IRVING, Texas – Quietly, this reality, suffocated by an avalanche of perception – the one depicting Cowboys owner Jerry Jones since the Feb. 25, 1989, day he bought this team as one ruthlessly wanting to win, trampling any man or coach who stood in his way – is exactly what he's always wanted.
A head coach for the ages.
He thought Jimmy Johnson was that guy, his former Arkansas Razorback teammate, a young vibrant, up-and-coming college head coach when he hired him for that job 26 years ago next month. In his mind, it would be him and Jimmy eventually marching into the Pro Football Hall of Fame together after putting the Dallas Cowboys back on the NFL pedestal they once resided on for years to come.
There was no coincidence Jones talked about having signed Johnson to a 10-year contract. He knew Cowboys history, he knew back in 1964, with the expansion Cowboys on their way to a fifth consecutive losing season under, uh, first-time head coach Tom Landry, that original owner Clint Murchison Jr. intercepted the public posse screaming for the coach's neck by signing him to a 10-year contract extension.
Many thought the somewhat eccentric Murchison was simply trying to tweak everyone's noses, the short man puffing out his chest to remind all who was in charge of these Cowboys. Turns out that 10-year contract is the best move Murchison ever made, staying true to the head coach who two years later began an NFL-record run of 20 consecutive winning seasons, which included five Super Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl victories and a storied 29-year Hall of Fame coaching career.
Murchison bought himself consistency and continuity within his franchise for all those years to come. Same coach, same system, same philosophy.
Jones does pay attention, even back then when everyone just assumed this wildcatter was simply an impulsive, egotistical tyrant.
"I thought, 'Well, shoot, I'll get a coach and we'll be sitting here 20 years from now looking back at what we'd done and we'll be just going along here. We'll have our ups and downs and that's how it works,'" Jones said during Thursday's press conference out here at The Ranch while calling himself somewhat naive. "Well, we all know it doesn't work that way."
At least it sure didn't, for one reason or 10 others.
Who knows, maybe times can change.
Now, this is not to say we are expecting Jason Garrett, newly signed to a five-year contract by Jones this week to continue his reign as the Cowboys' eighth all-time head coach, to be doing this for the next 20 years. Not at all.
But this is to say finding a young, maybe even first-time head coach for years to come is exactly what Jones has yearned for ever since he bought this team, and this must be considered a start. Think about this, and in this day and age of the NFL this might be a leap of faith, but if Garrett finishes
out this five-year contract he will have been the Cowboys head coach for nine and a half seasons, the longest run for a Cowboys head coach next to Landry's 29 years.
Shoot, if Garrett simply finishes out this 2015 season, that would mean, counting his half-season as interim head coach, he'll have coached the Cowboys for 88 regular-season games – eight more than Johnson – and will move into second place behind Landry, only 324 games behind. (As Jones likes to say, I smile when I say that.) In fact, if the Cowboys should win only four games next year, Garrett (41-31) will become the second all-time winningest head coach in Cowboys history, his 45 wins one more than Johnson's 44-36.
To truly understand what Landry accomplished in 29 seasons, Garrett's 45 wins also would pale in comparison, leaving him just 205 victories (another smile) behind Landry (250-162).
Think about this: From the time Garrett entered into the twilight of his Cowboys playing career, back in the late 1990s, Jones began envisioning him as a head-coaching candidate. In fact, when his contract expired in 1999, Jones tried to convince Garrett to stay on as an assistant coach. Garrett still wanted to play, putting in four more seasons as the Giants backup.
Then there was Jones hiring Garrett as the team's offensive coordinator after he had coached just two seasons under Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins, even before finalizing the deal with Wade Phillips in 2007 to become the Cowboys head coach. Jones hadn't lost his mind as most suggested. He just didn't want to chance losing Garrett to another team.
