

Lest you think I’m picking on a guy who suddenly seemed old (or, for you many Cowboy haters, cheering me for it), let me declare straight away that I kind of like Jerry Jones. He’s a born hustler. He’s been good for Dallas. He’s been good for the NFL. What’s more, he’s a good general manager. He gets plenty of talent, and pays handsomely for it, too. Unfortunately, he just can’t do the first thing a GM is supposed to do, which is pick a coach.

Firing Wade Phillips was a mistake. But not because Jones did it on Monday — because he didn’t do it Monday a month ago, after losing to the Titans coming off a bye week. The Cowboys were 1-3 then, with their star quarterback. Now they’re 1-7, having played two full games without him. The last two weeks have seen them lose by an aggregate score of 80-24.

“There was a lot of me in denial for at least the last couple of ballgames,” said Jones.

Actually, there’s a lot of him that’s been in denial for at least the last couple of years.

Again, the Cowboys aren’t under-talented, just underachieving. And with a single playoff win in 14 years, they have been for quite some time. Jones has gone through five coaches since 1996: Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells and Phillips, who inherited a playoff-caliber team. Don’t count on Jason Garrett “changing the culture,” either. Remember, in typical ass-backward fashion, Jones hired him before Phillips.

This was supposed to be a great month for the owner/president/general manager. The $1.2 billion monument to his ego and ambition — Cowboys Stadium — would host two nationally televised games with the Packers and the Saints, not to mention Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight. And all of it was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the NFL’s first Super Bowl in Arlington.

Jones still loves the attention. That much was clear from his Monday presser. But apart from the platitudes, he doesn’t have much to say. Regrettably, that doesn’t stop him from talking.

“I recently addressed the team,” he said. “…I told them that they should not think for even a second that this is in any way an admission of defeat or finality for this season.”

OK. Maybe that comes when they’re 1-8.

“I told them we were looking for players who wanted to win the most.”

With that cleared up, Jones was asked about Garrett, whom he re-signed for almost $3 million per as an assistant back in 2008.

“Jason certainly has been a part of long-term thinking for the Dallas Cowboys and for me,” he said. “But what we’re addressing on an interim basis is how to maximize how we’re playing right now, this week in practice and with the Giants. And I do believe that Jason has the temperament. He has the disposition to effect a culture” — one beat, two beats, three beats — “change. I think this is important…Culture change does work. I think that this gives us a chance to do it from within.”

This is what I don’t get, how some of these rich guys ever got rich in the first place. And how do you change a culture — already an insidious phrase — from within? After Jones, Garrett is the culture. What’s more, he set the tone for this banner 2010 season.

You remember Week 1, when the Cowboys managed to score all of one touchdown against the Redskins? You remember the end of the first half, when Tony Romo tossed the ball to Tashard Choice, whose fumble resulted in a Washington touchdown? It was Garrett’s decision not to take a knee.

“I called the play,” he said later. “It’s my fault.”

It’s also his fault, partially, at least, that Dallas has no running game. Yes, there are some problems on the line. But should a team with Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Choice (not to mention a passing game) really be 31st in rushing plays and rushing yards? Should the Cowboys be minus-9 in turnovers? How about penalties? They’re 26th of 32 teams in penalties per game, having lost 506 yards in just half a season. There were three games they practically gave away with penalties — Washington (12), Tennessee (12) and Minnesota (11). This is the culture, and the offensive coordinator has been a big part of it.

It’s worth noting the one interesting point Jones made on Monday. He had always counted on Phillips — who served as his defensive coordinator — fielding a good defense. But when that defense collapsed, it forced Jones’ hand.

“That compounded the whole team thing,” he said.

I think this suggests the defense may have quit on Garrett’s underachieving offense. But I don’t want to put words in Jones’ mouth. I couldn’t do that. Really, after Monday’s presser, I know I could not.

As the owner/president/GM said himself: “Let me make no mistake about it, the accountability, when I spoke to the team I talked of accountability because it was such a vivid example of somebody that we all thought a lot of, and we’re making a change with. That’s Wade. And I spoke to those, the realization that it’s not just about yourself, it impacts others. This franchise has its built-in accountabilities. For me. And then I would, I really would translate that to a pecking order, if you will. But the facts are if anybody thinks that you would go out and have the feeling that I have, and respect I have for this tradition, the respect I have, literally, from millions of fans involved — you’ve heard me say this — and spend 1.2 billion dollars, that if that accountability of having three people sitting out there watching the Dallas Cowboys play is a big one. Now that’s the ownership or that’s the promoter-ship or that’s the expectation that I’ve had, at that level. The other one, of course, is from the standpoint of managing this team and doing the best job of having a team that plays, if you will, to that level. So we all have our maker. We all have our judgment. And Wade today is a vivid example of accountability.”

There you have it, Dallas fans: An expository revelation — 219 words detailing the state of Cowboy culture.