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Jones and Johnson, Riding High, Take Dallas by Storm

Times Staff Writer

Ghosts walk the corridors at 1 Cowboys Parkway. Outside, workers trim the estate’s grass to the prescribed height and water the gaily-colored banks of flowers but there is no joy in Cowboyville.

Jerry Jones is still at bat.

Can you believe this Jerry Jones?

He isn’t from Dallas, or even Texas. The new Cowboy owner is a fast-talking oilman from Little Rock, Ark., of all places, and he has the accent to prove it. The local cosmopolites haven’t heard anything like it since “The Beverly Hillbillies” went off the air, or at least since Granddad’s last visit.

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It truly is not a lot of consolation when it only takes your prize local institution a decade to go from America’s Team to Dallas’ Embarrassment to Baja Arkansas.

And drawling isn’t all Jerry Jones is doing to their institution, not by a pink slip.

Coach Tom Landry got pensioned off suddenly to make way for Jones’ old Razorback teammate-roommate, Jimmy Johnson.

Team president Tex Schramm, promoter extraordinaire and a league power so formidable that he was only slightly sardonically referred to as its unofficial commissioner, left on his own. So did Suzanne Mitchell, the only den mother the Cowboy cheerleaders have ever had.

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Gil Brandt, who invented either modern scouting or self-promotion, they’re still arguing over which, lasted until the draft, but got carried out feet first a week later.

Adios to the people who wrote the modern primer on organization, marketing and going first class. It was their peculiar mix of brains, devotion, capital investment and hubris that made the Cowboys something different under the sun. They promoted the team, the city, the game and the league and if, by the way, they promoted themselves in the process, well, how could they resist?

Oh, indignity of indignities! Is it true that Jones wants a lean, mean fighting machine?

It is.

And he’s begun passing out big contracts?

He has.

And, in the land of the All-American boy, Jimmy Johnson wants an outrageous, free-spirited troupe like the ones he had at the University of Miami?

Yup.

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Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like the Raiders, who have always played Robin Hood to the Cowboys’ sheriff of Nottingham (Al Davis’ view), or Dillinger to the Cowboys’ J. Edgar Hoover (Schramm’s view)?

You mean, Davis was right all along?

Podnuhs, we’re talking revolution.

There’s been a coup d’etat of the Cowboy soul and the new regime has only just begun.

JERRY

Jerry Jones comes across as a crude, obnoxious, hick in his interviews with the media. I can vouch for this impression. I have met the man ... Jones is 100% oink.

--CARL A. HERMAN, Dallas Times-Herald letterwriter This just in: The Dallas Morning News has learned ... that new Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones will continue his purge of personnel by firing Mother Teresa. After firing Coach Tom Landry and a number of longtime Dallas Cowboy officials and employees recently, Jones made headlines last week by axing Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, St. Patrick and H. Ross Perot.

The new owner hinted broadly that he was looking for someone other than George Washington to be the father of this country. The recent 200th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as first president indicates that George is entirely too old for the job. Mr. Jones reportedly was distressed to hear of the deaths of Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller, Madame Curie, Louis Pasteur and Albert Schweitzer. He had plans for firing them, too. In a gesture toward wiping the slate clean, Mr. Jones announced he had fired the entire Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium (now Arkansas Stadium)

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Dallas Morning News

Additionally, Jones has been compared to Mikhail Gorbachev, Frank Lorenzo, Gordon Gekko, Jed Clampett and Boss Hog. Aside from that, he’s doing all right.

Isn’t he?

Can this be the most hated man in Texas?

Looking none the worse for wear, Jones sits in his new office--Schramm’s old office--giving a sales talk to a Mr. Walker.

Walker is a honcho at Coopers & Lybrand, the big accounting firm which has had a luxury suite at Texas Stadium but is considering giving it up. Since these rooms can go for as little as $125,000 a year--or as much as $1.5 million for 20 years--this would represent some saving to the firm.

And in recent times, a box at the Cowboy games hasn’t been any big deal.

“At the beginning of our lease, we couldn’t get important clients to come,” Walker is telling Jones.

“At the end, we couldn’t get unimportant clients to come.”

The team wasn’t doing so well with the hoi polloi, either. One game sold out last season, against the defending Super Bowl champion Redskins; five of the eight drew 51,000 or fewer.

But this is a new day and its name is Jerry Jones.

Jones starts explaining about the league policy of giving the worst team the top pick, which has just delivered Troy Aikman to Dallas.

“You’re supposed to be flat on your butt,” says Jones, and pauses for emphasis. “The Dallas Cowboys just touched their knee down!”

