Jimmy Johnson: B/R Sits Down with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Coaching Legend
Johnson's career in the world of football is about as illustrious as they come. All told, he was a part of four championship teams—one as a player at the University of Arkansas in 1964, one as the head coach at the University of Miami in 1987, and two as the boss of the Dallas Cowboys in 1993 and 1994.
Nowadays, Johnson is most visible as an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday, the network's weekly pregame show, and as a short-lived contestant on Survivor: Nicaragua.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a round-table discussion with Johnson at Duke's in Huntington Beach, California, where he was promoting the Crown Royal Jimmy Bowl.
As expected, Johnson was never at a loss for words, with opinions on everything from the Cowboys' current state of affairs to surviving in a Nicaraguan jungle, to Michael Vick's renaissance to life after football.
Read on to see what this maven of the midway had to say.
Jimmy Johnson on the Survivor Experience
How did your experience as a football coach translate to Survivor?
JJ: I was the authority when I coached football, They either listened to me or else they weren’t there. I could cut ‘em. I couldn’t cut 'em [on Survivor]. And so, I went into it with my expertise in football. My expertise is not in survival skills, and so I’m sure some of the other Survivor people looked at it and they said, “Well, I know as much about it as he does or more,” so it took away a little bit of my credibility as far as coaching is concerned.
If you could do it all over again, is there anything you’d change about your strategy or your game play?
JJ: The only thing I would’ve changed is I would’ve locked in alliances. Some of the people that really kind of bonded, like Holly and Jane and Eve and probably Tyrone, I would’ve formed a strong alliance with. I think that could’ve taken us all the way through.
Of all your players, who do you think would’ve made the best Survivor contestant?
JJ: Oh, who knows? Some of the real competitive individuals that didn’t mind being filthy and hungry and thirsty and could deal with the elements.
What about Michael Irvin?
JJ: Michael Irvin? I think all of those guys are so spoiled, as I was. When you’ve lived the soft life for a period of time, you get to saying, you know, “Why the hell am I here? What am I doing out here?”
Were you relieved to be voted off, secretly?
JJ: I was ready to get a cold beer as soon as I got off. It was nice to get a shower. For instance, just to brush your teeth. By the fourth or fifth day, I broke off a palm frond and started scraping the tartar off my teeth.
Johnson on Survivor (continued)
Does everyone smell terrible?
JJ: Yeah, but we all smelled the same so nobody notices. You didn’t notice it. I’ll tell you when you really noticed it is after you get voted off and somebody would come in who just got voted off and they would just reek. But when you’re out there with them, you didn’t really notice it that much ‘cause y’all smelled the same. You got accustomed to it.
Plus, it’s open air, right?
JJ: Yeah, but you still reek, plus the fire smell ‘cause you’re standing around a fire the whole time. Especially the women, it makes your hair all smoky.
Anyone on your Fox NFL Sunday show that you think could cut it?
JJ: No, definitely not.
Not even Terry (Bradshaw)?
JJ: No, Terry’s the most spoiled of all of us even though he’s kind of an outdoorsy person.
What was your wife saying as she was watching it?
JJ: She said she got teared up when I got voted off, but she enjoyed it.
Was she worried about your heart?
JJ: Yeah, a little bit. In fact, she didn’t really want me to do it but it ended up, David Hill gave me the greatest advice of anybody, he’s the president of Fox Sports. He said, "Enjoy your adventure but don’t be stupid, don’t push it further than you should," which, near the end, when you’ve got no energy at all, you’re trying to carry firewood and just doing chores around camp. I mean, you could carry some firewood for 15, 20 yards and then you’d just have to sit down and rest because you’ve just got no energy at all.
And you don’t realize how it affects you mentally. You see some of the challenges and some of the mental challenges about remembering this, remembering that, and you say, “God, they’re all incoherent," but there’s a reason why they’re incoherent, it’s just 'cause they’re drained, mentally and physically. It really affects your mind. It will be interesting, though, the dynamics of the show.
