After being arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer on at least 5 occasions and subsequently getting dismissed from the team, the Jimmy Johns’ career at as an Alabama football player is over. Now that it is, I can’t decide if Johns will go down in history as a player who never who never even scratched the surface of his considerable athletic career, or one of the most overrated players to ever don a crimson jersey. To borrow a phrase from “The Bard” (No, not “The Bear”, as most Alabama fans are wont to do); the Jimmy Johns era was full of sound of fury, signifying nothing.
Johns was considered a prized recruit when he signed with Alabama in 2005. He was Mr. Football in the state of Mississippi, a raw specimen of athletic ability masquerading as a quarterback. Mike Shula’s recruiting prowess was praised by most, as he managed to steal this quarterback out from under the nose of Sly Croom, the head coach at Mississippi St. So miffed was Croom that he went on public record stating that Jimmy Johns made a mistake, and that he would never have a chance to play quarterback for the University of Alabama. Technically, Croom was wrong. But for all practical purposes, he was correct.
Johns stated the 2005 season as a 3rdstring running back, earning playing time as a true freshman. Right from the start, Johns was one of the most polarizing players on the football team. Some fans clamored for him to play QB, as the Alabama offense under Brodie Croyle limped toward the finish line at the end of the 2005 season. It seemed that an immobile Croyle suffering 11 sacks at the hands of their most hated rival gave validation to their cause.
Granted, these are the same folks who would probably groan if Alabama signed the next coming of Dan Marino simply because he was “slow”, but they thought they had a good point at the time. They neglect to remember that real life football is totally different than the newest incarnation of NCAA Football for their favorite gaming system. It takes intelligence, maturity, and leadership ability to excel as a quarterback. Time would prove that Johns possessed none of those qualities.
As the 2006 season kicked off, Johns once again was the darling of frustrated Alabama fans. Senior tailback Ken Darby was struggling mightily. He couldn’t seem to find the right holes, and when he did he stutter-stepped gingerly through them. Darby was the original football player famous for dancing, before Jason Taylor came along. Darby’s hesitating style only served to make Johns more popular among Alabama fans than he already was. They loved his fearless, straight ahead running style. No matter that the reason for the simple dive and off tackle plays called for him was the result his rather limited knowledge of the playbook.
Most fans paid no heed that the cracks in Johns’ character were beginning to show. He made disparaging remarks towards Croom, was flagged for a penalty for head-butting a player, and was “conveniently” suspended by Shula for a non-conference pushover game. Anything but “Dancin’ Darby.” Johns was like a real life Forrest Gump. Just give him the ball, and point him in the right direction. Run Jimmy Run.
The 2007 season started the Saban regime. Right away, Johns was rubbing his new head coach the wrong way. He was suspended for most of spring practice for not going to class. However, he evidently showed enough drive upon his return to win the “I like to practice award.” Either Johns was really tying to make amends, or Saban was trying his best to encourage the kid to make the right choices. Johns saw his playing time largely reduced to a special teams role in 2007. Fans saucy enough to questions Saban’s decision to give him more carries were soon hushed when he fumbled near an opponent’s goalline, contributing to a humiliating Alabama loss.
Before the bowl practice after the 2007 season, it was announced that Jimmy Johns would make the transition to linebacker. Many fans applauded the move. He had always shown a propensity to hit folks. Hard. This seemed to be a natural fit for him. However, he couldn’t seem to sustain any kind of success in learning the new position throughout bowl and spring practice, and soon talked about wanting to redshirt. Whenever a guy is openly pining for a spot on a bench, it’s never a good sign. Who knows, maybe he could have been a good linebacker. Now we’ll never know.
So, the long, strange journey of Jimmy Johns the football player has come to an end. As Saban remarked recently, never has he seen a player receive more hype for doing so little. He’s right. At different times during his career, he was praised by some as the best back-up QB/RB/LB on the team. Regardless, he will likely hold a place in Alabama football lore, as one of the greatest enigmas the program has ever seen.