And he hasn’t even yet gotten to his new coach, Johnson: “The only genius IQ Frank Broyles ever recruited. . . . He’s in Mensa, he’s a master at bridge. He majored in industrial psychology. . . . Football should never have had Jimmy Johnson. Medicine should.”

Enthusiasm, energy, joy, they all quiver in Jerry Jones’ voice, his bearing his smile. You can tell he’s having a good day talking if you can feel yourself getting sucked out of your shoes. A visiting writer who’s just sitting in starts thinking about buying a suite.

Jones takes Walker over to Johnson’s office for another pep talk. Let’s put it this way, if Coopers & Lybrand doesn’t re-up, this Walker is some hard sell.

Everyone shakes hands and promises to get back to each other. Walker departs.

“Don’t hold me to all the facts,” Jones says. “Ah was sellin’.”

Eighteen years ago, at 28, Jones was selling life insurance and trying to get people from the depressed oil and gas industry to switch over and work for him. He says he met a man, who “did a better job selling me and I did him.”

Jones joined up with two men, named Ran Ricks and Bill Sparks. They had gotten hold of a geological profile that had worked in Louisiana--"Loozeyana,” as Jones calls it--and wanted to try it out in Oklahoma. Jones borrowed enough to drill some wells, and they then hit, he says, on 12 of their first 12.

So they were rich.

Cut to the very recent past, when the Cowboys were put up for sale.

Things had gotten a lot worse in the oil patch, and suddenly, in Big D or in all of Texas, there could be found no millionaire, or syndicate thereof, to buy the team.

Schramm’s only weakness was that he was only a token 3% owner, although he had always been allowed to run the team without interference. The Cowboys had been wildly successful, and when the original owner, Clint Murchison fell into ill health and had to sell in 1984, it was Schramm who put together a deal with another local millionaire, Bum Bright, guaranteeing the status quo.

Murchison had paid $600,000 for the expansion team in 1960. He sold it for $86 million--and died bankrupt, his other holdings having fallen apart.

Local fortunes continued to decline, including Bright’s. Four years later, Bright wanted out--at $140 million. Interested outsiders came and went: Robert Tisch, Marvin Davis. There were even reports of a Japanese group. Japan and America’s Team? What was going to be next, the Liberty Bell?

Suddenly, a Dallas TV station broke the stunning news that a deal had been struck with the unknown, unspeculated-upon Jones.

Jones was spotted the same night at a Mexican restaurant in Dallas with Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson. The two were close friends, had been teammates on the ’65 Arkansas national championship team and had married sorority sisters.

No one had to guess what this meant for Landry, though it took two more days for Jones to complete the deal, drive to Austin where Landry was playing golf, and tell the Great Stone Face he was through.

Dallas exploded at Landry’s treatment, dismissal or both. He was given a parade with floats, bands and color guards from all four branches of the armed services. There were proclamations from the mayor, the governor, Bob Hope and President Bush. George Allen came to coach a group of old Redskins against Roger Staubach and Landry’s old Cowboys in Texas Stadium. A grinning Landry threw out the first pitch at a Ranger game.

Just to show where Jones stood at that tender time, the Times-Herald sent a man out to get his side and ran it under the headline: “Jones cast in damning role of overbearing hick owner.”

The furor subsided, Schramm and several of the big guns left . . . and then Jones fired several more who had hoped to stay. Brandt and the popular publicist, Doug Todd, author of a book on country sayings and the term “America’s Team,” went. Assistant ticket manager Ann Lloyd, who’d worked for the club for 19 years, was axed in a two-paragraph memo.

There has ensued a debate over Jones’ sensitivity, a tacit admission that the firings, themselves, were at least defensible.

Landry, 64, had been unable to turn the team around and was under mounting criticism. He and Schramm had been discussing his departure and what Schramm calls “an orderly transition” since 1985, though Landry had begun digging in his heels after the losing seasons of 1987 and ’88. Schramm, looking around, had thought Jimmy Johnson looked promising.

The Cowboys had higher revenues than any team in the league, only an average player payroll . . . and were losing money. If the local fans had to choose between Cowboy image and ever having another winning team, it wouldn’t be a hard pick.

Management men to the core, the old Cowboys have mostly succeeded in maintaining stiff upper lips and saying they understood, etc. Brandt, however, mentioned that Jones hadn’t shaken his hand, and on his way out of Jones’ office, called Denne Freeman of the Associated Press and told him, “This guy is in over his head.”

Hate him?

Love him?

Jones was introduced to the Arkansas legislature after the sale and given a standing ovation . . . and disclosed there that he had received two death threats.

