I have always assumed that there were no more than three NFL execs who had lifetime passes: Jerry Jones, the Dallas owner who is a great admirer of the Dallas GM; Al Davis, who even after death will probably occupy his office at Raiders headquarters the way Poltergeists ran Heather O'Rourke's bedroom and Mike Shanahan, ranking just behind John Elway as a face on Denver's football Mount Rushmore.
Adding meat to the bones of that assumption was that while Shanahan and Davis despise each other, Mike having been fired by Al early in his career, Jerry is an admiring friend of both. (Newsflash: Despite public perception, Jerry is pretty much a friend to most everybody in the NFL.)
The pretzel'y relationships add intrigue as rumors surface that Jones is increasingly angry about his team's 2008 collapse (as ESPN's Chris Mortensen suggests) and is contemplating a Wade do-over and a courting of Shanahan, fired a week ago by the Broncos.
Where did Jerry Jones learn the notion of running his own show?
From watching Al Davis do some things right.
Where did Mike Shanahan learn the notion of running as much of his own show as possible?
From working under Al Davis while he did some things wrong.
So both Jones and Shanahan believe in possessing a certain level of buck-stops-here omnipotence. Could all-powerful Jerry and all-powerful Shanahan co-exist?
I sniffed around Valley Ranch on Monday for some clues. Made some phone calls. And read some tea leaves. I came away with no evidence that a change is brewing. (Sorry.) But I still think it's worth the effort to lay out the logic of Shanahan-to-Dallas – if not for 2009, then maybe sometime after Mike takes a rejuvenating year off.
So, some logic:
*Remember when Jones and Parcells partnered up and part of the justification was that these were two independent old lions were willing to sacrifice their single-minded ways in order to win? It did work, you know. Not Super Bowl-work, but the partnership was effective and rewarding. It helped re-build the roster.
Shanahan is 56. That's not exactly an "old lion,'' but he has been in Denver for the better part of 24 years; so he could justifiably be ready for a makeover, a career gear-shift.
And Jerry? Does he ever get old? Will there ever be a time when he's not looking to upgrade, when he's not – to use his Arkansas colloquialism – "blowin' and goin'''?
*Shanahan has said on the record that he might coach in 2009 if there is "a perfect situation.'' And certainly, when he makes his inevitable return, he'll be looking for that same "perfect situation.''
It doesn't take a Cowboys fan to see that while nobody's perfect,Dallas is a great situation – especially if the potential coach views Jones' presence as adding to that greatness.
*Shanahan used to be an offensive Boy Genius. (He was Jason Garrett 25 years ago.) He relied heavily on help from a strong coordinator to run his defense. Guess who was the Denver D-coordinator back in the mid-80's while Mike was the Broncos' O-coordinator?
That would be Wade Phillips.
*So maybe, whenever this might happen, Wade stays or maybe he doesn't. The offensive staff is much trickier. Shanahan will almost certainly want to surround himself with his guys – yet Jerry prizes the aforementioned Garrett. As I have written before, Garrett's presence here as the heir is as much the reason Phillips stays on as Phillips' skills are the reason.
Odds are, a selection of Shanahan effectively ends Jason's ascension at Valley Ranch.
That represents a problem – the biggest monkey wrench of all.
It seems conceivable that if Garrett ends up becoming a head coach this offseason – in an ironic twist, he's scheduled to interview for Shanahan's old job in Denver – Jones would be all the more motivated to make a change regarding Phillips.
*I don't want to make too much of the fact that Shanahan was once the quarterback at Eastern Illinois, the same school that Tony Romo starred at. It's safe to say they know each other – certainly Eastern Illinois has alumni banquets and whatnot – and I do recall word out of Denver in 2003 that the Cowboys' competition for signing a certain undrafted QB was Shanahan's Broncos.
Shanahan is a QB guru who would love to work with Romo. It can be argued that he never did cure Plummer and Cutler of their wild quarterbacking habits, but keep this in mind: The Elwayesque standards in Denver are impossibly high. Like, Staubach/Aikman high.
*Does Jerry want to make a splash as he enters the new Cowboys stadium in Arlington? He won't have a first-round pick to splash around. … he won't have a shiny record to splash around. … does Wade Phillips sell tickets?
Please dismiss any doubts you have of Shanahan's "system'' or his "fondness for smaller O-linemen'' being an issue here. Shanahan won two Super Bowls in Denver and kept his team generally in contention after that while handling a variety of personalities and styles. Besides, if Parcells was allowed some time to install his style, shouldn't Shanahan be allowed some of the same latitude?
*Jones and Shanahan are of the same mind when it comes to personnel risk-taking. (That is to say, three years ago, both of them would've signed T.O.) But Shanahan is a commanding presence and his players – goofballs that some of them are – are answerable to him. Those two Super Bowls (granted, from another era) earn him some of that.
He is "thoughtful,'' but he is not "cuddly.'' That combination would seem to be the right thing at the right time at Valley Ranch.
I disagree with Jones' critics who say he is too "stubborn'' or "stupid'' to admit he's wrong. Too stubborn? In his 20 years, he's now hired six coaches. That's a lot of change and a lot of "admitting.'' Too stupid? I'm embarrassed for the journalists who write that.
But Jerry is into "saving face.'' (No pun intended.) He climbed out on a limb in support of Wade Phillips – and he was out there all by himself, saying the right things, the only things – promising that there would be no change at the head-coaching spot.
Jones' face is saved. He said that, I believe, with knowledge that Bill Cowher wasn't going to come here and with knowledge that Jerry's friend Mike Holmgren (yes, another friend) wanted some time off. He said that with no knowledge that Broncos owner Pat Bowlen would reluctantly chip Shanahan's face from Denver's Mount Rushmore.
There are no tea leaves yet and there is no evidence yet. But that doesn't mean Cowboys followers shouldn't contemplate it. And given the buck-stops-here omnipotence of both Jones and Shanahan, it seems like something they must contemplate, too.
Jones and Shanahan: The Applied Logic
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