1990 Review: Quick Turnaround Boosts Jimmy & Jerry’s Popularity

Jimmy and Jerry were quickly becoming saviors of the franchise after the team's turnaround in 1990.

Jerry Jones’ decision to fire Tom Landry in 1989 and Jimmy Johnson’s role as the man who replaced Landry made both men public enemies in eyes of the Dallas Cowboy faithful. But after rebounding from a 1-15 season to post a 7-9 mark in 1990 and nearly make the playoffs, the two were becoming rising stars.

On January 4, 1991, Dallas Morning News writer Rick Gosselin wrote this story:

Jerry Jones did the unforgivable in 1989. He fired Tom Landry.

Not quite two years later, all appears to be forgiven. Amazing, isn’t it, what a few victories, a run at the playoffs and a return to respectability can do for the image of the Cowboys’ owner? “What is happening — and should happen — is that the focus is now on the progress and success of the team on the field,’ Jones said.

Jones dug himself a huge hole in the community when he bought the club in February 1989 and replaced Landry, the only coach the franchise had known, with friend and former University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson . Jones was cast as the villain, and everything he said and did in his first year on the job was examined under a negative microscope. “Landry is a buzzword to describe the problems,’ said Mike McCoy, a Cowboys’ vice president and longtime friend of Jones. “But it was deeper th an just Coach Landry. It was the change. This was such a drastic change for both the media and the public. “The only thing that could change the perception was the passage of time and success . . . and both have occurred. The problem is not behind him, b ut it is small enough that none of us waste any time worrying about it any more.’ Jones made several public relations gestures in 1990 to turn public opinion in his favor.

On the field, he paid out $1.03 million in signing bonuses, allowing the Cowboys to land 16 Plan B free agents and upgrade the on-field talent. Off the field, he moved pre-season training camp from Thousand Oaks, Calif., to Austin and made several improvements at Texas Stadium, such as putting a restaurant on the premises, installing television monitors at refreshment stands and increasing the parking.

Jones also tried to make peace with Landry last fall, offering him a spot in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium. Landry has yet to take Jones up on the invitation.

But the bottom line was in Jones’ turnaround was his team’s 7-9 – record this season. That’s a six-game improvement from his first year. The Cowboys even went to the final day of the season before being eliminated from the playoff chase. The Cowboys finished with seven consecutive home crowds of 60,000 or more and six sellouts. “Everything I’ve ever done in my life was on the line here,’ he said. “In something as visible as the Dallas Cowboys, I said right there in front of everybody that we were going to get the job done.

That hasn’t changed. What I hope has changed are the initial impressions that were there. “I hope that I can earn our community’s respect and confidence.

I’d like to be well thought of, but what comes first is the success of the team. What we all want is to see the Dallas Cowboys back on top.”

In the same month that the Philadelphia Eagles fired Buddy Ryan, Johnson was named NFL Coach of the Year. Young talent was developing very well, and many were excited about the future.

Jimmy and Jerry certainly didn’t rest on their laurels, though. The team released two coaches who were holdovers from Landry’s staff, including secondary coach Dick Nolan and tight ends coach Alan Lowry. Johnson also demoted offensive coordinator David Shula, who moved on the Cincinnati Bengals’ staff rather than accept a lesser position with the Cowboys. Johnson offered the coordinator position to Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach Gary Stevens, but Stevens turned down the job. Johnson kept looking, and thanks to a tip from L.A. Rams’ offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, the team contacted Rams’ receiver coach Norv Turner.

Stevens continued to make a name for himself as a quarterbacks coach and now hosts high school football camps. Thanks to Turner, the Cowboys ended up with a Super Bowl caliber offense, so things worked out just fine.

  • Jason Neighbors

    16 free agents for $1 million. And it was a big deal back then. Hard to believe now, isn’t it?