Anything you ate while you were there that you didn’t expect you’d ever eat?
JJ: They told us, in the pregame, they went through things that you could eat, that you could kill, you know, animals, etc. etc., and the types of fish that were there and boiling the water and doing all of the different things and they actually showed us a fruit that’s in Nicaragua called the jicaro. It’s like a gourd, and they said you could eat this fruit and so the very first day, there were plenty of them around, and we actually used the gourds for cups and stuff. So I tried to eat some of it, and I ate two of them, and four of us ate some, and three of us just got sick. It came right back up, so I didn’t eat any more jicaro.
There was also the tamarind seed, you could just eat the outside skin and husk and everything, but it's just a little seed that we ate. That’s about all that we had. Nothing disgusting, like some of the survivors used to have to eat some disgusting stuff. At least they didn’t have to on this particular Survivor.
Jimmy Johnson on the Dallas Cowboys
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JJ: Well, I think the Cowboys, the last couple years, in fact I’ve said it on Fox NFL Sunday, that they became a sloppy football team. They had a lot of penalties, they were one of the more penalized teams in the league, and a lot of turnovers, crucial turnovers at crucial times, and they were an undisciplined football team. I said they got soft. They were soft mentally, they were soft physically, and, you know, the last couple games that Wade was there, they just quit. They didn’t give an effort, so a change had to be made.
Now, Jason played for me, his father was a scout for me, his brothers coached for me, so I know the family well. Jason and Troy Aikman came down to my home a couple years ago and Jason really did some things to prepare himself to be a head coach, so I’m pulling for him. I know Jerry Jones would love for him to be the head coach. He tried to get tougher with them. He had some strict penalties as far as being on time, hustling in practice, etc., etc., and I think it made an impact as far as the first couple of ball games, so hopefully they can continue to improve, and if they do, I think that Jerry would like to name him head coach.
Do you think Wade was too much of a players’ coach for that situation?
JJ: Oh, you know, people use the phrase “players’ coach”...I think he was too easy on them. I don’t think he was demanding enough. I think he’s a good person, he’s a good family man and he knows X’s and O’s, but I don’t think he was demanding enough as a head coach.
Johnson on the Cowboys (continued)
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If Tony Romo is healthy and in a good coaching situation, do you think he’s one of the league’s elite quarterbacks?
JJ: Yeah, I like Tony Romo. I think he is really a good football player. He has come up short in some crucial times, in big ball games, but I think a lot of that has to do with the players around him. I don’t think that they should play him again this year. I don’t think they should risk him re-injuring that collarbone, but yeah, I think that he’s a winning quarterback, and I think he can do a good job in the future.
How long do you think it’ll take the Cowboys to get the ship righted and back in the right direction?
JJ: I mean, I don’t think we were wrong in saying that they were one of the more talented teams in the league, and so the talent is there, so there’s no reason in the world why they can’t be a contender next year. You look at the way the league is structured, with free agency, with the salary cap, teams have shown in the past that they can go from five or six wins to going to the Super Bowl. They’ve done it. So there’s no reason in the world why the Cowboys can’t be a contender next year.
Jimmy Johnson on Super Bowl Contenders
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What about contenders this year? Who do you see as the top contenders?
JJ: You know, the league has been, parity is such in the league that one week to the next, who knows? I mean, Cleveland blows out the Patriots and then, next thing you know, the Patriots beat Pittsburgh, and so it changes every single week, but I think you’ve got about a third of the league that can truly say they’re contenders, a third that’re in the middle and another third that are poor, that are bad. But in the AFC, you’ve got to look at, you know, I think Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, New England, the Jets, maybe Baltimore, I think that they’re all in the race.
You look at the NFC, you’ve got the Packers, the Saints, the Falcons, possibly Philadelphia and New York, and I may be leaving somebody out. They’re all in the race too. Now that means, so you’re looking at those teams I’ve named, really being about the top third in the league.
