SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/Families In Sports Fathers And Sons

Happy to deal with tension that running the Cowboys can bring

Jerry Jones was in a Dallas hotel room, offering a Texas-sized chunk of money to land Deion Sanders for the Cowboys as the football season opened in 1995, when he summoned son Stephen with word that things were getting close.

Jerry Jones (left) and Stephen have found themselves
on opposite sides of arguments over team decisions.
This surprised Stephen, the team’s director of player personnel. He had worked for months to figure the salary cap calculus that would allow the team to keep Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin together for the foreseeable future. Sanders’ financial demands would blow up that plan. Stephen had explained that to Sanders’ agent, Eugene Parker. Now, his father was negotiating with Parker without him.

When Stephen Jones got to the hotel suite, his father entered from an adjoining room.

“We’ve just done the deal,” Jerry said.

Stephen was stunned.

“We’ve done the deal,” Jerry said again.

“We can’t,” the son said, running the numbers through in his head. “We have parameters and we’ve got to get within those parameters.” Stephen suggested that if they spent more time negotiating, they might get better terms.

“We’re late in the day here,” Jerry Jones said. He turned and headed for the door to rejoin Parker.

His son got there first. Stephen put one hand on the door and extended the other to hold back his father. The two stared at each other.
“What are you fixing to do, son?” Jerry asked. “Hit me?”

“I kind of feel like it right now,” Stephen said.

A decade later, with a third Super Bowl trophy in their cabinet thanks in part to Sanders, the father and eldest son both chuckle when retelling the story. Both were right. Sanders got the Cowboys another Super Bowl. But they paid for it with a cap crunch later on.

“He was frustrated, and I understand that,” Jerry Jones says now. “That’s the kind of thing that a son and father can experience working together where you might really strain something permanently if you weren’t family.”

Jerry and Stephen Jones say they always planned to work together, going back to when Stephen was choosing colleges. He was accepted at Princeton, but wanted to play football at Arkansas, where his father had co-captained the 1964 national champion. Jerry preferred the Ivy League for his son, but suggested a compromise. Stephen would play at Arkansas, but pursue a challenging major: chemical engineering.

When he graduated in 1987, he went to work for his father in the oil business, based in Little Rock, Ark. Less than two years into that career, Stephen was dispatched to Dallas to review the finances of the Cowboys.

The family was in Washington for George Bush’s inauguration when Jerry Jones gathered his wife and three children to ask if they thought he should go through with the purchase.

“This is not an investment for me, it’s a change of what I do and my occupation, and it’s going to change all our lives,” Jones told his family. They agreed he should buy the team.

Jerry Jones stresses that all three of his children are involved in management of the Cowboys. Son Jerry Jr., 36, is chief marketing officer and general counsel. Daughter Charlotte Anderson, 39, directs charities and special events. All hold stakes in the team.

Because of his role, Stephen, 41, carries the highest profile. Because he was out of school when the family bought the team, he also has spent the most time working closely with his father.

“I think Stephen has an engineer’s logic,” Jerry Jones said. “I’m probably a little more aggressive, a little more willing to try and have one and one make three. He’s more into making it fit going in. That’s a great combination. You don’t need two dreamers in the same room. You can get in trouble that way.”

The two balance each other, albeit not without the occasional combustion.

“I can tell you we have disagreements,” said Stephen Jones, who now serves as chief operating officer. “But at the end of the day we’re both running to the phone to catch back up, because neither one of us wants to go to bed thinking we’re in a huge fight with the other.

“It’s just a blessing. I get to work with my father, and we both get to do something in sports. It’s very unique.”

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