The Second Coming?
Jones is well aware that businesses, including NFL teams, are cyclical and that seldom does one organization get to the top and stay there. Throughout the later part of the 1990s and early 2000s the Cowboys struggled on the field, leading to intense criticism of Jones and his approach to resurrecting the floundering team.
Jones was repeatedly bashed during this period for his approach to taking credit and assessing blame. Like any business that gains momentum and demonstrates a track record of success, tension arises as to whom should be credited with the turnaround. In the case of the Cowboys, Jones believed he deserved much of the credit because he oversaw all major decisions, yet his two coaches during that period—Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer—also believed they were due significant recognition.
The team's record was 10–6 in 1998, 8–8 in 1999, and 5–11 in 2000, 2001, and 2002. For some teams, a five-year record of 33–47 would have not only been an improvement, it would have been acceptable. For the Cowboys it demonstrates that when you have previously succeeded in turning around an organization, the expectations are higher and you have to be ready to do so even quicker the second time. Corporate shareholders and sports fans alike expect it and won't typically settle for less, often regardless of the factors that might have contributed to the downturn.
Drug use, coaching changes, and injuries took their toll on the Cowboys quicker than any owner would have expected. Defensive tackle Leon Lett was suspended for most of 1997 with drug problems, a crisis that also enveloped wide receiver Michael Irvin.
Head coaching changes also prevailed, with Chan Gailey replacing Barry Switzer in 1998 and, again, in 2000 as Dave Campo replaced Gailey. Irvin had to retire after the 2000 season due to a neck injury. Fullback Daryl Johnston and quarterback Aikman were also forced to retire because of injuries.
Jones needed to rebuild again. Just like 1989, he was forced to play a rookie quarterback in 2001, Quincy Carter, a second-round pick from Georgia who was, by all accounts, no Troy Aikman. Seventy of the 87 players listed on the team's training camp roster had three years of NFL experience or less.
For the first time since the 1988 and 1989 seasons, the Cowboys posted double-digit losses in consecutive seasons. Jones said he would rebuild again through great drafts. To accomplish this he first had to recall—and demonstrate that he learned from—the mistakes he made the first time around.
In the sports world, employee problems, management changes, and staff attrition are measured by wins and losses. In the traditional business world, these developments would have negatively impacted a company's share price, hindering its ability to compete in the market.
Following this initial decade, one in which the Cowboys dominated on the field, Jones was quick to point out that he had made mistakes along the way. In fact, he ranked his top three management errors during this period.
The first was not paying adequate attention to players' off-field behavior. Jones allowed the issue of player indiscretions to sneak up on him because he was too content with the team's on-field results and was reluctant to address the issue head on. Eventually he mandated that players stay away from the team's most popular hangout and cut a player who didn't obey his directive.
Jones had far greater difficulty curtailing his players' drug use and this shortcoming continued to be a drag on the team's reputation, so much so that when one of Jones' star players, Mark Tuinei, died of a drug overdose in 1999, few were surprised.
Many executives overlook serious personnel problems in their organizations, hoping that they will somehow resolve themselves. However, unfocused or undisciplined employees routinely undermine a company's success. A failure to address such shortcomings, whether they are small nuisances such as a secretary being perpetually late for work, or major, such as an executive involved in sexual harassment, can lead to the demise of the entire company. This is especially true with organizations that are routinely in the public eye like professional sports teams. There are very few companies and industries that are subjected to weekly—if not daily—media accounts about the way a particular organization is handling its business affairs.
Owners and managers should always realize that customers usually have a choice of where to shop. Sometimes the difference is the employees that a store keeps. Owners and managers that insist on a dress code or prohibit long hair or earrings understand that personal appearance, and the perceived improved service that comes with it, is important to certain customers.
Although a certain employee's personal or professional troubles won't necessarily tarnish the company's image in the eyes of the consumer, it must be realized that an employee's lack of focus in the workplace, whatever the reason, can undermine the company's morale, products, and profitability.
Jones' second biggest regret during his first 10 years as owner was retaining Coach Barry Switzer following the 1995 season. A strained relationship with his highest profile employee fueled debate about his leadership acumen and shifted far too much of the focus away from the product on the field. As much as an executive regrets the need to make necessary high-profile changes in senior management, it must be done. Any short-term fallout caused will pale in comparison to leaving the wrong person in charge of a critical part of the organization's business.
His final regret, one that Jones says continues to haunt him, was his first set of decisions regarding the replacement of senior management, decisions compounded by the fact that he made them immediately on his acquisition of the team.
The integrity of the brand is on the line every day, but because of the power of the media, any time a group of journalists are gathered in one place for a press conference everything must run smoothly. This applies to all businesses, including those that are rivals to the Cowboys.
Awkward media relations are prevalent throughout the business world and are not limited to situations dealing with the termination of an employee or senior manager. Three weeks after the 1999-2000 NFL season, the Chicago Bears called for a gathering of the media where they promised to introduce their new head coach, Dave McGinnis. However, 90 minutes after the press conference was supposed to start, the Bears cancelled it because they had announced the deal without it being finalized and McGinnis left the building. The Bears then had to admit that a final deal wasn't done and negotiations appeared to be in limbo.
The widely circulated Associated Press article led by reminding readers of the team's intent—that the Bears wanted Dave McGinnis to bring the black and blue back to their defense. However, following the highly public incident, what the team received instead was a red face on one of the most embarrassing days in Bears' history. The following Monday, they announced Dick Jauron as their new head coach.
Who was partly responsible for the botched press conference? None other than team president Michael McCaskey, a former Harvard Business School professor and author of a 1982 book called The Executive Challenge: Managing Change and Ambiguity.
As long as a mistake is recognized and is not repeated, it can be dismissed as a one-time blunder without becoming a chronic management concern. Jones, by spelling out his mistakes, obviously has recognized them and it allows him to proceed with confidence into his second revitalization of the brand.
Media relations is even important to the small businessman. Simply knowing that everything is "on the record" once a journalist presents himself or herself is very important. That's because whatever the company representative says could be construed as a statement representative of the ideals and values of the business itself. Good owners and managers instruct their staff about who should— and who should not—talk to the media before the situation arises.
One mistake Jones didn't publicly admit to was hiring several "yes" men coaches so that he could ultimately maintain all the power. By hiring Bill Parcells after the 2002 season and giving him some guaranteed authority, Jones was willing to relinquish some of his power. This was an important change not enjoyed by Parcells' recent predecessors and one that could have been a contributing factor to the previous coaches' downfall.
The Second Coming?