Can you ever recall the race for the Super Bowl being so wide open ever since you’ve been involved with the league?
JJ: The longer we have free agency and the salary cap, the more you’re going to have parity in the league, and the more you’re going to have this, because teams can have one or two crucial injuries and they can go from being a contender to being a very average team. And the other thing is, I think the coaching is more important now than it’s ever been because in the early days, you had such depth on your team that you could lose a player to injury and you’d have a backup. You know, rookies didn’t play for a year or two, and you had a bigger roster and you had better depth on your team. You kept the veterans. But now, rookies and free agents are forced into the lineup, and so I think coaching is at a premium now more so than it’s ever been.
Jimmy Johnson on Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings
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With that said, do you think that Brad Childress was the problem in Minnesota, with coaching being as important as you said? Was he the primary reason that the team had a losing record?
JJ: He lost his team. I think Brad did a good job there. He won six games, eight games, 10 games, 12 games. They got better every year, but then when he sent the jet down to pick up Brett Favre, a player who wasn’t sure he wanted to play, who wasn’t healthy enough to play and started the year off by turning the ball over so many times, I think he lost respect from his players.
How would you have handled that situation?
JJ: I wouldn’t have sent the jet to Mississippi.
Would you have tried to coax him to come back?
JJ: He was done. He had a magical year last year and he should have finished that way. I think I’d have gotten (Tarvaris) Jackson ready to play.
What would you encourage Brett Favre to do right now if you could give him advice?
JJ: I’d tell him to gracefully go out somehow.
Do you think he’s tarnished his legacy?
JJ: No, he’s still one of the greatest players to ever play the game, but he got old. That’s what people do. And he lost his skills. Now, he can still do it occasionally, but as players get older, they start making more bad plays than good plays. He’ll still make some good plays. He still makes some great throws, but he also makes some turnovers. As they get older, they get slower, they’re not as accurate. He’s making more bad plays than what he did in his early days.
Jimmy Johnson on Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles
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What adjustments do you see Michael Vick making? What’s he doing now that he wasn’t doing earlier in his career?
JJ: Well, I think Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, the offensive coordinator, did a great job with Vick as far as preparing him to be a pocket passer, number one. I think Vick has turned his life around and his preparation around to where he’s working at being an NFL quarterback. He didn’t do that in Atlanta. He relied totally on his talents, but he’s really working at it, he’s studying tape, he’s studying the defense, he’s studying the offense, and so he is so much better prepared than what he was when he was in Atlanta.
I think he’s the most exciting player in the league. I think he’s also the most fragile player in the league. The way he runs the ball, I think, you know, if you’re Philadelphia, you’ve got to have another quarterback. Vick can’t be your only guy because he’s liable to go down on any play, and so you’ve got to have two quarterbacks.
Do you think they’ll keep Kevin Kolb around?
JJ: I think they should try because he’s really good also. He’s not Michael Vick, but I think he’s a pretty good player, and I think Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner and that bunch, they’re as good as anybody in the league as far as the salary cap, and I think that they can structure a contract for Vick, keep him and keep Kolb as well.
Is it too soon to include Michael Vick in that conversation of top quarterbacks in the league again?
JJ: I think he’s in a completely different category. Like I said, I think he’s the most exciting player in the league and, you know, I guess maybe one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Also, he’s a different type of player than all the rest of them that you’re talking about.
Jimmy Johnson on Mark Sanchez and Pete Carroll
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Do you think Mark Sanchez is starting to creep into that category, in terms of being someone that you can trust at the end of games?
JJ: He needs more time. I think he’s really elevated his play from a year ago. I think he’s shown promise to be that kind of player, but I don’t think you can put him there just yet.
So, Pete Carroll is really popular around here. You were one of the coaches who successfully went from college to the pros and won a championship in both. Do you see him as that kind of guy who’s able to do that?
