Sports Outside the Beltway

Jerry Jones and Wayne Huizenga: Leadership Styles

Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald looks at the contrasting styles of the owners of the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, who play this weekend.

Jerry Jones is on a long-distance call talking about his connection to the Dallas Cowboys. ”Let me start out by telling you there are different ways to have success and I don’t have all the answers,” Jones says. “But when I bought the Dallas Cowboys, I decided that meant a change in occupation for me so that I could commit all my resources and energy to the team. I knew I had to bring all my efforts — my time, my skills as a businessman — to make it successful. So I became involved in the management of the team. Today I figure my time is basically divided with 10 percent going into my role in ownership and 90 percent in the management of the Dallas Cowboys.”

And that is the formula Jones has mixed to bring the Cowboys some hardships, to be sure, but also more than their share of shiny star success since he bought the team in 1989. The Cowboys have won three Super Bowls and played in four NFC title games since the owner traded in Jones Oil and Land Lease for America’s Team. And while it is true the Cowboys have suffered wildcard-round playoff exits in 1999, 2003 and 2006, it doesn’t erase the fact they were in the postseason.

So Sunday’s game between the Dolphins and the Cowboys offers an interesting contrast in ownership style and philosophy.

The Dolphins, since 1994 the crown jewel of Wayne Huizenga’s extensive empire, are run in classic hands-off style. The Cowboys, under Jones, are the yin to Miami’s yang. Jones watches film, attends just about every practice, makes trades and draft selections, and even jokes that if there’s a wad of paper to be picked up on his practice field, he’ll do that also to keep the place looking sharp. ”I believe in blurring the line a little bit,” says the most hands-on owner in sports.

So which approach is better?

In their fundamental approach both have been proven to work. But the way Jones runs things provides one subtle advantage the Dolphins might never enjoy unless Huizenga becomes more involved. Jones, you see, knows everything about his team. He talks directly to players, he talks directly to all his coaches, and he engages the scouts. There aren’t one or two men who can solely sway his decision because he knows every opinion of consequence within the organization.

The view Huizenga gets is more limited. And that becomes a liability when the owner conducts a league-wide search for a GM and is advised by in-house people to pick in-house candidate Rick Spielman.

The way Huizenga has done things cannot be criticized when Jimmy Johnson and Nick Saban are obvious hires as coach. But it demands new thinking when Johnson fails on his promise to get Miami to the Super Bowl, and having earned no such right, counsels Huizenga to hire Dave Wannstedt. That’s when hands-off ownership sets a franchise back years.

”If Wayne decided to change the way he does things and spent and focused the amount of management time I do, his success would have exceeded the success I’ve had,” Jones says. “That’s how much respect and admiration I have for him and his abilities. Now, he doesn’t choose to do that and that’s fine. But he can do it.”

Jones can speak to changing management styles because, for a time, he did exactly that. When Bill Parcells was hired as coach, Jones agreed to let the man who guided the Giants and Patriots to the Super Bowl have say and sway over football matters. ”A lot of people said it couldn’t work, me working with that strong-willed a person,” Jones said. “But I did what I had to so that it would work. We didn’t win a Super Bowl and that was a disappointment. But we tried.”

Ultimately, when it works and when it doesn’t, Jones realizes the focus for the success or failure will shift toward him. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. ”Certainly fans can become very critical if the decision-making doesn’t bring the results they expect,” Jones says. “Then the owner is meddling too much and he should let football men make football decisions. That makes me smile because there is no other business discipline where the individual that has the most to gain or lose disconnects from the business. If the boss is directly involved in his business and overseeing the operation, in most places the customers applaud that.”

Quite right. I’ve been critical of Jones’ involvement in personnel decisions because others are more qualified, through decades of dedication to the profession of football, to make them. Jones is a brilliant business man and he’s made the Cowboys arguably the best franchise in the league from a commercial standpoint; they’re now the most valuable franchise in all of professional sports. But his learning curve on the football side, which largely began when he pushed Jimmy Johnson out the door after the 1993-94 Super Bowl championship, has been steep and costly on the field.

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