It’s no secret there’s no love lost between Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, the former set to join the latter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August. The two fought through adversity at the turn of the 1990s when Jones purchased the team, and took the Dallas Cowboys from a downturn that saw the organization hemorrhaging roughly $1 million per month — with talks of a possible relocation — to an NFL dynasty. Pushing through the first two lean seasons that saw them finish 1-15 and 7-9, respectively, a bombshell trade by Jones with the Minnesota Vikings with Herschel Walker as the bait helped give Johnson the personnel he needed to win two Super Bowls in Dallas.
The club would go on to win one more following the toxic divorce between Johnson and Jones, but many attribute the Lombardi won under Barry Switzer largely to his ability to keep Johnson’s roster from derailing — until he couldn’t anymore. And so it goes that two alpha males tussled in the public forum for credit in who was more important to building the Cowboys dynasty, ultimately leading to Johnson calling it quits (he wasn’t actually fired) versus continuing to work under Jones.
The Cowboys haven’t been the same in the decades since, and in a rare moment of public clarity, Jones shouldered all of the blame for what transpired in the mid-1990s: an unnecessary spat that devolved into the end of an era.
Speaking from the first press conference of Cowboys training camp in Oxnard, California, Jones got emotional about it all.
“The idea of being a part and coming to training camp goes to my mind, and of course Jimmy was involved [back] in those days. All of that comes to mind when I think of those times,” said Jones. “We actually were together here four and a half years, and I had known him for 10 to 15 years before that, or 20 years before that, and thought the world of him or he wouldn’t have been the coach of the Cowboys.”
And speaking of Switzer, it was he who looked Jones in the eyes and called it like he saw it.
“When I look back at the time that we got to enjoy and what happened to us during that time, I go back to what Barry Switzer said,” Jones continued. “Barry Switzer came in the office and Jimmy had just left. Barry came down from Norman, Oklahoma, to talk about getting the job. And he comes in and he said, ‘Where’s Jimmy?’
“Now, Barry had coached us both. He said, ‘Where’s Jimmy?’ I said, ‘Jimmy’s gone.’ He said, ‘Well, that’s not right. Get him. Get him in here. Where’s Jimmy?’
“I said, ‘Barry, Jimmy’s gone. We’re sitting here talking about you being the coach.’ I said, ‘What in the world are you so anxious to talk to Jimmy about?’ He said, ‘I just want to get both you little a–holes on this couch and ask you both how could you f— this up.'”
Jones didn’t view it that way at the time, but with the benefit of age, experience and hindsight, he certainly does now.
“Well, I just think of those great times,” said Jones, as he began to fight back tears. “And Jimmy’s a great coach. Ridiculous, my role — it was my job was to keep it together. It was my job. Should have had deference to something that was working good.
“Those are the things that come to my mind. We had a great run of it. He’s a great coach, and I’m proud to have him as a friend, and proud to have had the times that we had. We just had a great experience.”
The Cowboys have never been able to regain the magic they possessed when both Johnson and Jones were in the building, just as the former couldn’t achieve similar success without the latter in his time spent coaching the Miami Dolphins in his final four seasons in the profession. So as it turns out, the credit for what the Cowboys were able to achieve in yesteryear was attributable to both, and equally, as opposed to one or the other on a weighted scale.
It’s all water under the bridge now though, or at least mostly, with Jones not closing the door (as he once did) on Johnson being elevated to the coveted Ring of Honor — Johnson himself noting Jones will do it when the mood is right. At the very least, that gesture would be a huge step toward healing the wounds of a decimated relationship that was once ironclad, and a divorce Jones will never truly recover from emotionally — while relentlessly working to try and recover from it in a football capacity.
“I’ve never been able to know why I f—-d it up,” confessed Jones. “No, I can’t answer those questions.”