Johnson gets dream job, but pressure is on to win

On the NFL

January 14, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

There's an old saying that you should watch what you wish for because you might get it.

Jimmy Johnson got what he wished for last week.

He got the job he wanted, in the city he wanted, working for the owner he wanted.

H. Wayne Huizenga hired him to coach the Miami Dolphins. It's a city where Johnson is wildly popular from his days at the University of Miami.

Huizenga is Johnson's kind of owner, too. He's the complete opposite of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Huizenga hires the coach and lets him do his thing. Huizenga doesn't care if Johnson gets the credit if the team succeeds. He doesn't want to be known as a football executive the way Jones does.

"I would say that the one who hires him needs to make sure he doesn't have to work with him every day," Jones said.

That's fine with Huizenga, who doesn't want to make trades or draft players.

So the Dolphins job is the perfect one for Johnson, right?

Maybe. Maybe not. He may find he won't be able to duplicate the success he had in Dallas and anything less will be disappointing.

Johnson says nobody's expectations are as high as his. But are they realistic? Look what happened to Bill Parcells in his second job in New England.

Johnson will never admit it, but he was incredibly lucky in Dallas. When he arrived, Michael Irvin was already on the roster, and he had the first pick in the draft in a year when Troy Aikman, not somebody like Vinny Testaverde, was the first player rated in the draft.

It also helped that former Minnesota president Mike Lynn was willing to give him a king's ransom in draft choices for Herschel Walker, one of which he turned into Emmitt Smith. It also helped that the 49ers got fed up with the off-the-field antics of Charles Haley and traded him to the Cowboys.

Sure, Johnson's a good coach and the Dolphins have a good nucleus, including quarterback Dan Marino. It also helps that the league is so watered down that the Indianapolis Colts -- a team their own quarterback calls "ragamuffins" -- made the AFC title game.

The Colts beat the Dolphins twice this year. Don't expect them to beat Johnson's team twice. And he's virtually guaranteed of two wins over the Jets. They won't beat Johnson's team once the way they did last year. Just turning around the two losses to the Colts and the loss to the Jets and the 9-7 record of last year suddenly turns into 12-4.

It also helps that Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith aren't getting any younger in Buffalo. Time is on the Dolphins' side.

That's the way they're looking at it in Miami. They're already noting that the last time a coach replaced Don Shula, he won the Super Bowl in his first season. That was Don McCafferty in 1970 in Baltimore.

But that doesn't mean Johnson is going to win a Super Bowl that fast. Johnson could one day regret he got what he wished for.

The coaching derby

Now that the Miami job is filled and Wayne Fontes (Detroit) and Jim Mora (New Orleans) kept their jobs, only two coaching vacancies are open: Tampa Bay and Arizona.

Tampa Bay tried to lure Johnson and Steve Spurrier, but the Bucs were hampered by the fact that they couldn't guarantee the team would stay in Florida.

Tampa will now look at some of the coaching assistants. The field is likely to include Tony Dungy of Minnesota and Pete Carroll of San Francisco.

In Arizona, owner Bill Bidwill is still talking to Bill Walsh about a possible front office job before he starts his coaching search.

There's still one more job that could open up. Cleveland-Baltimore owner Art Modell is waiting until after Wednesday's owners meeting in Atlanta to address his coaching situation.

But since that meeting isn't likely to resolve the Browns status for next year, coach Bill Belichick may survive simply because of all the uncertainty surrounding the team.

Beating the odds

The Las Vegas oddsmakers will have their fingers crossed today when the Colts go to Pittsburgh.

If Indianapolis pulls one more upset, the oddsmakers have a nightmare on their hands -- Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.

If the opponent is Dallas, the Colts would probably open as a 20-point underdog -- the biggest in Super Bowl history -- and it would be difficult to get money bet on those Colts even at those odds.

One Las Vegas oddsmaker, Johnny Avello, said, "There are no Colts fans. They're just a team that has no following. I don't ever remember one single person walking in here and saying the Indianapolis Colts are my favorite team."

He said the oddsmakers would like a Dallas-Pittsburgh Super Bowl and could live with a Green Bay-Pittsburgh Super Bowl.

But they don't want Indianapolis in the game.

"Indianapolis against somebody would be horrible," he said.

Facing the problem

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue set the stage for the Browns' proposed move to Baltimore when he bypassed Baltimore in expansion and said last March that the Browns were one of several teams more "distressed" than the Rams, a team the league subsequently let move from Los Angeles to St. Louis.

L That seemed to set the stage for virtually any team to move.

Now, the owners will meet Wednesday in Atlanta to debate the Browns' application to move after Modell presents his case to the members of the finance and stadium committees Tuesday night. But nobody will be surprised if Tagliabue ducks the issue and doesn't call for a vote.

That could set in motion the possibility of the Browns playing as a lame-duck team in Cleveland this fall and that's the scenario the owners like the least.

Denver owner Pat Bowlen said, "I don't think that's the answer. We'd have a very unsuccessful lame-duck franchise. I think the league, the city of Cleveland, the Browns and the city of Baltimore all have to get together on the issue and figure out a solution."

Stellino's picks

Last week's record: 2-2.

Against the spread: 2-2.

Season record: 156-92.

Against the spread: 126-117-5.

8, Vito Stellino covers the NFL for The Sun

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