Now, he adopts a statesmanlike tone when asked about the flak. Make no mistake about it, this man may have made errors and his impetuousity, inexperience and desire to be involved are sure to lead him to more; he does have a pronounced Arkansas accent, but he’s no dummy and he’s no hick.

“Coach Landry is a hero of mine,” Jones says. “He’s in the same mold with Bear Bryant, Vince Lombardi. But I have no apology for getting in a new business and wanting Jimmy Johnson to join me in that business.

“It wasn’t a matter of not wanting Coach Landry. It was a matter of wanting Jimmy Johnson. And that’s not talking out of both sides of my mouth.

“I don’t know how to have done it (fire Landry) differently. Would it have been more tactful to wait 60 days and say, ‘OK Coach Landry, here we are, let’s visit?’ How up-front would that have been? How straight is that?”

He says he’s having a great time, and, by the way . . .

“I could do (buy) the Dallas Cowboys twice more,” he drawls pointedly. “I’m not over my head.”

JIMMY

Meanwhile, Jones’ lifelong buddy and new coach sits in Landry’s old office, preparing for the real deal, which is yet to come.

A man of (many) fewer words than his employer, Johnson is nevertheless pleasant and forthcoming, in his way. His way is calm, straight-ahead, ultra-focused. If you believe him, Jimmy Johnson, the man replacing a legend, trail boss for the most controversial man in Texas, about to take 1988’s worst team into his rookie pro season, feels no fear and never has.

“It’s not a concern of mine, to be honest with you,” he says. “I feel like time takes care of initial reactions. I think time and success will take care of resentment and comparisons. I believe with hard work and time, good things will happen.

“People have to realize, the Dallas Cowboys were tremendously successful for a long time, but the real world is that they haven’t been to the playoffs since ’85 and they were 3-13 last year. I mean, that’s what’s real. Some people in Dallas, in a lot of ways, they appreciate the change.”

And change there will be.

It’s goodby to the Boy Scout image. A Cowboy used to have to dress in his Sunday finery just to go to practice.

When Rod Barksdale was traded from the Raiders to the Cowboys, he said he was given so many rules his first day, he didn’t know whether to say yes or salute.

Meanwhile, Ron Fellows, who went to the Raiders, was kidded for weeks about coming out to practice without any torn clothes.

A Cowboy was never supposed to yap at his opponents, but they’re tuning up now. From now on, it’s a looser, more, uh, colorful regime, like the one that Johnson ran, amid controversy, at Miami.

“Colorful,” says Johnson, grinning. “I like that.

“We want to be colorful. We want to be enthusiastic. We want the guys to enjoy playing the game. We’ll keep it loose, but that’s not to be confused with being undisciplined.

“At times, people felt our Miami teams were undisciplined. But you don’t win the way they did, year in, year out, by being undisciplined. We were not a highly penalized team. You’re not undisciplined if you can execute the two-minute offense and score the way we could in the big, clutch ball games.”

Jerry Jones is right. The Cowboys really only touched their knee down. Their 3-13 record easily could have been 8-8. They out-gained their opponents. Herschel Walker rushed for 1,514 yards, and the Cowboys registered more sacks, 46, than they took, 37.

This season they will have Aikman, who even as a rookie is a good bet to get under Steve Pelluer’s 19 interceptions. They will have the easy fifth-place schedule, so even with all the rookies around, a real move isn’t such a long shot.

But now it all rests on Jimmy Johnson’s shoulders. Mustn’t his heart beat faster than it did a year ago, when he knew for a fact he could handle everything?

“I know I can handle everything now,” he says, smiling faintly as if he finds the question amusing.

“It beats the same pace.”

THE LION IN WINTER

An era is passing before your eyes.

It was a short era, too, as brief as Camelot, when an outgoing young TV exec got the carte blanche to end carte blanches from a shy Texas millionaire and built a showplace on the hill for all to admire, envy, love and, of course, hate.

Or as Tex Schramm, no blushing violet, said recently when asked what he thought his legacy was:

“History. I created history.”

Was anything ever so right?

He was born to throw his weight around the Lone Star State. Tex isn’t his nickname, it’s his real one: Texas Ernest Schramm, born in Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, with a father who came from San Antonio and wanted his son to remember it.

He was a journalism major in school--University of Texas--a part-timer at the L.A. Times and got his first football job, as Rams public-relations man, on the recommendation of Times sports editor Paul Zimmerman.

He was coordinating the 1960 Winter Olympics for CBS when he signed on with the expansion Cowboys, running them first out of a corner of a storefront office they shared with the auto club.

