While there are 32 teams and owners in the National Football League, no one quite matches the persona of Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones. With a history starting from a humble supermarket to oil, and finally, the biggest stage in sports, who is Jerry Jones, and what steps led him to where he is now?
Get to know Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
While most of us know Jerral Wayne “Jerry” Jones for being an outspoken leader of the Cowboys, his beggings are far more humble than that. Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1942, Jones and his family moved back to North Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1945.
Jones was a running back at North Little Rock High School, graduating in 1960. While in North Little Rock, Jones also worked at his parents’ grocery store, Pat’s Super Market. His mother, Arminta, also worked at the market as the office manager and finance secretary. It was one of two stores his parents owned in the Rose City neighborhood of North Little Rock.
Unfortunately for the family, in January of 1958, a fire broke out in one of the stores. While never confirmed, Jerry’s father Pat believed it was the result of faulty wiring that contributed to the blaze.
The Jones family would remain in the Little Rock area until Jerry graduated high school. After that, they made their way to Springfield, Missouri, where Pat worked as president and chairman of Modern Security Life Insurance Company.
Jones’ love for Arkansas runs deep
While he resides in Texas, Jones found his first success on the gridiron at the University of Arkansas. Playing for the Razorbacks, Jones was an offensive guard for the team in the early 60s. While undersized at 6’0″ and 182 pounds, his heart and determination led to him being one of the Razorbacks’ best blockers up front.
Jones impressed his coaches so much he was named a co-captain of the team in 1964. That same season, Arkansas went on to win the national championship against Nebraska. It’s still the only football title Arkansas has won in school history.
Jerry’s business career quickly followed
While still in college, Jones had an opportunity to get into the fast-food business with either Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, or Shakey’s Pizza Parlor. In the 1970s, Shakey’s was one of the first franchise pizza chains in the US to peak. As a result, Jones picked Shakey’s.
In 1965, Jones borrowed money from Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters union to open up a string of Shakey’s Pizza Parlor restaurants in Missouri. Unfortunately for Jones, that venture would fail.
Jones went to work with his father as the executive vice president at Modern Security Life. During this time, Jones earned his master’s degree in business. When the company was sold in 1970, Jones walked away with around $500,000 and a wealth of knowledge.
He shifted his focus to exploratory oil drilling through Arkansas-based Jones Oil and Land Lease. He struck oil in 12 of his first 13 wells, with the first well yielding $4 million in oil. Jones Oil and Land Lease was founded as a requirement to take advantage of the existing tax laws that would allow him to keep much of the profit. This success paved the way to where Jones is today.
Jones nearly owned a team before the Cowboys
While Jones is known for his role with the Cowboys — something we will get to — it was not his first attempt to own a franchise.
In 1966, just one year removed from college, Jones considered buying the financially ailing American Football League’s San Diego Chargers. As he did not have the funds to do so outright, he once again turned to Hoffa and the Teamsters.
Central States Pension sent a $1 million letter of credit to Barron Hilton, the Chargers’ owner at the time, to let him know Jones was indeed serious. The Teamsters agreed to loan Jones $50,000 for a 120-day option to put together a deal to purchase the club.
Jones was confident he could make it work. His father was not, however, telling his son the risk was too great. In the end, Jerry opted not to pursue the purchase of the team. Safe to say, this was a wise move.
Jones eventually purchases the Dallas Cowboys
Jerry, along with his son Stephen, continued to work in oil. At an energy conference in San Diego, Jerry read that the Cowboys were for sale in a local paper. Jones mulled the prospect of the new venture over, eventually pitching it to his son after he returned from a deep sea fishing trip.
Rather than flying back to Little Rock, the two went straight to Dallas to examine the book, just as a shrewd but experienced businessman would do. A few weeks later, Jerry, along with his wife Gene and Stephen, joined Charlotte and Jerry Jr. in Washington D.C. for the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush. While there, Jerry talked the idea over with his family as he did not want to proceed unless everyone was all-in.
Having received the blessing from his wife and three children, Jones purchased the Cowboys from H.R. “Bum” Bright for $140 million in February 1989. It was the largest deal ever for an NFL team at the time of purchase. At the time of the sale, Bright claimed the franchise was losing $1 million a month.
Soon after the purchase, Jones fired NFL legend Tom Landry, the only coach in the franchise’s history. In his place, Jones hired his old teammate from Arkansas, Jimmy Johnson. After a slow start, going 1-15 in their first season, it took no time for the duo to turn the Cowboys into one of the best teams of the ’90s.
Jones’ time as the Cowboys owner has seen success along with criticism
The Cowboys went on to win the Super Bowl in 1992 and repeated as champions in 1993. However, due to a conflict with Jones, Johnson was terminated and replaced by Barry Switzer, who won Super Bowl XXX in 1995. This was also the last time the Cowboys won the ultimate prize in the NFL.
Serving as both owner and GM, Jones has faced his fair share of criticism from colleagues and fans alike. The seemingly unceremonious firing of Landry is still a topic of conversation among some fans. Just as the rift between Jones and Johnson where Jones refused to induct Johnson into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, something that has yet to occur despite Johnson being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Despite this, Jones’ time with the Cowboys, from a business aspect, is unquestioned. He has helped grow the franchise into one of the wealthiest teams there is. In 2021, Forbes valued the Cowboys at $6.5 billion.