IRVING, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says “his confidence was shaken” at the end of last season after his team failed to make the playoffs.
While speaking to reporters in advance of the Cowboys’ first playoff game in their new $1.2 billion showplace stadium, Jones briefly got emotional Tuesday night when he mentioned the disappointment he felt a year ago after Dallas’ 44-6 season-ending loss in Philadelphia. He needed a moment to gather himself before he kept talking.
“The criticism that I deal with the most is that I should have a general manager or I should have a football management in between the ownership and the coach,” said Jones, who has owned the team since 1989 “Because of that kind of self-designed structure that we have here, and hearing it for 20 years, then it was pounding in my head pretty good when we left Philadelphia.”
Jones didn’t change his role or head coaches, sticking with Wade Phillips, and he feels much better a year later. The Cowboys (11-5) are NFC East champions after a 24-0 victory over Philadelphia in the regular-season finale Sunday and are preparing to host the Eagles again in a quick rematch — this time in the playoffs Saturday night.
During his 35-minute media session, though, Jones said he never imagined after the Cowboys last won a playoff game during the 1996 season that he’d still be waiting for another postseason victory.
“It’s surreal to be sitting here having to even answer that question. I wouldn’t have dreamed that in ’96 we wouldn’t have (won) a playoff, and I wouldn’t have dreamed that we would have had the turnover in the coaches that we’ve had,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t have dreamed we would have had some of the challenges that, whether it was self-imposed or not through me, that we’ve had in our quarterbacking. So all of those things as I look back over these years I couldn’t have imagined that.”
The Cowboys are about to make their sixth playoff appearance since the 1996 season, when after beating Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs they lost at Carolina.
There were wild-card losses in 1998 and 1999, the only two seasons for coach Chan Gailey before he was fired, two playoffs losses under Bill Parcells (2003, 2006) and the home loss to the New York Giants two years ago after they were 13-3 in Phillips’ first regular season and had clinched home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs.
The toughest of those losses for Jones was three years ago, when the Cowboys were lined up for a short go-ahead field goal in the closing minutes at Seattle when Tony Romo, still the holder after taking over as the starting quarterback midway through the season, flubbed the hold and couldn’t run into the end zone.
“Just the nature of the game and the nature of the way we lost it, it was tough, Jones said.
Despite the ending of his first season as the starter, Romo did finally settle one of the problems that had plagued Jones and the Cowboys since Hall of Fame quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Aikman’s retirement after the 2000 season. There had been seven other starters between Aikman’s departure and Romo’s promotion.
Tom Landry had been the only coach in the 29-year history of the Cowboys when Jones bought the team. Phillips is the sixth since, following Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, Gailey, Dave Campo and Parcells.
In a moment of reflection Tuesday, Jones said he wasn’t fair to Gailey “to make that change after two years” and said Campo, who then went through three consecutive 5-11 seasons before getting fired, “didn’t have a chance” at a time when the team was hamstrung by salary cap problems.
Campo returned to the Cowboys in 2008 as the secondary coach.