Champing at Jones' bit, Johnson quits Cowboys

March 30, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

IRVING, TEXAS — Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones, the former college roommates who combined to win consecutive Super Bowls, ended their football relationship yesterday.

After two days of negotiations in the wake of the latest public flare-up in their long-running feud last week, Johnson quit as the Dallas Cowboys head coach after Jones agreed to a cash settlement for the last five years of his contract and to free him to coach another team.

Johnson's departure leaves the Cowboys in disarray as they prepare their bid to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.

But Jones, who bought the team on Feb. 25, 1989, for $140 million and quickly signed Johnson to a 10-year contract, didn't seem concerned.

"There are no negatives when you look at it," Jones said at the news conference before thanking Johnson for his five-year tenure.

There were no negatives for Johnson, either. He got what he wanted: a cash settlement and the freedom to coach another team.

That's why Johnson seized the moment when Jones, annoyed when he felt Johnson and some of his former colleagues snubbed him after he toasted them at a party last Monday night at the owners meetings in Orlando, Fla., told several reporters in a hotel bar that he was thinking of replacing Johnson with former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer.

When Johnson heard about the comments the next day, he confronted Jones and then left the meetings in a huff.

Johnson couldn't just quit because he would have been tied to the Cowboys for five years and wouldn't have gotten a cash settlement.

Last Wednesday, Jones downplayed the incident, saying Johnson was still the coach and this was just another day with the Cowboys.

But Johnson wouldn't let the issue die and after two days of talks, he got what he wanted.

At the news conference, Johnson said he told Jones, " 'Jerry, you don't have to do that,' " when Jones offered him the settlement.

Jones interrupted to add, "And I didn't have to do it."

Johnson also made it sound as if he's just another coach who burned out. "Personally, it was a time I think I needed to pull back some. Anybody who knows me knows I have to be 100 percent focused or else I'm not going to be as good. I felt like I was beginning to lose that focus," he said.

But Johnson, 50, who's never coached in the same job longer than five years, left little doubt that he'll be back on the sidelines. "Knowing my love for football, I anticipate I would be coaching again," he said.

Since the other 27 jobs are currently filled, Johnson is likely to sit out the season -- the TV networks already are interested in him -- before returning to the sidelines in 1995.

His first choice would be to coach the Miami Dolphins. He loves the city, where he coached the University of Miami. If Don Shula, 64, who has one year left on his contract, decides to retire at the end of this season, Johnson would be the logical choice.

Shula, though, has shown no inclination that he's ready to retire and he's believed to be close to new owner Wayne Huizenga. If the Miami job doesn't open up, Johnson can probably have his pick of jobs.

Jones wouldn't comment yesterday on his plans to replace Johnson. He mentioned Switzer and Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz during that hotel bar conversation, but it's uncertain if he was serious about them.

If Jones promotes from within, defensive coordinator Butch Davis is the logical choice. If not, he could go for a big name such as Mike Ditka, who was once a Dallas assistant.

Johnson is the third coach in the past six years to quit after winning a Super Bowl.

Bill Walsh, who didn't get along with owner Edward DeBartolo, quit as the San Francisco 49ers coach in 1989 and Bill Parcells, who had his differences with general manager George Young, quit as the New York Giants coach in 1991.

When you count Joe Gibbs, who had health problems before he resigned as the Washington Redskins coach last March 5, the winners of six of the past seven Super Bowls have quit.

Jones and Johnson built the Cowboys from worst to first in four years and then spent the last year squabbling about which one of them deserved the credit for the team's success.

Johnson tried to downplay their differences yesterday. "Some have described our relationship as rocky," he said. "But something about our relationship worked. Something was very, very good."

Davis, though, summed up Johnson's departure when he said, "This boiled down to a personal thing between Jimmy and Jerry. It was nothing about football. It was nothing about management. This was personal."

JONES, SWITZER REPORTEDLY MEET TO DISCUSS JOB

IRVING, Texas -- Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer met with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last night to finalize details of a contract that will make Switzer the next Dallas coach, sources told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas Morning News yesterday.

Switzer drove from Norman, Okla., to meet Jones at an undisclosed North Texas location, the sources said. Barring last-minute obstacles, Switzer will replace Jimmy Johnson as the third coach in the Cowboys' 35-year history, team sources said.

At yesterday's meeting, sources said, Switzer and Jones discussed:

* A shorter-term deal than the 10-year contract that Johnson received in 1989;

* A contractual clarification of Jones' role;

* Jones' desire to keep the Cowboys' 12 assistant coaches.

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