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COMMENTARY : Jones Was Wrong, but Johnson’s the Villain

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Asked about the stunning news from Dallas on Tuesday, one NFL powerbroker talked about blondes.

“That stereotype of a blonde on the corner bar stool with all the makeup and lipstick, that’s Jimmy Johnnson,” he said. “A guy comes up to her thinking she is all beauty and no brains. Next thing he knows, his wallet is gone.”

The next thing Cowboy fans knew Tuesday, their heart was gone.

It wasn’t only stabbed by owner Jerry Jones.

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It was stolen by Johnson.

Beneath the polished exterior of a man who drawls that he only wants to coach a little football is a man who wanted something much more.

Johnson wanted all the credit, the glory, the power.

While spending none of the money.

While taking none of the risks.

When Jones wouldn’t allow him that kind of free ride, brazenly demanding that Johnson at least recognize his boss for risking his fortune on a once-failing team, Johnson wanted out.

For at least a year, he has wanted out.

When Jones drank and talked too much last week in Orlando, Johnson saw his opening.

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What better way to force a showdown than to cry indignation over public insults?

No matter that similar insults had long since become part of their relationship.

No matter that Johnson would never want to be held accountable for something he had said in front of a glass of red wine at 2 a.m.

When hearing of Jones’ comments the next afternoon, Johnson knew he had stumbled upon the perfect scenario, and played it to the hilt.

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Played it all the way to Tuesday morning, when he finally got his wish.

He was not only released from the final five years of his contract, he was given a cash settlement and allowed to begin coaching anywhere in the league immediately.

As a bonus, Jones will be painted as the bad guy.

But aren’t we forgetting something here?

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It was Jerry Jones’ $140 million that bought the Cowboys six years ago when they were a laughingstock.

It was Jerry Jones’ accountants who drew up the 10-year contract for Johnson, who at the time had only coached NFL games in his dreams.

It was Jerry Jones who received the death threats.

It was into Jerry Jones’ heart that a disease spread because of worry over his shaky investment.

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Jones possesses an ego matched only by Johnson’s. Compared to Johnson, he knows virtually nothing about football.

The Cowboys were built by Johnson, nurtured by Johnson, held together through tough times by Johnson.

But Jones was still the boss.

“To survive in this business, you can never forget who is the boss,” said Don Shula, a coach who has spent the last 24 years with the Miami Dolphins.

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Jones didn’t want Johnson to make him a coach. He didn’t want him to let him catch passes during practice.

But he did want him to at least treat him as an equal. The way anybody else in this world treats his boss if he hopes to keep his job.

Throw him a verbal bone now and then. Compliment him for allowing you the freedom to do your job. Publicly thank him for supporting you during the lean years.

Don’t talk about taking other jobs--remember Jacksonville?--in the middle of your most important projects.

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And at least invite him to join you at your table during a party.

That last snub is what caused Jones to eventually spout that foolishness about Barry Switzer and 500 other coaches who could have led the Cowboys to a Super Bowl championship.

It happened, ironically, at a place called Pleasure Island in Orlando. This collection of shops and attractions was the site of a party during last week’s NFL owners’ meetings.

For a couple of hours at the party, Johnson was seated with former Cowboy coaches and officials, laughing, reminiscing.

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Along came Jones, offering a toast to the Cowboy tradition.

After what witnesses called a half-hearted toast, Jones was ignored by Johnson, the snub that led to that angry diatribe at the hotel bar.

Was Jones being intrusive at that party? Yes.

Was he being tacky? Yes, considering that at the table was Bob Ackles, Phoenix assistant general manager and scouting guru who was once fired by Jones.

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But did he want Johnson to publicly humiliate himself, or to simply ask the boss to join him for a drink?

Ackles, considered one of the game’s good guys, would have understood. Any working stiff would have understood.

Throughout Dallas, all those who must daily harness their pride and show respect to the boss must be wondering, why couldn’t Jimmy have done the same?

Not only for the good of the Cowboys, but for the benefit of football history.

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You don’t fire the best football coach in the world. You don’t deny yourself a chance at three consecutive Super Bowl championships--yes, these Cowboys are cooked--simply because of your ego.

Shame on Jerry Jones for letting Tuesday’s divorce happen.

But triple shame on Jimmy Johnson for making it happen.


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