JJ: Well, Pete has NFL experience, so he knew what he was getting into. I actually think he did a pretty good job in New England, not a great job but a good job. I think he was wrongly criticized for the job he did in the NFL. I don’t think he had time to really prove just how good a coach he could be, so we’ll see what he does in Seattle. I think he’ll win the division, maybe by default because nobody else can play in that division. I think he’ll win the division and we’ll go from there.
Jimmy Johnson on the Difference Between Coaching in College and the Pros
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What's the biggest difference between coaching in college and coaching in the pros?
JJ: It is completely different, completely different role, it takes completely different skills. The season is so much longer. College coaching, you actually have a life other than football. You have a social life, you have a family life and you have an offseason. With pro football, if you’re involved with personnel like I was, it’s an all-consuming job, 12 months out of the year, and so much more difficult. It’s not even in the same category as far as the difficulty of the two jobs.
When I was at the University of Miami, just like Steve Spurrier at Florida, eight or nine games you’re going to win just because you’re so much better than everybody else. I mean, you’d go out there and turn the ball over five times and still win, because you’re better, and then you had maybe three games where you really had to play well to make sure you won. In pro football, every single week, if you don’t play well, you’re going to lose.
And then the length of the season, it’s twice as long, and plus free agency and personnel, it’s a full-time job...and just the expertise. There’s not any bad coaches in the NFL, but there’s bad coaches in college football. But if you’re at a good school that has a lot of talent, you’re going to win. That doesn’t happen in the NFL. If you do a bad job in the NFL, you’re going to get beat, you’re not going to be there long.
Jimmy Johnson on the New Collective Bargaining Agreement
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What are your feelings about the possibility of the NFL regular season being expanded from 16 games to 18 games?
JJ: It’s more money and it might help resolve the issue on the collective bargaining agreement. Players don’t like it, with the wear and tear on their bodies, but I hate preseason, and so you give up two preseason games for two regular season games. The fans should like it because right now they have to pay season tickets for those preseason games and they’re worthless, so at least they’ll be seeing real football for two of those games. The union should like it because you’re going to be putting more people to work, you’re going to add more players if you have an 18-game schedule. The players don’t like it, but the way I look at it for the players is hey, your boss is telling you to work some overtime, you’re going to get a little bit more money, so work some overtime.
How real do you think the possibility of a lockout is?
JJ: I think there’s a very good chance it’ll happen. Now, how quickly they can resolve it...you know, the problem is, let’s say they resolve it in August, it’s going to take a couple months to get the free agents signed and get the teams back together, get them back practicing, so they won’t be ready for the regular season, and it’s going to be a financial loss because sponsors are not going to be sponsoring a lot of things for the NFL because they don’t know if they’re going to have the season or not, they don’t know if they’re going to have the games. It’s going to be a negative for everybody involved, and with so much money at stake, with the games being at stake, you’d think that it’d make sense for them to sit down and resolve the issue.
Jimmy Johnson on The U and a College Football Playoff
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Could you talk a little bit about the current state of the University of Miami program?
JJ: I had some disappointments because I’m diehard University of Miami, but they’ve gotten better. Jacory Harris going down to injury in the Virginia game was a huge disappointment. Their effort in the Florida State game was a huge disappointment, but, you know, it looks like nine wins is possible. Randy (Shannon) has done a great job of bringing in players. I think their offense is improved over the last couple years with Mark Whipple, but I think they still have work to do.
Do you think that there will be a college football playoff at some point, and do you like the idea?
JJ: I’d love to see a playoff. Whether or not it’ll happen or not, I don’t know. I know the presidents don’t want it, and they’re the ones making the decisions.
Jimmy Johnson on the Salary Cap
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Do you think the salary cap is good or bad for the NFL?
JJ: Well, the salary cap is good for the NFL. I think the one area that needs to be adjusted is I think you’ve got to have a rookie cap. There’s only so much money in there with the cap, and if some of the money is going to these rookies that are not in the system, that maybe a third of them don’t even make it, that’s money that’s lost. JaMarcus Russell getting 30-something million, and that’s out of the system. If that 30 million was given to the veterans that are playing, it would still be within the system and you’d have money going to players who are actually performing and winning.
