Dolphins get their man Johnson Coach signs 4-year, $8 million contract to succeed Shula

January 12, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Jimmy Johnson replaced another legendary coach yesterday in a swift transition, but this time the news was much less jolting.

Johnson, who supplanted Tom Landry in Dallas in a tumultuous change in 1989, was hired by the Miami Dolphins to succeed Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history. The move came just six days after Shula stepped down and after only one day of meetings with owner Wayne Huizenga.

Johnson, 52, signed a four-year, $8 million deal that made him the highest paid coach in pro football history, but he downplayed the size of the contract.

"It was not about money," said Johnson, who has worked for the Fox Network and HBO since leaving the Cowboys in March 1993. "It was about one thing -- being the very best. I think there's a lot of talent on this team. I think this team can win."

Location also was a factor. Johnson loves the South Florida area, where he coached the University of Miami to a national title in 1987 and where he has lived since leaving Dallas.

"I have a strong emotional feeling toward South Florida," Johnson said. "People here have been fantastic to me. Some of the greatest times I ever had were when I was at the University of Miami.

"This is a place where I wanted to be for a long time. That was one of the reasons I left the Cowboys."

He also left because of a rift that developed between him and owner Jerry Jones, who apparently was annoyed that Johnson got most of the credit for the Cowboys' Super Bowl titles in 1992 and '93.

In Miami, Johnson should have little problem co-existing with Huizenga, who also owns the NHL's Florida Panthers and baseball's Florida Marlins and has expressed little interest in running the Dolphins' football operation.

"He will have exactly the same responsibilities Don Shula has had," said Huizenga, meaning Johnson is in charge of all aspects of the football operation.

In contrast to his controversial arrival in Dallas, Johnson was hailed in Miami, his popularity built upon his success with the Hurricanes. When the Dolphins faded this season after a 4-0 start, many fans started calling for Johnson to replace Shula.

The Dolphins managed to finish 9-7 and make the playoffs, but they were embarrassed in a 37-22 wild-card playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, and Shula quit after 26 years as Miami's coach.

Unlike Landry, who learned of his firing just hours before the announcement by Jones and who has had virtually no contact with the club since, Shula remains with the Dolphins organization as a part-owner and a member of the board of directors.

The ex-coach was vacationing in the Phoenix area and unavailable for comment, but Huizenga said he has kept in daily touch with him. "Don heartily supports this decision," the owner said.

Shula was unhappy four years ago when Johnson demoted his son, David, then an assistant coach with the Cowboys, but Johnson made it sound yesterday as if they'll have a relationship.

"I asked Don for input," Johnson said. "He wants to give input."

Several players welcomed the news of Johnson's hiring.

"It's a positive step," quarterback Dan Marino said. "He's a guy that may get us to the point where we can win a championship, and that's everybody's goal."

Backup quarterback Bernie Kosar, who played for Johnson with the Cowboys and in college at Miami, said he believes Johnson will help the Dolphins reach their potential.

"Just talking to him and seeing the intensity and the way he's focused already on this coming year shows he's not going into this planning to do it halfway," Kosar said.

In Dallas, Johnson went 1-15 in his first year as he started his rebuilding program. In Miami, he will be expected to win the Super Bowl -- immediately.

But, he said, "The expectations won't be nearly as high as what I have for myself."

Johnson's coaching highlights

College

Oklahoma State

Five seasons: 30-25-2.

1979: Big Eight Coach of the Year.

Miami

Five seasons: 52-9

1987: National champions.

1986, 1988: National runners-up.

Pro

Dallas Cowboys

Five seasons: 44-36.

1990: Named AP NFL Coach of the Year; improved 1-15 team to 7-9 in one season.

1991: Playoffs: Beat Chicago, 17-13; lost to Detroit, 38-6.

1992: Playoffs: Beat Philadelphia, 34-10; beat San Francisco, 30-20; beat Buffalo, 52-17, in Super Bowl.

1993: Playoffs: Beat Green Bay, 27-17; beat San Francisco, 38-21; Beat Buffalo, 30-13, in Super Bowl.

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