Most NFL teams are structured the same way. All have a business operations half and a football operations half. On the football side, there is a head coach, a general manager, and an executive president or vice president in charge of overseeing all football related business. In all cases, the owner of the team watches over both sides of the organization. The Dallas Cowboys, as opposed to the Houston Texans, do not follow this basic layout, and often time proves to be to their detriment.
Take the Texans; they have Gary Kubiak as their head coach, Rick Smith as general manager and executive vice president of football operations, all supervised by owner Bob McNair. In this situation, Rick Smith coordinates with Kubiak and the team’s scouts to evaluate players and fill the roster with guys that fit Kubiak’s system. McNair keeps an eye on both the executives running the business and football operations and gives direction when needed. This is a normal setup for most NFL teams.
Now to the Cowboys, who do not follow this outline. Head coach Jason Garrett has the same basic duties as Kubiak, setting his system and telling the general manager and executives what types of players he desires. Unlike Kubiak, Garrett only answers to one man, the only Owner/President/GM in the NFL, Jerry Jones. And there in lies the problem for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones simply has too much power over his organization and it frequently leads to the underachievement of the Cowboys.
The real problem doesn’t have as much to do with football as it does to running a business itself. In most cases (like the Texans) the reason for the organizational structure is to keep everybody performing their job to the fullest of their abilities. If, say Rick Smith has several bad drafts in a row and losses key free agents, Bob McNair will do what owners do, fire Smith and find somebody who can do the job better. This scenario doesn’t exactly exist for the Cowboys. Jerry Jones could remove himself from the general manager role, but there is no outside threat to his removal from that post. To compound this problem, since Jimmy Johnson in the late 80s and early 90s, Jones has almost exclusively employed “puppet” head coaches, those who do and say what Jones wants and have little to no say when it comes to personnel decisions. Jones will pick the players he wants and that’s final.
To truly illustrate Jones’ deficiency as an Owner/President/GM, one needs only to look at the four-year stint in which Jones employed Bill Parcells as his head coach. Parcells would only sign on if he had the right to make his own personnel decision. To this point, Parcells had a long track record of building winners, and the Cowboys were no exception. He took a team that had missed the playoffs three straight years and immediately got them back in. Parcells went to build a solid foundation, one that still stands today. It’s an indictment against Jones that most of the Cowboys’ current core players were all guys that were brought in by Parcells…six years ago. Parcells finally left amid power struggles with Jones, just as Jimmy Johnson had. The Cowboys haven’t been the same since. Under Wade Phillips (a puppet head coach for the Cowboys), the team had early success with a team largely constructed by Parcells, but quickly slipped into underachieving mediocrity. Parcells had gotten the ball rolling on a potential Super Bowl roster, Jerry Jones dropped that ball.
Jerry Jones fancies the star players, the big names that fill seats and do it with flash and pizzazz. His construction of the Cowboys’ roster both before Parcells and after has been about that at the expense of building a football team at its core (to be further illustrated in tomorrow’s article). For the other 31 NFL franchises, this prolong deficiency would have resulted in a pink slip. Not for Jones, there is nobody to fire him.
That’s not to say Jerry Jones hasn’t had his successes, this article isn’t all about bashing him. He has been a tremendous businessman throughout his life and has done wonders with the Cowboys as a brand. He has won three Super Bowls with the proper organizational structure. He does have a good eye for talent considering he is an owner, perhaps the best among NFL owners. But all of that doesn’t mask the fact that Jerry Jones wears too many hats for the Cowboys organization. The past year has shown that Jones is apparently letting up on the reigns a bit, giving Jason Garrett more authority to draft and sign players he likes. But Jones and the Cowboys are still far away from a functional organizational structure that will result in Super Bowl victories.
And here is one of the several areas where the Texans have surpassed the Cowboys. After four years of rebuilding and boasting of potential, the Kubiak-Smith led Texans finally broke through in 2011 and have built a team that looks to contends for a number of years to come. They’ve worked together, along with McNair and newly hired defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, to piece together a blueprint of what type of player they are looking for at each position and have gone out and successfully scouted and drafted these players. In fact, the Texans have started a bit of a trend in the NFL following the 2011 draft in which they spent six picks on the defensive side of the ball to improve on a unit that finished 30th in 2010 (2nd in 2011). Teams such as the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers, both known for their drafting savvy, followed the Texans model by drafting six defensive players each in the 2012 draft, prompting the ESPN The Magazine story that brought this strategy to light for fans. The Texans themselves once again followed their formula in 2012, this time drafting five players on the offensive side of the ball, six if you include kicker as an offensive contributor (kickers do score points).
This analysis of organizational structure is the foundation for the rest of the arguments Texans 101 will make the rest of the week as to why the Texans have surpassed the Cowboys as a team and organization as a whole. The Owner-GM-Head Coach structure used by the Texans and 30 other NFL franchises is in place for a reason, the system works. When you find the right pieces (McNair, Smith, Kubiak), success follows. Jerry Jones cares deeply about his Cowboys and does whatever he can to make them a contender year in and year out. However, his over involvement within the Cowboys organization is what is holding the team back. There is nobody to hold Jerry Jones accountable for his job performance other than himself. If he were any other NFL GM, Jones would have been fired by his owner a long time ago. Until he is willing to loosen his grip on the reigns and hire football personnel whose sole focus is football operations, the Cowboys franchise will never get over the hump and will remain second best to their Texas-rival Houston Texans.
Tomorrow Texans 101 will build off this analysis and look at the rosters assembled by both the Texans and Cowboys and the methods and strategy by which they were formed.
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