You need a rookie salary cap, and the veterans should like that. The people that fight it are the agents because they lobby and they work with their players trying to fight against the rookie salary cap because they get a big part of their money with that first contract, with their rookies, so they need to put in a rookie salary cap, and that would help the whole system.
Jimmy Johnson on Personnel Decisions and the 2011 NFL Draft
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Do you prefer to build a team based on what guys have done in the past or what you think they’re going to do for your team in the future?
JJ: Well, I think you have to look at both. His history is going to be a great predictor of what he can do in the future, but you also have to project. I signed Jay Novacek, and he was a second-team tight end for Arizona. He was a little kind of a scrawny guy, but we needed somebody to be a key receiver for Troy Aikman, so we brought him in as a starter, and he ended up being a star and a Pro Bowler for us. You didn’t have a whole lot of history on him because he didn’t play a lot, so you had to project with him, whereas Charles Haley, when I traded for him, he was a great pass rusher, so we could predict what he could do in the future so long as I could handle the emotional problems he had and make sure he didn’t have problems with our team, which happened.
Speaking of rookies and the draft, are there any players that you see in the college game today that you think could be potential NFL stars? Does anyone in particular stand out for you?
JJ: I watch the college games just as a fan, without studying them. Obviously, when I was coaching in the NFL, I studied them and we would have a book on every player with all the psychologists, their interviews and our coaches’ interviews, the scouts’ evaluations and watching them in practice, interviews with the trainers, interviews with strength coaches, interviews with their coaching staffs, and so we had reports on everybody and I could give a more accurate prediction of who is going to be successful.
But now, I’m no different than anybody else sitting in front of the TV and watching them play. So, it’s hard for me to make a prediction of how successful someone’s going to be unless I know them personally. Just watching on television, for all I know they could be lazy, they could be of poor character. It might be just a sorry individual. Well, obviously that person’s not going to be successful, so I don’t want to get on a limb and say this guy’s going to be a great NFL player without knowing him personally.
That being said, do you see anyone that, from what you’ve seen on the field as a casual fan, has potential to be an NFL standout?
JJ: The question was asked about Cam Newton today. He has the talent, but I don’t know if he has the work ethic. I don’t know if he has the character. I don’t know if he’s got the leadership qualities. I don’t know the guy personally, but he’s got the physical talent. (Mark) Ingram, obviously, as a running back, so just the same ones that you might think watching television yourself.
Jimmy Johnson on Locker Room Management
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What are some of the tricks you learned to maintain team chemistry and keep everyone on the same page?
JJ: First of all, I wanted to work them so hard that they didn’t have the energy to complain and have all their antics over there. The other thing is, if they’re all bitching and moaning about me, because I worked them so hard, then they don’t have time to disrespect somebody else. I was always the bad guy, but, by the same token, I tried to visit with all the top guys one-on-one to say, “Okay, here’s why we’re doing it, work with me here, this is going to make us a better team,” to where they’re believing in what I was trying to accomplish. Again, push them to the edge but don’t push them over the edge, and make sure they believe in you and what you’re trying to accomplish.
With a different generation of players, do you think it’s more difficult to do that?
JJ: No, (Bill) Belichick does it. Bill comes down and fishes with me about every year. We’ve spent time with each other for the last 10 years. He does a great job of utilizing the talent that he has available. In fact, he has some players play that probably couldn’t play for anybody else in the league. He has a great skill at coaching those players, and he has a good eye for talent and what he wants.
Jimmy Johnson on Randy Moss
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Speaking of which, regarding Randy Moss, did you guys ever have any discussions about managing him?
JJ: No, I visited with Randy on a couple occasions, just interviews and stuff like that, when he was with Minnesota. He’s a unique talent. He’s a free spirit, very likeable. The other players really like him, but then again, if you don’t have a firm hand with him, he’s going to try to get away with stuff like most everybody does. I think he didn’t respect Brad Childress. He probably did some things he shouldn’t have done, causing a commotion about the food, etc., etc. Just immature things, but he didn’t do that in New England for all that period of time, but he didn’t respect the head coach, so he tried to get away with stuff he shouldn’t be doing.
