50 Years of Friendship
It was the beginning of the fall 1968 semester at Arkansas Polytechnic College in Russellville. Mr. Bill Lemley’s Intermediate Accounting students were filing into their classroom in Bailey Hall.
George Mitchell, a junior accounting major from Waldron, arrived early that day and selected his seat. Soon after, a transfer student just beginning his Arkansas Tech journey entered the room.
“I felt someone sit down next to me,” said Mitchell. “He tapped my shoulder and goes ‘Hi, I’m Jack Dixon from Fort Smith.’ That was 50 years ago, and here we are today.”
It’s a story that repeats itself each academic year at Arkansas Tech…lifelong relationships built on the foundation of common backgrounds, interests and experiences.
The friendship of George Mitchell and Jack Dixon accurately represents the bonds that are often formed among Arkansas Tech students with one exception: none of the other stories end with both friends serving in a leadership position for the most valuable professional sports franchise in the world, the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League.
“Well I’m certainly proud of George and Jack and what they have accomplished professionally in the many years since they first met in school,” said Jerry Jones, owner, president and general manager of the Dallas Cowboys football club. “I obviously have great trust and faith in both men, as they have been loyal and talented advisors and co-workers with me for a very long time. Both men have been involved in some of the most important financial decisions and major projects involving the Dallas Cowboys for the past three decades. I have held their opinions in the highest regard, and that goes back to the weeks leading up to my purchase of the team in 1989. They have been valued assets to this organization and above all else, I am deeply grateful for their friendship.”
Mitchell was born and raised in east Dallas, Texas, but moved to Waldron, Ark., at the age of 14 after his father invested in a furniture company there. Mitchell played football at Waldron High School and was mentored by a member of the Arkansas Tech Class of 1956, Billy Gene Davis.
“Coach Davis encouraged me to try to play football at Tech,” said Mitchell. “He introduced me to [Wonder Boys’ assistant coach] Don Sevier, and even though I didn’t make it as a walk-on, it was a great experience. Don and I remained friends over a period of time, and I just stayed at Tech. I had no idea what I was going to major in and I didn’t really know anybody.”
Dixon was very well acquainted with at least one Arkansas Tech student, older brother John, before he began attending classes in Russellville.
“[John] was three years ahead of me, and I transferred to Tech for my junior year,” said Dixon. “He had been in the construction business and was finishing up [his degree] that year. He actually helped build one of the women’s dorms at Tech while he was a student there. I followed him down there thinking he would keep me out of trouble, but he didn’t. I wasn’t a serious student, but it was also a time when the Vietnam War was going on. That made a better student out of me than I actually was. I met a lot of great people, especially George.”
Two additional people that Dixon and Mitchell put in the category of great are their accounting professors at Tech, the aforementioned Bill Lemley and Mr. Dale Corley. Mitchell believes those two men “made a total difference in what I was and where I was headed.”
Dixon still recalls the first day of Federal Income Tax class under Corley.
“He had these books…I think there were eight or nine books,” said Dixon. “Principles of Accounting all the way through Advanced Accounting…and he said if you will study hard and get through these books, you’ll get a good job, have a good career and make $10,000 per year. I was sitting there looking at those books, and I thought I couldn’t spend that much money. [Corley] and Mr. Lemley…they were both special people. They weren’t just professors; they were men who had been out in the accounting profession, and they knew what it took. They were tough. Getting through that junior year was very difficult for me.”
Dixon and Mitchell made it through that year and one more. Along the way, they spent a lot of hours shooting the breeze in the downstairs student lounge at Bailey Hall and made a few trips to Morrilton for shuffleboard and 15-cent PBR in a frosted mug.
Mitchell also played a lot of poker, helped apply a few coats of green and gold paint to a certain bear statue in Conway, completed the ROTC program at Tech, won the Distinguished Military Student Award and earned a commission as an officer in the U.S. Army.
“Graduation was very special to me,” said Mitchell. “My father had a massive coronary in February of 1970. He told me from the hospital bed in Fort Smith that he would be there at graduation. When I walked out, they had brought him in on a wheelchair and had a space for him where he could see me graduate and get my commission. That meant a lot to me…really a great deal.”
The reality of the Vietnam War era was awaiting both men following commencement. Three days following that 1970 graduation ceremony at Buerkle Field, Dixon was drafted and sent to Fort Leonard Wood to begin his assimilation into the Army.
“Because of my accounting degree, I was sent to finance school at Fort Ben Harrison in Indianapolis,” said Dixon. “I was out in the hallway there, and I ran into George. He was an officer and I was a private fresh out of basic training.”
It didn’t take Dixon long to climb the ranks. He was selected to lead the finance office for the communications agency at the White House in Washington, D.C.
