The madness of King Jerry

Since Barry Switzer's, uh, resignation, the world has hardly stopped. We discovered that President Clinton probably screwed a 21-year-old intern. Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident, and former SMU football great Doak Walker was paralyzed in a similar mishap. More than 4,000 people died in an earthquake in Afghanistan. Convicted rapist and ex-boxer Mike Tyson hooked up with the World Wrestling Federation. John Elway's Denver Broncos finally won a Super Bowl. Tom Hicks announced he was going to buy the Texas Rangers.

And Jerry Jones lied to us. Again.
Not the untruth told to us on January 9 when word came from Valley Ranch that Barry Switzer had resigned as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Resigned--that was the word used over and over, the word used even now when writers and talking heads mention the end of Switzer's phantom days as coach of the Cowboys. They do not say he was fired; they do not mention the smoking gun in Jerry's sweaty hands. It all seemed so friendly, so mutual: Barry Switzer resigned on January 9. As though it's even close to the truth.

This new deceit came in the weeks following Barry's ouster, while the local media were being held hostage to a bumbling Jerry Jones looking for someone to coach his team, spitting out theories and rumors as though they actually meant something. Today's head-coaching candidate was yesterday's forgotten whisper (see: Lou Holtz). Nothing meant anything anymore as Jones fumbled the ball away with every possession. Jones looked more like a clown, tripping over the same oversized shoe as he turned America's Team into America's running gag.

Last week, Jones was prepared to announce former UCLA coach Terry Donahue as his man. He had the press conference scheduled and the plane tickets lined up. On February 4, Jones was to announce Donahue as the Cowboys' fourth head coach. The team had even purchased tickets for Donahue's wife and daughter to attend the press conference. The following day, Donahue was to accompany Jones and the coaching staff to the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where they would visit with this year's potential draft picks.

The hiring of Terry Donahue was supposed to be a done deal. On February 3, the usually skeptical Randy Galloway wrote in The Dallas Morning News that "it seems safe at least to go ahead and assume Terry Donahue" would be the head coach. "If it's Donahue," Galloway wrote, "the surprise factor would be nil."

After so many weeks of speculation, the ticket buy was the first substantive hint that Donahue was indeed the man. But then, of course, came word that Donahue had hightailed it from the Jones mansion at dark-thirty on Tuesday morning, never again to return. The scheduled press conference never occurred. TV reporters tracked him down hours later at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, and Donahue appeared appropriately tired, angry, dismissive. He said he would talk later, but never did.

Instead, Donahue and his agent Marvin Demoff sulked over the insulting low-ball figure Jones is said to have offered Troy Aikman's college coach: 500,000 measly dollars, far less than anyone should be paid to work under Jerry Jones.

The day the press conference was supposed to take place, Jones gathered reporters on the front lawn of his Highland Park home and said he had no idea who the hell made those plane reservations for Donahue, but he sure as hell didn't OK 'em. (Sure, Jer, someone at Valley Ranch just up and made the reservations without asking. You betcha.)

Jones stumbled over his words as he tried to explain away the mysterious tickets, stalling and hee-hawing until the right lie sprang to mind. Jones turned around and insisted he had never offered Donahue the job and, as of February 6, was still saying--sort of--that Donahue was the candidate. "I think" he is, Jones said, covering his ass quicker than a fan-dancer.

When this story is through--when a, uh, coach is finally in place and when Sherman Lewis and George Seifert and Terry Donahue and the rest of the candidate-hostages remove the duct tape from their mouths and the rope from their wrists and ankles--only then will we know how badly Jones botched a decision that he should have made a year ago. They will spill the details in tell-all books written by Skip Bayless and Jim Dent and the rest of the vultures who prey off the carcasses Jerry throws out of Valley Ranch. Till then, we will have to make do with the tiny shreds leaked here and whispered there by alleged insiders who heard this from that guy, who knew him when they worked together there, way back when.