What teams do you think he could be successful on going forward?
JJ: I think his skills have diminished. I don’t think he’s the same player. I don’t think he works as hard as what he did. I don’t think he runs as well as he did. Teams still double cover him though. Teams are still afraid of him on the deep ball. In years past, he was much better on the underneath routes. I think he was much better in one-on-one coverage and bump-and-run, but he is still very good on the deep ball. He’s got great hands, and he can still run, but not like he used to run.
Jimmy Johnson on Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers
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So when you look at a team that may have a lot of talent like the 49ers, they have some quarterback issues, but they have a lot of really talented players. Is that a coaching issue?
JJ: Well, let me go to another team. I made the comment on Fox NFL Sunday about Arizona. Arizona has shown that they can win and win in the playoffs, so obviously, the coaches didn’t change, so it’s not a coaching issue; it’s a personnel issue. They lost (Karlos) Dansby, they lost Kurt Warner, (Antrel) Rolle goes to New York, so they’ve lost players, so it’s not a coaching situation. It’s a personnel issue. With San Francisco, we don’t know. We haven’t seen a track record of the coaching there. We know they’ve got quarterback problems, so until that’s resolved, you don’t know if you’ve got good coaches or not.
Do you think Mike Singletary will withstand the season?
JJ: Hmm, I don’t know. The only person who can say that is the owner. It’s not a democracy in the NFL.
How would you evaluate the job that Mike Singletary has done so far with regard to him handling adversity, handling his players?
JJ: I think the jury is still out. Singletary is like a motivational speaker that’s taken over a pro football team. We talked about it the other day, if you’re a motivational speaker, which I did on many occasions for a long time, people pay money and they have a receptive mind to hear you speak. A professional football player, at times, doesn’t have a receptive mind and they haven’t paid money to hear you speak, but he’s speaking to them that way anyway. Some of them are listening, some of them are not listening.
Jimmy Johnson on What to Look for in a Football Player
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What do you look for when evaluating players in the draft?
JJ: Well, I did a big mock-up the other day of things that I look for in a player. The number one most important thing—hit me in the head with a hammer the next time I want to draft a dumb guy. So intelligence is the number one thing. I don’t believe in football intelligence and then dumb off the field. If he’s dumb off the field, he’s going to make dumb problems off the field, and that’s going to be just as big a problem as being dumb on the field, because I’m going to have to deal with it or he’s going to be in trouble.
Don’t get me wrong—once I got into the fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh rounds, I would take some guys that were lacking in intelligence if they were in a certain role or a certain position. But if I’ve got a high pick, I want to take someone with intelligence. In my first draft, I took Troy Aikman, Daryl Johnston—an academic All-American from Syracuse—Mark Stepnowski—an academic All-American from Pitt. My fourth pick was Tony Tolbert, who was an academic All-American and captain of his team two years running at Texas-El Paso. All four of them made the Pro Bowl, but they were smart guys, so you don’t want to miss on that. So first, intelligence.
I wanted them to be a playmaker, and not only a playmaker as far as touching the ball, but sometimes, a playmaker can be an offensive guard, he’s the guy that makes the key block. It could be a defensive tackle always getting fumbles. I was looking for a defensive back, so I took Kevin Smith, who set a Southwest Conference record for punt returns, so he’s a playmaker.
The other one, I want him to be a gym rat. I want him to love the game, somebody that, if he wasn’t practicing football, he’s over there shooting baskets for somebody, or somebody that’s a competitor playing pool. You love the competitiveness. He’s a gym rat with a real passion for the game.
Four, I wanted speed. I wanted quickness and speed. Whatever position he is, I just didn’t want slow guys.
