Switzer-Johnson family values debate is latest episode in Dallas soap opera

ON THE NFL

September 25, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

Before Jimmy Johnson makes his weekly appearance on the Fox pre-game show today, he may have to wipe the feathers from his chin.

Johnson became pro football's version of the cat who swallowed the canary last week.

The former Dallas Cowboys coach has been fuming since last March, when owner Jerry Jones said 500 guys could coach the Cowboys to the Super Bowl, an incident that led to Johnson's departure from the team.

Monday night, the Cowboys lost their first game since Johnson left, a 20-17 overtime setback at the hands of the Detroit Lions.

Johnson didn't gloat in private -- not even for a day.

Fewer than 24 hours later, Johnson already was taking potshots at Barry Switzer, the man Jones picked over the other 499 candidates.

Johnson knocked Switzer for watching his son play a college game the night before the Cowboys' game against the Houston Oilers in Week 2. Johnson said that was a sign that Switzer wasn't focused.

"A couple of players have told me they better not be criticized for not focusing when their coach doesn't focus," Johnson told USA Today.

The controversy was on.

Switzer shot back at Johnson's lack of interest in his family. Johnson left his wife when he got the Cowboys' job because, he said, he didn't need a wife to attend social functions in the NFL the way he did in college.

"Jimmy's told the world that his family doesn't mean anything to him, that football was first," Switzer said.

Switzer, of course, is not exactly a candidate for Father of the Year. He also is divorced, and once had an affair with the wife of one of his assistant coaches at Oklahoma.

Wide receiver Michael Irvin, who's close to Johnson, immediately denied he's one of the players who said the coach isn't focused.

"I haven't talked to Jimmy since he was in town last spring for the opening of his restaurant," Irvin said. "Understand this: My allegiance is to the guys in this locker room. When I've got concerns or I've got something to say, I say it to them."

Johnson may have motivated the Cowboys. They quickly pointed out they didn't always like Johnson's intense style.

"You want to know the truth?" wide receiver Alvin Harper said. "When Jimmy used to give pep talks, I'd sit way in the back of the room just like I do now. I don't really listen to that stuff. I have my own ways of getting ready to play, no matter who the coach is or what he is saying."

Stocking plans

If St. Louis and Baltimore get the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they might be better off than the expansion teams.

Neither the Bucs nor Rams is very good, but each has a nucleus of good players.

The owners seem determined to make sure the expansion teams don't even have that.

They had negotiated a deal with the NFL Players Association in which each expansion team could get two picks in each round of the draft for three years.

But the owners apparently decided they were being too generous. At a meeting in Dallas this week, they're expected to approve a plan in which the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars get only one first-round pick -- not two -- this year. They'll get two in the other rounds.

Realignment

Realignment will be on the table this week in Dallas, but no decision is expected to be made on where the expansion teams will be slotted until another meeting in November.

The problem is that virtually none of the teams wants to move, except for possibly a Tampa Bay-Indianapolis switch.

It's not logical, for example, to have Arizona in the NFC East. But the Cardinals won't move unless the Cowboys come with them, and nobody will suggest that Dallas move.

The November date for realignment ties in neatly with the comment by John Shaw, the Rams' executive vice president, that the team may make a decision on its future in four to six weeks.

It may be difficult for the Rams to make up their minds that soon -- especially now that St. Louis is back in the mix -- but the owners would like to know where the Rams are going to be when they realign.

Meanwhile, Orioles owner Peter Angelos sent a message to the league that he's serious about fighting for a team when he visited Raiders owner Al Davis during his visit to Los Angeles last weekend. When it comes to fighting the league, Davis is the master.

Davis likes the idea of the Rams moving, because he then would have the Los Angeles market to himself.

Salary cap wars

Now that the owners have a seven-year deal with the game officials, they have labor peace for the rest of the decade because the players' deal doesn't expire until 2000.

That means that instead of fighting with each other, they can fight among themselves.

Although the salary cap isn't on the agenda in Dallas this week, the owners are expected to do a lot of complaining about the San Francisco 49ers' signing of Deion Sanders, especially because the deal has a $5 million option next year.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson called it a "farce." But the 49ers followed all the rules, so the complaints may fall on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, with so many players complaining about the cap, the NFL Players Association is trying to convince them that it is adjustable. They released figures showing 18 teams -- topped by the Redskins at $42 million -- spent more than the $34.6 million cap limit this year because the pro-rated share of the signing bonuses won't count until future years.

The NFLPA overlooked the fact that this money will count against the cap in future years, so the teams will have less to spend.

The Redskins, for example, had to count $400,000 this year for Carl Banks, even though he got that money last year and he's no longer with the team. With the hard cap, the piper has to be paid eventually. There are no exceptions unless money can be pushed into the uncapped year of 1999.

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