Miami's Jankovich, Johnson chase NFL glory


December 23, 1990|By VITO STELLINO

Just two years ago, Sam Jankovich and Jimmy Johnson were on top of the college football world.

As the athletic director and head coach at the University of Miami, respectively, they had a dynasty rolling that they seemingly could have kept going indefinitely.

But neither one could resist the siren call of the National Football League.

Johnson left last year to become the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and now Jankovich has signed on as the chief operating officer of the New England Patriots.

"If a legacy was going to be written about Sam Jankovich's professional life to this point, it's that I'd much rather take the opportunity to build than be somewhere and maintain," Jankovich said when he took the new job.

It wasn't so much the opportunity to build, but the opportunity to be on the NFL stage that Jankovich couldn't resist.

As Johnson said earlier this year, there's only one national college team -- Notre Dame. In the pros, a successful team becomes a national team. It's the ultimate ego trip.

Only time will tell, though, if Jankovich and Johnson made the right moves. At Miami, where they could have continued to recruit blue-chip athletes, they probably could have continued to win with no problem.

In the NFL, where you have to draft, not recruit, it's not so easy.

Johnson has made an amazing turnaround this year, bringing the Cowboys from 1-15 to the brink of the playoffs in one year. But it'll get tougher, not easier in the future. Jim Mora went 12-3 with the New Orleans Saints in 1987. He hasn't made the playoffs since.

The toughest adjustment for Jankovich and Johnson will be to understand that even if they turn things around, they won't be able to win in the pros the way they won in college.

Jankovich, 56, is such a fierce competitor that after Miami's loss at Florida State last year, he stuck his head in the office of defensive coordinator Sonny Lubiak and said, "If I were 20 years younger, I would kick your butt."

Lubiak, who has known Jankovich since their days together as coaches in Montana, didn't laugh.

Jankovich can't be that combative and survive in the pros.

More Jankovich:

Since rumors are swirling in New England that owner Victor Kiam eventually will sell the team to out-of-town interests that will move the club (Sacramento and Memphis get mentioned a lot), it's in the league's best interests that Jankovich succeed.

The NFL can't afford to have New England move because TV networks frown on losing a top-10 market.

Remember when the league said its hands were tied legally and took no action to try to stop the Colts from leaving Baltimore in March 1984? Nine months later, when the Eagles tried to move to Phoenix, the league went to court. Philadelphia simply was too big a market to lose.

Jankovich can save the league a lot of grief by winning back the New England fans.

Jankovich's hiring also officially ends the Sullivan era in New England. Billy Sullivan founded the team on a shoestring in 1960 at the start of the old American Football League. Even when he sold it to Kiam two years ago, he got a long-term contract for his son, Pat, as general manager. Pat Sullivan remains on the payroll, but he's no longer in charge.

More Johnson:

Johnson brings his Cowboys into Philadelphia today, where he'll get no respect from Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, despite the team's turnaround.

Just in case anybody had any doubt about who's going to win the game, Ryan said: "We're going to win. I don't know how yet. but I know we're going to do it."

Said defensive lineman Mike Golic: "Buddy has this thing about Dallas. He doesn't want to lose to Dallas in his lifetime or any other lifetime."

Ryan not only wants to beat the Cowboys, he wants to taunt them.

Referring to Johnson's charge last year that the Eagles had a bounty out on some of his players, Ryan said, "They have a bad Thanksgiving Day and their coach, whatever his name is, instead of taking the heat for a bad game plan, he tried to make it a bounty bowl or something."

Johnson tried to resist, but couldn't, replying to Ryan by calling him, "whatever his name is."

"He may be getting senile, I don't know," Johnson said.

"I think he enjoys needling people and getting under people's skin, especially when he's got the upper hand."

No doubt about that.

Ryan also needled the Cowboys' so-called rebuilding program.

"I think it's unusual for a team in the second year of a rebuilding program to only start one rookie. They've got people with a lot of age on their defense," Ryan said.

Of Ryan's barbs, Johnson said: "I actually do kind of enjoy it. I think if he stays around long enough to when we have the dominant team I'll enjoy it even more."

Meanwhile, by the end of last week, the Eagles were wearing "Buddy's Bounty Hunters" T-shirts that suddenly appeared in their lockers.

Noting that Jim Jensen of the Miami Dolphins said a week ago that the Eagles had a bounty out on him because they were upset about an off-season basketball game, Johnson said, "That's a week-to-week shirt."

Just to cap it off, Jesse Solomon of the Cowboys "guaranteed" a Dallas victory.

"We're going to be like the Grinch. We're going to come in and steal their Christmas. . . . When we come out of there with a win, he's [Ryan] going to respect us whether he likes it or not," Solomon said.

Solomon then told his teammates, "You'd better be ready to play because I'm talking trash."

The game may be an anticlimax after Buddy and Jimmy get together. It's perfect that today they'll be in the town where the crowd once booed Santa Claus.

The coaching derby:

John Robinson of the Los Angeles Rams seems to be the latest coach on the hot seat.

AThere have been several reports that he's in trouble with general manager John Shaw and owner Georgia Frontiere, just a year after going to the NFC title game.

Robinson plans to meet with Shaw at the end of the season, although he said a date hasn't been set yet.

"It's a little bit like Saddam Hussein and the secretary of state . . . " he said.

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