And the fifth thing is, I wanted character. If he’s of bad character, he’s going to give you problems. If it’s not a problem on the field, it’s going to be a problem off the field. He’s going to eliminate himself. So those were the five things I look for.
Jimmy Johnson on Draft Choices and Players Changing Over Time
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Once a player gets paid, you never know how they’re going to react. What types of indicators would you see in players that maybe give you an idea of that?
JJ: If a guy was smart and had strong character, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re paying him or not paying him, and he had a passion for the game. Zach Thomas came from a wealthy family, okay? But he loved playing the game, absolutely loved playing the game, and so, you know, I didn’t have a problem with him getting paid. You didn’t have a problem with him in a contract because he wasn’t playing for the money; he was playing because he loved the game.
What is your worst draft choice ever and your best?
JJ: Best one? Well, there’s Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Jason Taylor in the third round and a defensive MVP, Zach Thomas in the fifth or sixth round, Leon Lett in the seventh round, Larry Brown, who was a Super Bowl MVP, in the 12th round. I’m just naming a few off the top of my head.
Risks that I took—I took a running back who could’ve been a star if he’d had character, there was a little running back, he went to LSU and then somewhere else, I drafted him with the Dolphins...Cecil Collins. But he had bad character. (John) Avery, I did a reach on him. Actually, he played Canadian ball for a long time and came back and played. Yatil Green was a first-round pick that tore up his knee. He could’ve been a star, but he tore up his knee. A reach was Avery because I looked at him as a kick returner and a receiver out of the backfield, tried to help (Dan) Marino, give him another receiver, but it was a reach. So, those are some of the misses.
Do you ever see it where a guy starts off as a really dedicated gym rat and then that changes due to other things in his life (family, etc.)?
JJ: Nothing that I recall. Usually, those guys that love to play, they love the competition, they love to be in the arena, it doesn’t make any different if they have a family or not. They still love to do the thing. They usually don’t change their personality. Somebody that you have to badger to come to the facility, you’ve got to badger them to come in on their days off, you’ve got to badger them to study film, that doesn’t change either. It only gets worse.
Jimmy Johnson on Life After Football and Doing Television
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Would there ever be a perfect situation where you return to coaching or player personnel?
JJ: I love my lifestyle now. I love doing Fox NFL Sunday, and I love living in the Florida Keys. I love my time off. I love being able to do whatever I want to do. In fact, people like (Michael) Strahan have asked, “What if the Cowboys ever pay you 10 million?” and I say I don’t care if they offered 20 million a year. I’ve got so much time left, QTL—quality time left—the time that I have left, I want to have some fun.
Speaking of the show, it seems like pregame and postgame crews are getting bigger and bigger. What would you say should be the maximum number of people on a pregame or postgame show?
JJ: Pregame show? Well, we don’t do it anymore. You look at ESPN, they’ve got a cast of thousands. But that tells you about the interest that people have in the NFL. The more people that are watching, the more people you’re going to see on television, the longer the shows are going to be. You know, we actually were the first ones to do an hour-long pregame show. People said, “Well, no one’s going to watch an hour-long pregame show; it’s only a 30-minute show.” So we stepped out and did an hour pregame show. Now, ESPN does 90 minutes and this and that and it goes on. Please, for the Super Bowl, we’re on the pregame show for like four or five hours!
Johnson on Fox NFL Sunday (continued)
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If you’re a fan and you’re watching television, what elements would you look for in a pregame and postgame show?
JJ: I think the biggest thing, the approach we have with Fox is that they hear statistics all week long. They hear about how many yards and how many tackles and how many interceptions, so they don’t need to have us tell them that. They want a little bit of insight as far as the game and what we feel like they need to look for in the game.
And the other thing is they want to be entertained. They want to see some guys up there just kind of laid-back, talking a little bit of football, getting ready for the game that’s going to start here in, you know, 45 minutes or so. They want to relax. They don’t want you to throw a bunch of numbers that them before the game starts because they’ve had numbers all week long, so they want to be entertained a little bit before the game starts.
