Johnson working to make it work in Dallas


January 17, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

Joe Gibbs lost two titles this year.

Not only was the Washington Redskins coach dethroned as the coach of the Super Bowl champions, but he's no longer the NFL's leading workaholic coach.

"I guess he's trying to compete with Joe Gibbs as far as working the longest," Dallas Cowboys safety Ray Horton said last week referring to his team's coach, Jimmy Johnson.

Gibbs sleeps in his office three nights a week during the season, but Johnson has him topped in the workaholic derby.

Gibbs takes his wife out to dinner every Thursday night during the season after he tapes his weekly TV show. During the off-season, he sponsors an auto racing team. He even has a getaway cabin near a lake in Virginia.

Johnson, who'll coach the Cowboys today in the NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers, has one thing in his life -- football -- although he says there's room for his two sons.

"My priorities are winning football games first, and my two sons second," he said.

Johnson lives alone -- he has several fish tanks -- and likes it that way. He split up with his wife of 26 years when he became the Cowboys coach in 1989, saying he didn't need a wife in pro football because there aren't the social functions to attend the way there are in college.

"It would have been a little more negative getting a divorce in college," he said. "Here, not a lot of explanations have to be made."

He has a steady companion, but . he said he doesn't plan to marry again.

"I enjoy winning. I enjoy winning football games and I hate losing football teams," he said. "I don't really go down the middle of the road in many things in my life. I am extreme in one way or another. That's part of my profession and I think that's part of my personality. I don't know that I'm obsessed. It's something I enjoy very, very much and I work very hard to get it."

This would be a perfect lifestyle for Johnson if he could win every game. The problem is he can't, and he's noted for tirades when he does lose. Nobody expects him to hold a long news conference today if he loses. He may not even meet with the team tomorrow if it loses. He didn't the day after last year's playoff loss in Detroit. He just left town to brood.

Losing is the bane of the profession. It eats at all coaches. But most hide it better than Johnson.

George Seifert, the 49ers coach, has a mild-mannered persona, and is low-key and gracious after losses, but he still takes them home.

"You're in a state of emotional shock," Seifert said. "There's no other way to describe it. You go home and you try to sleep, but you wake up in the middle of the night and you can't think about anything else. It's the one time even sex doesn't enter your mind. It's that kind of feeling."

Seifert, though, doesn't display those emotions. Johnson does. He's so volatile after losses that owner Jerry Jones felt the need to say recently he doesn't think Johnson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Johnson wasn't pleased.

There's one solution for Johnson -- winning virtually every game.

When he was told at the start of the season that he couldn't duplicate last year's 11-5 season, he had a short reply.

"Is there a rule against it?" he said.

He didn't go 11-5 this year. He went 13-3.

A new era?

With all the comparisons this week to the 1981 NFC title game between the 49ers and Cowboys, it should be noted that the game was even something of an end of an era off the field.

The next year, Al Davis won an antitrust suit to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles and the players went on strike, ushering in a decade of court fights, strikes and franchise shifts that eroded the image the NFL and left the league virtually stagnant for a decade.

Now that the league has labor peace for virtually the rest of this decade, maybe this game will usher in a new era in which the league can work together with the players and make positive strides.

The Tennell factor

The Cowboys signed tight end Derek Tennell at the end of the season, and he caught the first touchdown pass in the team's 34-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

But having Tennell on the roster may not be a good omen for a championship game.

In 1987 and 1989, he was with the Cleveland Browns when they lost the AFC title game. In 1990, he was cut by the 49ers, who lost the NFC title game.

Last year, he was with the Detroit Lions. Yes, they lost the NFC title game to the Redskins.

The coaching derby

There'll be one consolation today in defeat for either Mike Shanahan, the offensive coordinator of the 49ers, or Dave Wannstedt, the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys.

One of them will lose and be available to start interviewing for head coaching jobs. Shanahan's the favorite in Denver, and Wannstedt is expected to get the New York Giants' job, although the Chicago Bears are also interested in him.

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