Jones is Leading the Turnaround

The Dallas Cowboys stand in the 2002 season's shadows as training camp approaches. Within days players will be rolling into San Antonio in SUV's and luxury cars filled with expensive luggage and hope for a better season than 2001.

Most of the changes to this year's edition of the Cowboys have come on the field rather than off. The names of free agents such as LaRoi Glover, Bryant Westbrook, Kevin Hardy, along with Tony McGee and Jeff Robinson look to bring in veteran experience and a renewed hope.

The draft produced several players suggested as possible number ones prior to the April 20th selection day. Roy Williams is considered the best defensive player in this year's crop of rookies. Andre Gurode and Antonio Bryant will add youth and talent to the offensive side of the ball. And Derek Ross will have an opportunity to gain a starting position as a cornerback sometime in 2002 it has been reported.

Yet the team didn't stop with on the field upgrades. They also added some impressive experience in the coaching ranks. Gary Gibbs, brought in to coach the linebackers had previously been the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners. Galen Hall was the head coach of the University of Florida when Emmitt Smith was recruited as their tailback. In Smith's three-year collegiate career he knew no other head coach.

Bruce Coslet was brought in to head up the offense as its coordinator. He has previously served as the offensive coordinator and head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. During his first stint as coordinator Coslet the Bengals twice had the NFL's top ranked offense (1986, 1988). He also guided the Cincinnati team to twice having the top rushing attack (1988, 1989) and three times as the AFC's leader in total offense (1986, 1988, 1989).

Behind all this forward movement is the President and General Manager of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones. After a year of 20 plus million dollars of dead cap space, which handcuffed Jones in 2001, he has been able to stretch his talent and orchestrate a rebuilding that he even denied was taking place.

The team is headed into 2002 with a renewed optimism and a hunger last seen in the early 90's Cowboys. A fact not lost on the leering press that finds Jones an easy mark as the butt of jokes in columns over the years since Jimmy Johnson has been gone.

Jones was far and away a too easy mark to ridicule when information was tough to come by in the slower months of June and July. Any example of ineptness was inevitably compared to Jerry Jones, the rube from Arkansas that took a once storied franchise and turned them into the Beverly Hillbillies.

But that day is quickly fading into the past. Article after article have been written about this years Cowboys and their turn-around. The giddiness in their treatment of Jones, which some past doubting Thomases have adopted, is a 180-degree about face.

But what caused this new attitude? Why have the detractors become a choir singing the praises of Jones?

Certainly most of this rise in the ranks of the Jerry Jones appreciation club is due to this years moves. Last year was one of the worst in franchise history. A quarterback turnstile along with no money to upgrade the team paid the exact dividends expected and predicted by most.

ESPN The Magazine's senior writer David Fleming spoke on the subject of the Dallas Cowboys and Jones impact on Monday.

"This team is fun again. Just like Jerry Jones has said. It's like the early 90's team." Fleming was interviewed by Mike Fisher of the Fox Southwest radio affiliate in Dallas when he expressed that it used to be too easy to mock Jones.

When asked about the national medias penchant for Jerry bashing, Fleming said, "Sure, it was always easier to make fun of Jerry rather than do your homework and find out what's really going on."

Kevin Hardy's joining the Cowboys may shed light into why Jones is so respected by players in the league, even if the media misses that point. Fleming relates Hardy's comment about his first day as a Cowboy.

"He had been told the team was really a hard working team. There was chemistry. Something he had heard at his former home Jacksonville and every recruiting stop he made during the off-season about every team. Yet when he entered the weight room on his first day at 8 am he could not find an open machine. The room was filled with players working out."

After the initial visit with Dallas during his recruitment, Hardy and his family got aboard his boat in Florida and were going to sail to New Orleans to visit. Jones called Hardy on his cell phone wanting to fax over some numbers for Hardy to see as an offer by the Cowboys. Hardy related Jerry's comment as, "I don't want you to go to New Orleans."

Perhaps Jones is the only one that sees the entire picture and how all the pieces will fit together today and tomorrow. Something most of the nation believes isn't possible for the owner previously referred to as Jethro Bodine. Yet his machinations are a mirror image of any other GM in the league.

Jones may truly have come of age in this job. If nothing else his rebuilding surely indicates the first mid-term exam he's passed with flying colors. Measured against the other franchises in the league he seems to be making all the right moves.

And those moves have restored the image of the franchise for those inside and out. The image created in the 70's by NFL Films.

Kevin Hardy said it best. "There's just something about being a Cowboy. There's an aura to this team. Defending the star is something you dream about as a kid. This is America's team."

America's Team. And surely now everyone sees it as Jerry's Team, as well.

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