As owner and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys, the successes and failures of the team ultimately fall on the shoulders of Jerry Jones. But if you want to place 100% of the blame for the failures of the past decade on his meddling, then I believe you have to give him 100% of the credit for the previous successes. And I'm not willing to do either of those. I place the blame on poor drafting, the scouting department and namely Larry Lacewell.
Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson built a dynasty in Dallas between the years of 1989-1992. Jerry wheeled and dealed on draft day and Jimmy knew college football as well as anyone during that time, so player evaluation came mostly from him. And it worked. It was amazing. During that 4 year period, here are the successful players drafted, most of which shaped the team: Troy Aikman, Steve Wisniewski (Oakland), Daryl Johnston, Mark Stepnoski, Tony Tolbert, Emmitt Smith, Jimmie Jones, Kenny Gant, Russell Maryland, Kelvin Pritchett (Detroit Lions), Dixon Edwards, Godfrey Myles, Erik Williams, Tony Hill, Leon Lett, Larry Brown, Kevin Smith, Robert Jones, Jimmy Smith (Jacksonville) and Darren Woodson. There are 20 players on that list, a tremendous amount of quality NFL players for a four year period. The credit goes to the scouting department (Jimmy Johnson) but also the wheeling and dealing (Jerry's specialty) that accumulated many of those picks.
Jerry Jones hired Larry Lacewell as head of scouting in 1994, a position he held until 2005. Do you know how many quality players were drafted during Lacewell's 9 drafts prior to Bill Parcells, while he and Jerry had no adult supervision? Let's name them. 1994, Larry Allen and Willie Jackson. 1995, I don't see a single player, maybe Eric Bjornson. 1996, Kavika Pittman and Randall Godfrey. 1997, Dexter Coakley. 1998, Greg Ellis and Flozell Adams. 1999, Dat Nguyen, Ebener Ekuban and Solomon Page. 2000, not a one. 2001, I guess I'll give you Quincy. 2002, Roy Williams, Andre Gurode and Antonio Bryant. 15 players total. In 9 years. And that's counting Bjornson. Jimmy Johnson had 9 from the 1991 draft alone. And before you try and point out that the draft was 12 rounds back then, realize that of the players I listed, only Larry Brown came past the 7th round. The wheeling and dealing by Jerry was still present during this time but the player evaluation wasn't, and that falls on Larry Lacewell. An example of this was in 1995. Jerry traded down in the draft, sending the Cowboys 1st round pick to Tampa Bay for two 2nd rounders and a 4th round choice. Pretty typical of what Jones has always done. The problem was the Bucs used the pick on Derrick Brooks, and Dallas ended up with Sherman Williams, Shane Hannah and Eric Bjornson.
Jerry Jones is the best owner in professional sports. He locked up as many players from the dynasty years as he could, so many that it put the team in salary cap trouble and led to some of the problems the Cowboys faced in future years. What led to disaster though, was the scouting department. Jerry deserves blame for the Cowboys failures because ultimately he's the boss and the buck stops with him. But any boss is only as good as the people working for him, and Jerry didn't surround himself very well in those years. I can't say that he meddled any more during the bad years than he did when things were going well. The advice he received just wasn't as good. He needed adult supervision. And he should have fired Larry Lacewell.
I can answer this with two words - Quincy Carter. Yes the beleaguered ex QB, who has had a hard time not only playing in the NFL, but the CFL and even the AFL2! Yet JJ thought so highly of this talent, who was rated as a 4th round prospect, that he took him in the 2nd round and anointed him the starter early in training camp 2001. Yes, Dave Campo was coach (in name at least) and he allowed JJ to simply force Quincy down his (and our) throats.
But that is just one example. Anyone could come up with a plethora of examples. The fact is that after Jimmy Johnson was forced out (another JJ accomplishment), he simply ran roughshod over every coach that came along - until Parcells. How he works with Wade Phillips will have to be determined after a season or two.
The fact is that JJ is a great owner. He has been a mediocre GM. But let me say that I am only responding to the question at hand. Over the past decade his meddling has been overwhelmingly disastrous. But there are signs that he has learned from his mistakes. His hiring of Parcells is one example of this. Whether he has truly moved beyond his mediocrity can only be determined over the course of the next few years. Since he is the owner, we have little chance of ever getting anyone else as GM, as long as he has breath in his body. I certainly think the potential is there that I might write a totally different article a decade from now. We will just have to wait and see.
I am convinced that had he let his scouts and coaches do their jobs, instead of constantly interfering, we would not have had such a long playoff dry spell. I believe we would have been much more competitive over the last decade. Chan Gailey might have developed into a fine head coach. We might have had a higher quality of players on the field instead of placing our hopes on the likes of Carter, Ryan Leaf, Anthony Wright, Clint Stoerner, Ebenezer Ekuban, Darrin Chiaverini and other folks like that.
Another area where Jerry once stunk up the joint was in giving his aging star players huge signing bonuses. That quickly led us into salary cap hell. Granted, he has seemed to wise up in this regard. But there is little doubt that this had a very adverse effect on the team over the last decade.
My hope is that he has learned his lesson and lets the folks on the payroll do their job. But to quote my dad (who was quoting Dandy Don Meredith), "if 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, we would all have a merry Christmas."