When you first started out with your broadcasting career, were you nervous or did you know you’d be successful at it?
JJ: I was fortunate. I’d had my own TV show all the time I was in college as far as at Oklahoma State. I even did an assistant coaching show at the University of Arkansas, so I had done television for, you know, 15 years or so, or 20 years before I went to Fox. And, in fact, Ed Goren, who is one of the senior producers for Fox, had me, when I was at the University of Miami, fly up to New York, and I would do the college halftime with Jim Nantz and Mike Francesa was our information man. So I did the halftime college games back when I was at the University of Miami, so I’d had experience in television before.
Of those people that you’ve worked with on your Fox NFL Sunday show, who would you most like to have coached as a player and why?
JJ: Oh, I would’ve loved to coach Terry Bradshaw. What a talent. I mean, just an unbelievable talent, loved playing the game, great competitor and, obviously, he was MVP a couple of times and a four-time Super Bowl winner, so he had a pretty good career.
Jimmy Johnson on Jerry Jones
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Considering that you and Jerry Jones played together when you were at Arkansas, how would you compare Jerry Jones the player to Jerry Jones the owner?
JJ: Very similar. You know, he was a try-hard guy, very competitive, smart. He took that same enthusiasm and that same work ethic to business and, to this day, I think he is the best businessman I have ever been around. I have tremendous respect for him on making money. He lives and breathes money. He’s got a lot of it, but there were times when he didn’t have any. He went broke with Shakey’s Pizza at one time. I sat there with him when he borrowed $140 million to buy the Cowboys and Texas Stadium, but now, it’s worth $1.5 billion. Not bad.
Jimmy Johnson on Handling Veterans, Off-the-Field Issues
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With some of these Pro Bowlers, proven veterans (i.e. Michael Strahan and Brett Favre), it seems like they didn’t want to go through training camp, so the teams brought them in after training camp was over. As a coach, depending on the player, do you give those sorts of concessions to a guy?
JJ: I think you treat every player differently. That’s what I always told the team. I’m going to be very consistent—I’m going to treat every one of you differently. I said, the harder you work, the more you do what I ask you to do and—the key—the better performer you are, then you’ve got more leeway and I’m going to cut you some slack. If you don’t work hard, and you don’t do what I ask you to do, and you’re not a good player, you’ve got no leeway so I don’t cut you any slack, but that’s how I treat you. Now, I expect everybody to work, I expect everybody to do what I ask them to do, meet all the guidelines, so a player like that, I’d want him in training camp but I’d let him out of drills or I’d let him out of practices to make sure they didn’t get beat up, but I’d want them there.
What’s your cut-off point with the leeway?
JJ: Well, the best example I’ve given is John Roper, who was a backup linebacker for me, traded for him with Chicago. He was potentially a decent player, but, you know, he was always late to practice, was late for one thing or another, had to fine him for one thing or another. I was in a special teams meeting and he fell asleep, so I cut him. Now, this guy was making close to, what, 400 thousand a year. We’re getting ready to play San Francisco and he fell asleep in my meeting, so I cut him right then and there. I turned the projector off, I said, “Go see Bruce Mays and get your waivers.” He never played another down in pro football.
What’s your cut-off the other way, with off-the-field stuff?
JJ: Well, when people ask, “What if it’d been Troy Aikman?”, I would’ve said, “Troy, wake up.” Now, on off-the-field, you have to see what the legal process is. Is it a legal problem? Did he break the law? You know, those types of things. Is he missing curfew or what? Then I’d fine him, but I always said this—listen, players, I never ever fined you; you fined yourselves. If you missed curfew, you know, I’m not the one who fined you; you fined yourself by missing curfew. I let that process take care of itself.
So you don’t put any type of judgment on it then? It’s all on the field for you?
JJ: You’re talking about off-field problems? Again, if they break the law, then they’re going to have to deal with the law, and if the law puts them in jail, they’re getting penalized. I don’t have to penalize them any more.