Nor had he lost his mind in 2008 when the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons were prepared to hire the three-year NFL assistant as their head coach, the Ravens actually offering him the job while knowing he had only put in one year as a coordinator and those two others as the Dolphins quarterbacks coach. So Jones made Garrett one of the highest-paid offensive coordinators in the league, not wanting to lose who he considered a potential head coach.
And Jones certainly didn't hesitate to promote his offensive coordinator to interim head coach in 2010 when the Cowboys got off to that 1-7 start and it had become apparent Phillips had lost the team. Then after the 5-3 finish, bumping him into the position he had been projecting him to be in ever since he was a backup, at times third-string quarterback, with the Cowboys.
So it certainly made sense Jones remained patient with Garrett during his first three seasons as a first-time head coach. Hey, going 8-8 three seasons in a row, becoming the only team in the NFC East with a chance to win the division title in the final game of the season three seasons in a row as well, sure beat Landry's opening five-year record of 0-11-1, 4-9-1, 5-8-1, 4-10 and 5-8-1 that earned him that 10-year extension.
Jones sensed something was being built, that the franchise was moving in the right direction under Garrett's stewardship. Unlike most, he was refusing to solely judge Garrett's progress as a first-time head coach of any sort on a tangible record after three and a half years (29-27). And though Jones did not sign Garrett to an extension with his contract expiring following this past season, he also did not put a tangible barometer around Garrett's neck:
You have to win 10 games …
You have to win the NFC East …
You have to win at least one playoff game …
Others did, and vociferously, putting the proverbial noose around Garrett's neck, just as had been placed around that of Landry's by the howling masses in 1964.
What few understood was Jones dearly wanted Garrett to be the longtime head coach he had been searching all these 26 seasons for, ever since he brought in his Arkansas road-game roommate from college. In fact, I'm not so sure he would have turned his back on Garrett had a team not expected to win much more than six games this year gone 8-8 again.
Jones just stubbornly wanted this to work, and he saw something in Garrett that captivated him.
And he really never had this chance with anyone else. Johnson wanted out after five years, and finagled his way out with an extra $2 million to boot. Barry Switzer was a Band-Aid that actually overstayed his welcome at Jones' insistence by two seasons. Chan Gailey was just a bad fit from the beginning, Jones backed into a hole when his first choice in 1998, Troy Aikman's college coach Terry Donahue, turned him down at a very late last minute. Dave Campo was another Band-Aid sacrificed during salary-cap hell.
As for Bill Parcells, at his age when he took the job (62), this was for a quick fix, and it was a good one until Parcells ran out of gas after four years and the disheartening playoff loss at Seattle in 2006. And then Wade Phillips, likely only the head coach until Jones deemed Garrett ready, was ultimately done in by that 1-7 start and simultaneously losing the team.
That's the truth, leaving Jones to swat away the notion he's never had a head coach longer than five seasons for compatibility reasons.
"Every time that had everything to do with how we could win football games," Jones pointed out as the ultimate reason for changing head coaches, "as opposed to being compatible to me."
So here we are, five more years of Garrett, just as Jones always wanted it, along with a sign of progress to boot, going the 12-4 this season, winning the East and a first-round playoff game, plus coming narrowly close to showing up in Seattle this Sunday for the NFC title game against a team the Cowboys already had beaten once this season.
And think about this: The Cowboys had a 2-1 record in 2014 against the teams they played in Sunday's final four.
Combine that with having intimate knowledge of Garrett's background, having worked with his daddy Jim, the former Cowboys longtime scout, along with having worked with Garrett as a player for eight seasons, the first in 1992 as a practice squad player, then three and a half more as the offensive coordinator and a half-season as interim head coach.
All that history developed a familiarity and trust factor, too.
"There's never been a question in my mind, given the opportunity to get in the game, i.e. be the head coach, that he would evolve into one of the top head coaches in the NFL," Jones said of Garrett.
With a chance now to become one for a long period of time.
Just as Jerry Jones has been searching for all these many years.