Cowboys S. Jones: 'Secret Sauce'? Leadership
The Dallas Cowboys believe they’re about to field "one of the better'' teams they’ve had in years and that it’s "coming together for us,'' COO Stephen Jones says as Oxnard rolls out the red carpet for a club that undeniably has the sort of promise that hasn't existed around here since last decade.
“I do believe it’s all coming together for us, Jones says. “It’s all about the production on the field. We obviously feel like we got a lot accomplished. Whether we did or not remains to be seen, and it’ll all be in whether we have a successful season. We theoretically got done what we felt like we needed to do to make our team better and take the next step. Now we’ll see if it happens.”
Ah, the "next step.'' This is the tricky part. The treacherous part. There is an assumption in some quarters that if you go 8-8 in one year (or in three consecutive years) and then vault to 12-4 ... well, you should then vault again.
That's not the way this works. Stephen knows this, and believes there are three keys points to being at least as good as Dallas was a year ago, when it fell a win short of the NFC Championship Game.
1. The avoidance of distractions - mostly in the form of the new contract given Dez Bryant.
"Obviously, your head coach, Jason Garrett, the last four to five years has done a good job minimizing the effect that (distractions have) on the team,’’ Jones says. "But distractions are distractions. They're talked about. They're put in front of players. They're put in front of coaches. They're put in front of us.”
"Distractions'' will still occur, of course. Rolando McClain is a living, breathing distraction waiting to happen. Greg Hardy legal entanglements probably quality. There will be a locker-room beef, a weird injury, a controversial call ...
But Jones is right about Garrett's impact here. For 25 years now, I've heard RedBall recite his personal mantra, "I only concern myself with things that are within my control.'' When this team won in Cincinnati a few years ago one day after the tragic death of Jerry Brown Jr., I came to the realization that the message had taken hold. These players mourned ... and coped ... all at the same time.
If Garrett's 2015 players believe in the philosophy as much as he does -- and heck, as much as I do! -- this needn't be an obstacle.
2. Talent and leadership.
For years, critics outside of DFW ripped Dallas for "lacking leadership.'' All they really knew was that the Cowboys were 8-8 ... so naturally they lacked leadership, right?
And then suddenly, they won a ninth game ... and miraculously, they have leadership!
"We've got great leadership on this team,’’ Jones says. "I've always thought chemistry is a hard thing to find, the winning chemistry. Obviously, there's 31 other teams who pay their guys pretty similar amounts in terms of the salary cap, and it's just getting your chemistry right.''
Certainly there's been massive turnover from the days when Jason Witten was a young locker-room leader to now, when he's ... well, an older locker-room leader. And there is now an influx of next-generation leaders, featuring Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Sean Lee and Barry Church ... and then another level/style of leadership in the form of Greg Hardy (yes, seriously) and Dez Bryant (yes, absolutely).
"I think last year we found something special,'' Jones says of the chemistry in the room. "We've got to keep that. We've got the right leadership group to bring that to the table. We've just got to work hard from Day 1. We got to take care of each other, work hard, stay healthy, and I think good things are going to happen for this group of men.”
You can't control health. You can't manage luck. But you are in charge of attitude. The right people are in place there.
Exhibit A from camp? The Dez-Patmon fight, finally settled in part because Tony Romo intervened and settled it with these word to Dez, as related by Stephen on 105.3 The Fan:
'If you break your hand, then I’m going to end up breaking mine because I’m going to be so mad at you, I’m gonna hit you,'' Romo told Dez. "So no more of this hitting and no more swinging, let’s move on and get to work.''
3. Avoiding the mistake of thinking last year automatically carries over to this year.
I've heard from a dozen Cowboys players on this subject. This year is not a continuation of last year. It's a new chapter. Jones sees it that way as well.
"You can't just pick up where you left off,’’ Jones says. "You have to start from scratch. Everybody will have to be accountable. It will have a different set of faces out there. There will be new faces. Everybody will have to work harder.
"I fully expect the players to take that message and it won't effect them whether they think people think they'll be good or they think we're going to be .500 or at the bottom," says Jones. "I think our guys are up for the challenge … (and) the focus can be where it needs to be which is on the field getting better obviously working towards the goal of winning a championship.’'
The "sauce'' is not secret. Its ingredients are focus, talent, leadership, health, luck and work. ... all those things, stirred into three helpings of what Stephen Jones and the Cowboys are cooking.
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