Maybe Jerry will hire Lewis. Maybe one of those untested college coaches he likes so much--and the fans have grown so tired of. Or maybe he'll snap up Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, whose play-calling in this year's AFC Championship game was...well, offensive. The end result, of course, will matter little: The Dallas Cowboys' head coach is already in place. He has drawn up offensive and defensive schemes, hired assistant coaches (including Seattle Seahawks' running backs coach Clarence Shelmon for some inexplicable reason), gone to Indy to scout prospects for the draft. He has stalked the sidelines for years, offered his critique of game films and play-calling, conferred with players during games. He is Jerry Jones, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys ever since the day Barry Switzer got on IH-35 and crossed the Red River.

We all know this. Right. Yet we insist on playing the guessing game, asking Galloway and Norm Hitzges who they think will take over the reins (look, they don't know); we wait for press conferences that will reveal nothing except empty promises and veiled half-truths.

Every day, Jerry Jones seems more and more trivial...and more and more nuts.
If we've learned anything from him, we should at least know this: his ownership is built upon three things--ignorance, greed, and lies. Jones has owned this team ugly for nine years, piling up money and mistakes like no one else in professional sports. He has sued former players, men who didn't even play for him, trying to take away their workers compensation benefits. He was the target of league litigation when he ran roughshod over the small-market teams while pocketing Nike and Pepsi's spare change. He ran off the best coach in professional football and replaced him with a man who would prove to be among the worst. He tarnished the star forever by executing Tom Landry without the benefit of any last words.

More recently, he hung Ernie Zampese out to dry, treating the NFL veteran like a child he didn't want to deal with. He didn't fire him or renew his contract, letting him dangle till New England snatched him off the clothesline. Zampese was much to blame for the Cowboys' offensive woes last season, but he deserved far better than to be treated like a pariah. After all, he didn't drop the balls thrown at Michael Irvin, he didn't run out of bounds like Emmitt Smith, and he didn't miss Erik Williams' snap counts.

For that matter, neither did Switzer. But he's the easy scapegoat--proof positive that Jones doesn't know what the hell he's doing.

Hiring Switzer was like asking out an old girlfriend because he knew he'd get laid. Barry, who had retired and said farewell to football after so many scandals at the University of Oklahoma, got out of the rocking chair simply because Jerry asked him to. Switzer was scared out of his mind when he came to town, but he genuinely believed in Jerry--up until the very end. It's possible that Switzer thought he was going to last beyond last season: In October, he told a group of reporters that "when Jerry talks to me about the future, he usually talks in several years."

And Jones backed him up.
On November 5, Jones stood outside Valley Ranch surrounded by members of the media and said, unequivocally, that Barry Switzer was his man for the long haul. "We're going to ride through these rough times, and we're going to ride with Barry Switzer."

Two months later, Switzer was given a one-way bus ticket back to Norman--no...wait, he resigned. So said Jerry at a January 9 press conference, where he confided that the whole ordeal had been so "emotional and difficult." Indeed, Jones was this close to firing Switzer in August, when he had been busted for bringing a gun into D/FW Airport. He kept ol' Barry around for the same reasons he had stuck with him for four years: Switzer was the perfect man to run his football team, a man who knew his place at the bottom of the pecking order.

Perhaps Jones finds his search for a coach so difficult because he hasn't done it since 1989, when he brought in Jimmy Johnson. For the first time, as owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jones can't just call up a friend and offer him a job, and he's stuck: Oh, whether to hire a champ or a chump.

The solution to his problem is a simple one: Jerry needs to hire Sherman Lewis, the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator and the man most deserving of a shot at coaching an NFL team. Forget Butch Davis and the other college coaches Jones keeps hanging over our heads. Forget Seifert, a defensive-minded coach who only suggests greatness. Forget Donahue, a man who has never won a college-football national title--hell, even Switzer had managed that much. Forget everyone else.

Sherman Lewis, who ran the West Coast offense in San Francisco and Green Bay, is the man for the job--perhaps the only coach out there who can restore speed to an offense stuck in neutral. Of course, Lewis is the right man for the job. Of course, he probably won't get it.

And the charade continues.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky