Go Fire Yourself!

An open letter to Jerry Jones.


So what’s the plan this time? You don’t have a clue, do you? First you let Bill Parcells take a two-week nap before showing him the door. Then you signal that Captain Queeg is back at the helm by hiring former backup quarterback Jason Garrett for a coaching position to be named later. Finally, for no apparent reason, you hire Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator of the Chargers, as your new head coach—does this have something to do with that missing quart of strawberries? You’ve bumbled along with four different head coaches since 1993, the year you fired Jimmy Johnson, the only decent one you ever had. In all that time you’ve accomplished exactly one thing: You’ve transformed America’s Team into America’s Joke. Not the kind of stuff that gets a fellow into the Hall of Fame, though if justice has a sense of humor, someone will organize a Hall of Fools so that the ages may celebrate the likes of you and Donald Trump.

Since the Cowboys last visited the Super Bowl, in 1996, sixteen NFL teams have made it, including such perennial doormats as Oakland and Atlanta, while your team hasn’t even gotten close. That’s half the clubs in the league. Every year, previously dreadful franchises reinvent themselves, the Chicago Bears and the New Orleans Saints being the most recent examples, while the Cowboys keep setting new benchmarks for mediocrity.

Those three Super Bowl rings bulging from your fingers must feel heavy as lead. Face it, those were Jimmy’s teams, even the 1996 version supervised by Barry Switzer, which, as you reminded us, any of five hundred dunces could have coached (you included yourself apparently). You had a winning combination for a time, Jimmy building the team and you paying the bills, but you couldn’t tolerate a situation where someone else monopolized the spotlight.

I am straining to remember one smart move you made in the past dozen or so years. Oh, right, Bill Parcells! That worked out well, didn’t it? Nearly $20 million for a four-year record of 34-32, including two playoff embarrassments. Somebody else can do the math, but, to paraphrase Abe Lemons, Bill won two more games than a dead man. It must have been a living hell, watching him hog center stage, though I couldn’t help but notice that when Parcells announced his retirement, he did it over e-mail, and you were nowhere to be found. You canned the old fart, didn’t you? Good for you. I take back what I said about no smart moves.

I admit that like a lot of other armchair experts, I believed back in 2003 that Parcells might turn it around for the Cowboys. He had done it three times before, with the Giants, the Patriots, and the Jets. But we were wrong, all of us. The difference is that it didn’t take most of us four years to admit it. In a perverted way, Parcells did turn things around for you. He supplied what you never could have mustered on your own: the credibility to sell voters in Arlington on a plan to build a $1 billion stadium. “JerryWorld,” as people in Dallas are calling it, will be ready for the Cowboys in 2009. It will most certainly be the site of a future Super Bowl, though I’m betting the Cowboys will have to buy tickets.

The rest of the Parcells move didn’t work so well. After somehow winning ten games his first season, five more than his predecessor, Dave Campo, had managed in any of his three years, Parcells, let us say, leveled off. Bombed would be more accurate. The one constant during his reign was the December collapse. He did improve the talent, largely because the Cowboys finally caught up with the salary cap, paying off those wildly bloated contracts that you dished out to Deion Sanders and other fading stars. Parcells had an eye for talent; you don’t win two Super Bowls without one. He discovered prospects that other coaches overlooked, players like Tony Romo, who may be the Cowboys’ quarterback of the future. The team he constructed in the two most recent drafts and free-agent seasons is solid and capable.

All of which makes 2006 even more frustrating. This was a team capable of winning its division and maybe even the Super Bowl, if only the coaching hadn’t been so sorry. Watching the Cowboys’ December swoon was a low point. They didn’t merely lose to the Saints, the Eagles, and the Detroit Lions— the Detroit Lions! —they were totally dominated. They were outcoached. Remember the Eagles game in Dallas, the conference title on the line, second and goal for the Cowboys? On three consecutive snaps, your brilliant coach ran the play that everyone in the known universe saw coming, a give to running back Marion Barber, who three consecutive times was set upon like a marshmallow in an ant bed. Essentially, the season ended right there, though the Cowboys had already qualified for the playoffs. In their first-round playoff loss, to Seattle, Parcells insisted that the team play old-style power football instead of throwing against the Seahawks’ crippled secondary. Dallas’s defense should have been one of the best in the league, but toward the end of the season it was so predictable that the Sisters of Infinite Mercy could have manhandled it.

I don’t blame the assistants, most of whom have already gone on to better jobs with other franchises. They were so hamstrung by Parcells’s bullying that they couldn’t even speak to the media, much less have original thoughts. If Parcells didn’t actually call the plays, he set the tone and established the parameters, which were narrow to the point of suffocation. The Cowboys operated the most simplistic offense and defense in the league. The assistants had no choice, Jean-Jacques Taylor wrote in the Dallas Morning News, “because the more complicated the schemes, the less Mr. Parcells understood them. And if he didn’t understand them, then he couldn’t adequately second-guess the

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