Jones, Jerral Wayne ("Jerry")

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JONES, Jerral Wayne ("Jerry")

(b. 13 October 1942 in Los Angeles, California), college football player and owner of the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL).

Jones was one of three children of J. W. "Pat" Jones, a future supermarket owner and insurance company founder, and Arminta Pearl Clark, a homemaker. Pat Jones, like many others, had moved the family from North Little Rock, Arkansas, to Los Angeles to work temporarily in the aircraft industry during World War II. Shortly after Jerry's birth the family returned to Arkansas.

Jones grew up in the Rose City section of North Little Rock. He was first introduced to organized football in junior high school. He made an impression on his coach, who used a psychological ploy to get the 120-pound Jones to tackle a 200-pounder. Once that was accomplished, Jones was fearless on the football field. Coach Jim Bohanan said of Jones: "He would run through a brick wall, and if you didn't tell him to stop, he'd do it again—and again. He was the fiercest competitor we ever had."

Jones was a hard-running and tough fullback for the North Little Rock High School Wildcats. The team was quite successful, defeating the more powerful team from Little Rock Central for the first time in years. But a loss cost North Little Rock a state championship. Nevertheless Jones was what Frank Broyles at the University of Arkansas was looking for, players who were smallish, quick, smart, and above all tough. Jones met the criteria and was recruited to play for the Razorbacks.

While on the Fayetteville campus, Jones met the fellow Razorback guard Jimmy Johnson and the freshman coach Barry Switzer, whose paths all crossed years later. The bright Jones was a good enough student that he graduated with his entering class (B.S., 1964), and because of a "red shirt" year, a season when he was in school but did not play, he took graduate courses and earned an M.B.A. degree during his fifth year at Arkansas.

Jones, while far from the Razorbacks' best player, was the unquestioned leader and was co-captain of the team. Jones received credit from his teammates for motivating Arkansas for their Cotton Bowl game with Nebraska in January 1965. The 10–7 win over the Cornhuskers left Arkansas, in the eyes of many, atop the intercollegiate football world.

Jones married Eugenia Carol "Gene" Chambers, a former Arkansas Poultry Princess, on 26 January 1963, while both were students at Arkansas. The couple had three children, one of whom, Stephen Jones, played linebacker at Arkansas and became chief operating officer and executive vice president of player personnel with the Dallas Cowboys. Following graduation Jones was ready to succeed. As the writer Jim Dent said: "Those who knew him, knew Jerry Jones was going places. They just couldn't imagine the altitude or the speed at which he would travel."

Actually Jones launched his business career during his last year in college, when he spent time on the road selling for the insurance company his father founded, Modern Security Life. Jones was executive vice president after he graduated, from 1965 to 1969. Coach Broyles, traveling throughout Arkansas giving speeches and recruiting, often bumped into Jones. Broyles said: "Shoot! He was wearin' new clothes, drivin' a new Cadillac El Dorado, and carryin' around a brief case. None of my other players was doin' that."

In 1970 Jones formed Arkoma Exploration, an independent oil and gas concern. The firm was phenomenally successful, establishing offices in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Jones also became involved in banking, real estate, insurance, shipping, manufacturing, and even Arkansas Talents, a boxing promotions organization.

The considerable fortune Jones amassed allowed him to purchase the Dallas Cowboys on 25 February 1989 for a reported $234 million. Jones immediately irked some when he enthusiastically announced the hiring of his college teammate and road-game roommate Johnson. Perhaps Jones's enthusiasm masked from him the fact that he was firing the coaching legend Tom Landry, until then the only coach the Cowboys ever had.

Jones, who was also the team's general manager, and Johnson were subject to much criticism and ridicule when the Cowboys turned in a 1–15 record in the first season (1989) of Jones's ownership and Johnson's coaching. But by trading the star runner Herschel Walker for a host of draft choices, the Cowboys formed the nucleus of the team, including the quarterback Troy Aikman, the running back Emmitt Smith, and the wide receiver Michael Irvin, that won three Super Bowls (1993, 1994, and 1996) in four years. Johnson, however, was only around for the first two.

In what some observers called "a clash of Texas-size egos," Jones and Johnson agreed to part company in 1994. Jones, it was said, bristled at Johnson's getting and taking too much credit. Before the parting Jones said, "There are five hundred people who can coach the Cowboys." Some wondered if Jones, who often stalked the sidelines talking to coaches and players, included himself.

"No. 500" was Switzer, who had great success at Oklahoma after leaving Arkansas. Switzer won the last Cowboys Super Bowl, but it could be argued that he did it with the talent assembled by Johnson. Switzer, too, fell out of favor, mainly because the Cowboys lacked discipline on and off the field, getting called for needless penalties and suffering drug arrests and run-ins with the law. Chan Gailey and Dave Campo subsequently were unable to reverse the team's downward spiral. Johnson's astute player evaluations were missed, as evidenced by the Cowboys' mediocre drafts when the core group began to age and retire. From 1997 to 2000 Dallas compiled a 29–35 record.

Jones has always been considered a maverick owner. He has never subscribed to the NFL's "League think" mind-set, whereby all team owners put aside what was best for their individual franchises and did what was best for "the League." When Jones and the Cowboys were winning, his moves were considered innovative, and he enjoyed considerable attention and a considerable following. With the team in imminent danger of not holding onto its "America's Team" image, fewer and fewer team owners were willing to march to his drumbeat.

Jones has been active in many charities, perhaps none more so than the Salvation Army. The Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving game is the kickoff of the Salvation Army's Kettle Drive. Jones and his wife have been honored as the Salvation Army's Partners of the Year for their extensive involvement. With a seven-figure gift, they established the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Center for Children in Dallas. The couple also contributed heavily to the Library of Congress's restoration of the Thomas Jefferson Library. Another major gift, in conjunction with Jones's teammate Jim Lindsey, funded the University of Arkansas Hall of Champions, named in their honor.

Jones is controversial, but like so many other controversial figures, he has supporters as well as detractors. He counterbalances perceived transgressions with acts of altruism.

Jim Dent wrote a biography of Jones, King of the Cowboys: The Life and Times of Jerry Jones (1995). Jones's life and career are also discussed in Skip Bayless, The 'Boys (1993); Mike Fisher, Stars and Strife (1993); and Jimmy Johnson as told to Ed Hinton, Turning the Thing Around (1993).

Jim Campbell