“Being selected for that position was directly related to Mr. Corley, Mr. Lemley and my accounting degree,” said Dixon. “Otherwise I would have been overseas, who knows where and for how long. As I look back at what they did for me, it’s made my life all the way through.”
Dixon was hired as a revenue agent for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service in Little Rock and then as a partner in an accounting firm in Fort Smith. One of his firm’s clients was oil and gas company Arkoma Production, which was owned by Jerry Jones and Mike McCoy.
“Who did [Arkoma] hire as an internal accountant?” asked Dixon rhetorically while pointing to his old Arkansas Tech and Fort Ben Harrison friend, George Mitchell. “It wasn’t through me. I had kind of lost contact with George. I knew he was in Oklahoma City with an accounting firm [Arthur Andersen and Company], but [Arkoma] got George’s name somehow. They asked me about him and I started laughing because I couldn’t believe our lives were crossing paths again.”
Their paths have remained connected ever since, and for the past three decades, that connection has involved the Dallas Cowboys.
“It was October 1988, and I had my own accounting firm in Fort Smith,” said Dixon. “There isn’t a lot going on in a tax practice in October, so I was sitting in the office with my feet up on the desk when the secretary buzzed me and said Jerry [Jones] was on the phone. He said ‘Jack, I don’t want you to think I’m crazy, but I’m thinking about buying the Dallas Cowboys.’ I immediately woke up and got my feet off the desk. I didn’t know what, if any, my involvement would be going forward. It was a process between October of 1988 and February of 1989 when it came together. One day it would be on, and the next day it would be off. There were some tough negotiations, but Jerry is a very smart businessman. You can give him a lot of information and advice, but he will almost always make the right decision.”
Mitchell was among those providing Jones with advice concerning the possible acquisition of America’s Team.
“I told him not to do it,” said Mitchell. “I looked at the numbers for him, and the operation was losing $1 million a month. Other than the mystique and fun of owning the Dallas Cowboys, this thing was terrible. Over 15 percent of the ownership was being held by the RTC [Resolution Trust Corporation] as the result of a foreclosure. There were 100 and some odd suites at Texas Stadium that weren’t even leased, and there were seats that weren’t filled. Where I saw that as a problem, Jerry saw it as an opportunity.”
Multiple published reports have estimated the 1989 purchase price for the franchise at $140 million. As of 2017, Forbes valued the Dallas Cowboys football club at $4.2 billion. It marked the second consecutive year in which the Cowboys ranked as the most valuable sports franchise in the world.
Dixon made the move to Dallas when the sale was complete and served as treasurer for the Cowboys from 1989-95. Mitchell continued to focus on Jones’ oil and gas operations until 1995, at which time Dixon stepped down from the Cowboys and was succeeded by his old friend from Mr. Lemley’s Intermediate Accounting class.
Mitchell became chief financial officer for all of the Jones empire in 1999 and maintained those responsibilities for 12 years.
Today, he serves as senior vice president of finance for the Cowboys and Blue Star Investments Inc. Mitchell has helped the organization plan and finance, among other projects, the construction of AT&T Stadium in Arlington (estimated cost: $1.15 billion) and The Star, a 91-acre facility in Frisco that hosts the world headquarters for the Dallas Cowboys (estimated cost: $1.5 billion).
“We made some great hires during my tenure as CFO,” said Mitchell while reflecting on the growth the organization has experienced. “We hired some people who were really just excellent folks in the late 1990s and early 2000s who have really made an impact here and will continue to. I don’t think I’ll be remembered for AT&T Stadium or helping do the negotiations with the City of Frisco on The Star. There are a half a dozen or so people I hired…they were great, and they are still great. I think that’s how I’ll be remembered.”
Forty-eight years after their graduation, both men remain connected to their alma mater. Dixon is related by marriage to the Chambers family of Danville, which recently celebrated nine decades of service on the ATU Board of Trustees. Mitchell said that more than a dozen members of his family have attended Tech. The tradition will continue in fall 2018 when his granddaughter, Kelley Mitchell of Van Buren, begins her studies at ATU.
Mitchell and Dixon also remain connected to each other through a friendship that has remained steadfast through all of life’s changes.
“Jack has always been somewhat of a stabilizing factor for me,” said Mitchell. “He has always been so good with his advice, help and support. We both loved Bill Lemley so much, and it broke our hearts when he passed because he was special and Dale [Corley] was special. You run across a few of them as you wander around. Jack’s been a good friend for 50 years. We’ve had some issues, personal issues in our lives, and we’ve always been able to support the other one. I’ve really appreciated it.”
“The way our careers have interacted over the last 50 years, it’s kind of like going into a battle,” said Dixon. “You know who’s got your backside. Not very many people can sit there and share all the history that we can. I don’t have anyone else I can do that with.”