Commentary

Jerry Jones could learn from Wilpons

Cowboys owner has chance to use Mets' vow: Don't meddle with smart employees

Updated: November 12, 2010, 11:05 AM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

Ignoring the fact that it'd be a loss to melodrama lovers everywhere to see Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones melt into the background after he just uttered what is, hands down, the creepiest sports quote of the year -- "People here are certainly going to suffer" -- before he fired coach Wade Phillips on Monday, the truth is Jones could learn something from New York Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon.

You laugh, I know. But it's true.

Jones, whose reeling 1-7 Cowboys visit the New York Giants on Sunday, fixed one obvious problem when he fired Phillips on Monday, the morning after the Cowboys sleepwalked through a Sunday night debacle in Green Bay. But Jones didn't go far enough.

The Cowboys seemed to suffer during Phillips' tenure by the impression that ownership was usurping too much authority and running nearly all facets of the team. It's the same charge the Wilpons strenuously objected to a few weeks ago during that extraordinary, self-flagellating news conference in which they announced they were canning their general manager, Omar Minaya -- and firing themselves in a way, too.

Fred Wilpon
AP Photo/Seth WenigFred Wilpon shook up the front office after the Mets missed the postseason again.

The Wilpons vowed to bring in some new blood, infuse some fresh ideas into the organization, then butt out. And after their hirings of general manager Sandy Alderson and assistants J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta (both former GMs, as well), you have to commend the Wilpons. So far, so good.

How smart does the Mets' new front office look on paper? After reading the news releases detailing the academic backgrounds of Alderson & Co. (the words "Harvard" and "magna cum laude" come up a lot) I'd bet you a pair of box seats that when Jones made that "People will suffer" threat, the Mets' brain trust could tell you whether Jones lifted the quote from Ivan the Terrible after his 1570 campaign to level Novgorod or the Vandals' filleting and deboning of Rome in 455 A.D.

Why, I felt like I needed to go back and finish my MBA when DePodesta disputed how the work the Mets' new trio did together with the Oakland A's was portrayed in the best-selling book "Moneyball" by saying this:

"'Moneyball' doesn't have anything to do with on-base percentage or statistics. It's a constant investigation of stagnant systems to see if you can find value where it isn't readily apparent."

As some in Texas might say, Jones just hired hisself one a them smart guys, too. Jason Garrett, Phillips' replacement, is a Princeton man.

Wish Garrett luck. The ex-Cowboys and Giants backup quarterback has to know that no head coach this side of Jim Zorn, who was fired by Redskins owner Dan Snyder last year, put up with more than Phillips did in his 3½ seasons in Dallas. It was amazing Phillips had success at all in such a hothouse environment.

Jones is an attention-hogging micromanager and his son, Stephen, works as the team's COO. The elder Jones' decision to install Garrett as his $3 million-a-year offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting left Phillips as ... well, what? Head Coach for Now?

Garrett earned almost as much as Phillips did. Phillips' authority was undermined from the start.

Jerry Jones
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiThe Cowboys' 1-7 start was more than Jerry Jones could stomach.

Jones always seemed to be pulling the puppet strings and was suspected of having his spies in the clubhouse. As if all that weren't enough, Jones also gave Phillips a factious roster in the coach's second season, adding Pacman Jones to a team that already featured Terrell Owens and Tank Johnson. Good luck with that. Predictably, the Cowboys' locker room was drama-filled and poisonous as another December nose dive played out in '08, and it was no coincidence all three players were among those gone by 2009, when the Cowboys went on a late-season hot streak and finally won their first playoff game since 1996.

The Cowboys were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders this year. Then they flopped out of the gate and got worse after that, playing beneath what their talent suggests. (Sound familiar, Mets fans?)

Phillips' low-key personality and tolerance of the humiliations that come with working for Jones is often hoisted up as proof of Phillips' spinelessness. But look: Did you know Phillips' 33-13 record with the Cowboys through 2009 was second only to New England's Bill Belichick? Phillips won two NFC East titles in his three years. He endured Jones' meddling, the Cowboys' overheated fan base and his fickle, often confrontational treatment by a Dallas-Fort Worth media that frequently led the calls for his head.

The only pro coaching job that's more freighted is manager of the New York Yankees.

Then again, Jones has often been accused of behaving as if he's channeling George Steinbrenner.

But Jones could learn something from the Wilpons.

Back off.

Why bother hiring smart guys if you don't really let them run the team?

Johnette Howard is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

Johnette Howard is an award-winning writer and author who previously worked for Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and Newsday. She contributes general sports columns to ESPN.com and ESPNNewYork.com.

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