Johnson jumps in saddle, spurs Cowboys

November 21, 1990|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

HERNDON,VA. — HERNDON, Va. -- Jimmy Johnson thought he knew all th pitfalls when he became coach of the Dallas Cowboys a year ago.

"I knew what I was getting into," said Johnson, whose team will play the Washington Redskins tomorrow in Dallas. "Knowing it and actually doing it may be two different stories."

Whereas the University of Miami won the national title last year and is ranked No. 2 this year without him, the Cowboys were 1-15 last year and are 4-7 this year. The Hurricanes have lost three games without Johnson, and the Cowboys have won five with him.

He's had to cope with one problem after another.

A week ago, quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith, complained publicly about the attack designed by offensive coordinator David Shula. Aikman wanted to open up the offense, and Smith wanted the ball.

The team had gone two weeks without a touchdown and managed just one first down and 14 yards in the second half against the San Francisco 49ers.

Johnson gave Shula a vote of confidence ("I have faith in David") but got himself more involved in the offense. A defensive specialist, he started wearing a headset when the Cowboys had the ball and talked with Aikman after each series.

Dallas beat the Los Angeles Rams, 24-21, Sunday. Aikman threw for 303 yards, and Smith caught four passes for 117 yards and carried 21 times for 54 yards.

Asked what effect his involvement had had, Johnson said, "I think more has been made out of it than what there really is, but it does help communication."

The Cowboys' next opponent is the Redskins. The teams have met three times on Thanksgiving, all Cowboys victories under Hall of Fame coach Tom Landry.

"There's a saying in the coaching profession that you don't want to follow the great coach, you want to follow the guy who followed the great coach," Johnson said, jokingly.

But when Johnson's college roommate, Jerry Jones, bought the Cowboys a year ago, Johnson couldn't pass up the lure of the National Football League.

"The NFL is a challenge for me. I think that anybody who's in the coaching profession looks at professional football as the ultimate," hesaid. "You've really got the national attention from all walks of life, whereas at most universities you might have one national university -- Notre Dame -- but most universities are supported by the alumni and the people of that locale or that state, whereas in the NFL, you really have a crossover of fans throughout the country."

Johnson said living up to the Cowboys' legacy isn't a burden. "In fact," he said, "that's a plus. It hasn't been a hindrance. I think the only hindrance we have is that we took over a team that was last in the NFL."

The Cowboys were 3-13 in Landry's last year but reached the Super Bowl five times in his 29 years.

In an attempt to get back there, Johnson has stockpiled five first-round picks in the next two years.

"I think it's a realistic goal for our football team to get back in the playoffs in the next year or so," he said.

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