Together, he, Landry, Brandt, et al. put together something wonderful, even if it could be a little difficult to separate Cowboy achievements from Cowboy hype.

“I don’t know if the Cowboys were actually the first to use a computer but they were definitely the first to brag about it,” Jim Finks, now general manager of the New Orleans Saints, once said.

Nonetheless, it was the Cowboys who introduced “multiple offense” under Landry, and the “flex” defense; who pioneered in the use of computers and psychological testing; who became so successful at converting athletes who hadn’t played college football that they took four ex-basketball players to Super Bowl X.

Beyond argument, it was the Cowboys who invented the team newspaper, the Cowboy Weekly, which once had 100,000 subscribers--now it’s down to 60,000--and, most spectacular of all, sideline cheesecake with the Cowboy Cheerleaders. A nation’s male population rises as one to say thank you, Tex, thank you.

How far could they go?

In 1982, Sports Illustrated ran a photo of kicker Rafael Septien stretched out in a sensory deprivation tank, noting that they were the first team to have one.

Get it? The assumption had come to be, if the Cowboys did it, no matter how nonsensical it was, it was the new thing and everyone would be falling in line momentarily.

In fact, sensory deprivation tanks never caught on. Everyone uses computers and tries out sprinters, and the ones who can actually play football, such as Willie Gault, figure out where the real bucks are and double in football in college.

No one carries Street & Smith’s yearbook into the draft room any more. Everyone drafts guys who barely move the needle on the standard Wonderlich test, since no one has ever figured out what educational background has to do with playing football.

The Cowboys haven’t converted any Michael Jordans lately, and have had enough trouble finding a blue-chip No. 1 who can stay unhurt, or play at all.

Once, Schramm could rule the ownership transitions as he ruled the Cowboys, but he ran finally out of moves.

This time, when Bright put the team up for sale, Schramm went looking for local money . . . and struck out.

“There was none that showed up,” Schramm says. “At least not at the price Bright was asking.

“The thing you have to understand, this club has had financial troubles, say, the last seven-eight years. I mean, financial problems in ownership. Clint Murchison became ill, with the disease he finally died of, his financial world came down and he wound up in bankruptcy. A year after Bum bought the team, oil dropped, real estate died, as did banking and the S&L; business, all things Bright was involved in.”

And then along came Jerry Jones, with the money to buy the show, and the inclination to run it, too.

So here they are, with Jones in Cowboys Center. There are suggestions now that the old empire had grown top-heavy. Times-Herald columnist Skip Bayless calls the lavish facility, with its marble-floored foyers and banks of TV sets mounted in the wall, TexWorld.

Tex, himself, is an official commissioner at last. He and some of his old Cowboy execs have taken up another fledgling, the NFL-sponsored International Football League, setting up in a nearby suite of offices. An empire in exile, just two exits down the freeway.

The atmosphere is the same as it was over at the Cowboys; it’s not as easy to smile as it used to be.

“I don’t care who you are,” says Schramm, normally the heartiest of men, “it’s a tough, emotional experience.

“When something’s been your life . . . The Cowboys came first, that’s what my wife would tell you. My daughters, their husbands, our grandchildren all grew up in the Cowboy life. Everything was centered around the Cowboys. And for that suddenly to change . . . it has its own trauma for everybody.

“The Cowboys were structured and built on the basis that they were going to be a successful team, the most visible team in the league, and a team that carried a unique image.

“I guess the thing I’m proudest of, on behalf of the other people in the organization, it’s one thing to create a winning team. Those are created every year. It’s another thing to create a winning and successful record over a long period of time. Combine that with an image of class and style, which very few sports organizations ever achieved.

“I think we gained that unique niche. Now it’ll be up to Jones to put his image on the Cowboys.

So far, Schramm isn’t sure he likes the new image. He never fired an employee in 29 years and winces every time Jones turns loose another one.

“The only thing I have publicly objected to is terming those people as ‘fat,’ ” Schramm says. “And (Jones) is aware of what I said and what I feel on that subject. These are people who made too much of a contribution to be termed in that manner.

“But, today that’s the prerogative of ownership. It happens in a lot of businesses.”

You get the idea that Schramm likes to think back to a day when owners hired professionals and retired to the wings. That kind of owner was a dwindling species when Tex met Murchison, and it’s gone the way of the dinosaurs now.

Jones refers to Schramm as Tex, notes often than he was brilliant, and says that for his part, he’s always enjoyed the time he’s spent with Schramm.

Schramm refers to Jones as Jones.

The old days just ran out.

Even big Cowboys get the blues.


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