Sports Outside the Beltway

Has Jerry Jones Learned His Lesson?

Mac Engel reports that Cowboys owner-GM Jerry Jones understands the apprehensions fans might have about “Old Jerry” — the meddlesome man who pushed Jimmy Johnson out the door so that he could prove how smart a football guy he was and proceeded to demonstrate the opposite — coming back now that Bill Parcells is gone.

By hiring Wade Phillips as his coach, Jones no longer has to worry about Parcells’ moods, or any egg shells. Jones tried it the Parcells way, and “it didn’t work,” he said.

If winning Super Bowls is the definition of “working” — and for the Dallas Cowboys it is — then it definitely didn’t “work” under Parcells. But that sounds like Jones thinks it’s time for the return of “Old Jerry,” right?

He wants to prove that by hiring Phillips, another way can work. And that in the process not only can the relaxed Phillips succeed, but so can the general manager part of Jones’ title that he knows often makes people nervous. “The one thing that I should have shown any fan, I will work with a strong personality,” Jones said Thursday. “I will work with a legitimate football person; we just hired another one right here.”

Phillips is like Parcells in more than one way. They’re both football lifers. They both use dry humor to illustrate their points. They’re both defensive-oriented coaches. They both have gray hair. That, however, is where the comparisons end. Phillips is relaxed, whereas Parcells was nervous and edgy. Phillips is soft spoken whereas Parcells could crack a player’s scalp with his wit.

Jones, however, worries about the perception that because Parcells left means the return of “the old Jerry,” the Jones who is often painted as a meddlesome owner who presided over the departure of Jimmy Johnson, and the less-than-successful tenures of Chan Gailey and Dave Campo.

The four years with Parcells proved to Jones that he can step back and that he can work with a coach, not control him. That’s what he intends to do with Phillips.

But Jones knows there will be skeptics, just as there were when he hired Parcells, who most NFL people agree would not have coached the Cowboys without almost total control. Most notably, a Cowboys source said, it was Parcells who was overruled on the potential drafting of linebacker Shawne Merriman by Jones in the 2005 draft. The Cowboys took DeMarcus Ware, one pick ahead of Merriman, who was selected by the Chargers.

Expect Jones to be this active with Phillips as he was with Parcells. What Jones said he learned from his time with Parcells is the desire for a hands-on coach in terms of player acquisition and off-season training and coaching programs. Expect more than the 40 off-season workouts Cowboys were expected to complete under Parcells.

And expect a lighter atmosphere at Valley Ranch without any egg shells covering the floors.

Hiring a big chunk of the staff, including a new and unproven offensive coordinator, before deciding on a head coach is very “Old Jerry.” But I do believe Jones — who is unquestionably both highly intelligent and passionate about winning — has learned about how to win in the NFL.

One of the things he’s learned, I think, is that the head coach needs to be heavily involved in personnel decisions but not the sole decider. Parcells made some great picks, to be sure, but he made some really bad ones, too. The modern NFL requires a team approach, and that means letting the scouting staff have a major say on draft day.

And I think Jones is right, too, that a new atmosphere is needed at Valley Ranch.

It was refreshing during yesterday’s press conference to have Phillips refer to Terrell Owens as “Terrell Owens,” rather than “The Player.” He even joked about the fact that he mentioned the man’s name. His emphasis that he “works with” rather than “handles” or “deals with” players is well taken, too.

Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith have proven that you can be an inspiring leader and successful coach without being a jerk and treating players like scum. The days of players taking six months off and coming to camp needing to be coached into shape are long gone.

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