The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome its Class of 2017 on Aug. 5. This week, Shutdown Corner is highlighting the greatest moment for each member of the seven-man class, leading up to Saturday’s induction ceremony.
Jerry Jones made a dream come true when he bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. But he didn’t exactly endear himself to the team’s legion of fans when his first official act as owner of the team was firing legendary head coach Tom Landry, the only coach the Cowboys had had in the franchise’s 29-year history.
Actually, didn’t endear himself is an understatement – there may be fans that to this day haven’t forgotten Jones for firing Landry, despite the success the team has had under his stewardship.
Even Jones admits that the timing of the firing could have been better.
“I got in a big hurry to switch staffs when I bought the team,” Jones said last year. “I got in a big hurry to bring Jimmy (Johnson) in and make the change with coach Landry. I got in a big hurry to do that because we were trying to get – and I’m not blaming anybody – but the college staffs were being put together and Jimmy really wanted to bring (Dave) Wannstedt and his Miami college staff to Dallas. If we didn’t get it done real quick, we were running out of the time to be able to have flexibility because coaches were making commitments at the college level.
“When I announced the purchase, it was too fast to come behind that, that quick, with a coaching change of coach Landry. It was just too fast… We should have announced the coaching change later, whether it be weeks, months, whatever, but not the same night. Too fast.”
The Cowboys’ first owner, the man Jones bought the team from, Bum Bright, offered to fire Landry, but Jones felt it was his responsibility. Landry had enjoyed an incredible run: after a rocky first five seasons, when he won just 18 total games, he was .500 or better in every season from 1965-85, missing the playoffs just twice and making it to the Super Bowl five times (he won two). His final three seasons, however, saw a dropoff – 7-9, 7-8, then 3-13 in his last year as Dallas coach. Landry hadn’t gotten the Cowboys to the Super Bowl since 1978.
Jones insists he had tremendous respect for Landry, and was stung by the perception that his move to fire Landry and his staff meant he must not.
The new owner hired his former teammate and roommate at the University of Arkansas, Johnson. In their early years together, as the Cowboys franchise bled money, Jones’ decision looked liked a bad one. In 1989, Dallas was 1-15; it improved to 7-9 the next year.
But in 1991, Johnson’s Cowboys went 11-5 and made the playoffs. And they won the Super Bowl in each of the two seasons that followed.
The move, reviled by many at first, worked out.
Speaking to a group of youth football coaches last month, Jones brought up the Landry move unprompted.
“I had such respect for coach Tom Landry,” Jones said. “I was motivated to be a part of this organization, the Cowboy organization, and the NFL in no small part because of coach Landry. Yet, probably no one has had more criticism . . . than what I got when I basically made the change to coach Landry and asked Jimmy Johnson to come in and be the coach. That is just in my mind an illustration of the hard decisions that sometimes you have to make doing the right thing possibly for the greater good of the team.”
Jones wound up unceremoniously firing Johnson after the second Super Bowl, a move Jones says he made in haste and also regrets. He hired Barry Switzer, and Switzer brought another Super Bowl crown, the third in four years, though he lasted only four seasons as head coach.
The Cowboys haven’t gotten back to the Super Bowl since winning XXX over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But with Jones, the consummate salesman and showman, at the helm, they’ve become truly “America’s Team,” and the most valuable sports franchise in the world.
Given that Johnson guided the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl championships, it’s impossible to argue now that hiring him and parting ways with the iconic Landry wasn’t the best decision for the franchise. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a difficult one to make at the time.
Those are the type of decisions, though, that come up on the path to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Previous ‘Greatest Moments’ from the 2017 Hall of Fame class:
- One kick stands out in Morten Andersen’s Hall of Fame career
- Jason Taylor dominated the game’s best QBs, and they loved him for it
- Kurt Warner made the Super Bowl play all kids dream about growing up
- LaDainian Tomlinson’s 31-touchdown season will never be repeated
- Terrell Davis’ playoff prowess should have made him a Hall of Famer long ago
- Kenny Easley defined strong safety with a relentless pursuit of greatness