Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones offered a strong vote of support for Chan Gailey, his embattled second-year coach, and also had high praise for Washington Redskins Coach Norv Turner two days before Sunday's game between the teams.
Gailey turned the Cowboys from a 6-10 team in '97 under Barry Switzer into a 10-6 NFC East division champion in his first season. He has come under heavy fire in recent days from fans and local media members after losing two straight games with an offense that has scored only two touchdowns in its last nine quarters.
"Having our offense not perform well for two straight games, well if that makes you jump, then we never would have won two Super Bowls," Jones said during an interview Thursday evening. "We've always had dips, made adjustments and gotten back on track.
"If we had a slump in the offense and I was going to find a doctor to help our offense, it would be Chan Gailey. He's tireless in his effort, and he has the imagination to perk it up. This [criticism] is not unexpected. When I hired him, I expected there were times he would take heat."
The critics began to surface last year after the Cowboys' 20-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in a first-round playoff game. It subsided somewhat after the Cowboys rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat the Redskins in this season's opener and started 3-0. But back-to-back losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants helped stir the pot again as Dallas faces the 4-1 Redskins.
"He hasn't won a Super Bowl yet," Jones said of Gailey. "And any time you have a coach who has the responsibility he has, not only as head coach but in charge of moving the football, he's going to hear it when the team is not moving the ball. In my opinion, that's the hardest job and the toughest challenge there is. But it all goes with the territory, and the magnitude of it goes with it also being the Dallas Cowboys."
Turner was in that same hot seat when he controlled the Cowboys' offense from 1991 to 1993 as Jimmy Johnson's offensive coordinator. Dallas won Super Bowls in Turner's last two seasons before he took the Washington job, and there was speculation after Jones fired Barry Switzer following the '97 season that Turner would have been his first choice to replace him.
Turner was still under contract to the Redskins and Jones said "we were not allowed to make inquiries. John [Kent Cooke, then the team's owner] was not interested in letting him get out of Washington."
Asked if Turner would have been his choice had he been free to move on, Jones said, "I'm not going to get into that.
"I can tell you I'm very happy for Norv. He's had some success against us and it seems like every time we turned around he was putting it on his old mentor, Ernie Zampese. I have a lot of respect for what he is as a coach and his imagination as an offensive strategist.
"But the thing I admire the most about him is how he grew up, what he's done as an individual and how he's always handled himself. He's one of the finest people I've met in professional football."
Jones also speaks highly of Gailey, who, like Turner, calls all the plays in the Cowboys offense. After the first week of the season, when quarterback Troy Aikman threw five touchdown passes at Redskins Stadium and the offense gained 541 yards, Dallas had the league's top-ranked offense.
The Cowboys have since slipped to No. 14, and Gailey said at the start of the week perhaps he had been asking his offense to do too much and would simplify this week to find "a happy medium." Having wide receiver Michael Irvin out for at least eight weeks with a neck injury won't help.
This week running back Emmitt Smith, averaging a career-low 3.5 yards a carry, said it was time to go back to basics and emphasize the team's strengths.
"There are times where you've just got to grab the bear by the throat and say this is what we're going to do," Smith said. "We're going to stick to it for right now until we get a handle on things. Then, once we get a handle on things, maybe we expand. The game is still catch, block, tackle and run. It's us that makes it confusing."
Aikman said the Cowboys' major problem right now is a lack of confidence. He also insisted that he hasn't lost faith in Gailey's offensive scheme going into what is being billed here as a crossroads game for the Cowboys, who would share the NFC East lead with a victory.
"That's what this whole league is about, playing with confidence," Aikman said. "That's what we have to get back. I don't know that anybody has the answer. We've shown at times what we're capable of doing, but we certainly haven't done it over the last two weeks.
"Offense is so much playing with confidence, playing with timing. The execution part is so important. And if you lose any of that, it becomes very difficult to have any kind of success. All I can say is, it's frustrating--very frustrating."
CAPTION: Jerry Jones has seen star wide receiver Michael Irvin leave the lineup with spinal injury, and seen offense suffer as a result.