Dolphins' Johnson, Wannstedt take a pass on Marino dilemma

On The NFL

January 23, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Jimmy Johnson had offers to coach two Florida teams -- Miami and Tampa Bay -- four years ago.

Johnson knew Tampa Bay had a younger team and a better situation under the salary cap, but he wanted to live in Miami and figured Dan Marino was a quarterback who could take the team to the Super Bowl.

Four years later, Johnson has retired without getting to the Super Bowl, and the Buccaneers, with rookie Shaun King at quarterback, are one game away.

Nobody will know whether Johnson would have had the same success in Tampa Bay that Tony Dungy has had, but it's obvious that Johnson made a mistake thinking Marino was the answer.

Marino's skills declined each season, but he was so revered in Miami that Johnson not only didn't feel he could bench him, but he rushed him back on Thanksgiving Day when he hadn't fully recovered from a neck injury. Even when Johnson made mildly critical comments about Marino, he provoked a controversy.

Now that Johnson has retired, his successor, Dave Wannstedt, has to deal with the Marino problem.

Although Wannstedt and Marino go back a long way -- both are Pittsburgh natives -- Wannstedt has been cautious in his coments about Marino and has said the decision to retire is up to Marino.

But Wannstedt hasn't said he wants Marino back, and he'll probably be keeping his fingers crossed that Marino decides the time has come to call it a career.

Even after the 62-7 rout in Jacksonville last week, Marino sounded like a man in denial. "I still feel I can win games in this league, and I've proven that," he said.

Even some of the Jaguars said Marino's time is over. "Look, all good things must come to an end," safety Carnell Lake said.

It would be a lot easier on Wannstedt if Marino would retire. He certainly doesn't want to push him out the door as one of his first major acts.

Even owner Wayne Huizenga said Marino is a special case. He said he "would assume Dave would come to me if he has to say, `Hey, I need to talk to you about making the tough decision here.' "

He didn't have to say what the tough decision would be.

Huizenga added: "But [Dan] is the only person that would apply to. No one else would be like that. Dave would make all the personnel decisions whether they're coming or leaving."

Now they're waiting for Marino to decide if the time has come.

Goodbye?

When Johnson replaced Don Shula as the Dolphins' coach four years ago, it was not exactly a smooth transition.

The relationship between the two has been strained since Johnson stripped Shula's son, David, of the offensive coordinator title in Dallas a decade ago, and the relationship didn't improve when Johnson seemed to be all but campaigning for Shula's job four years ago.

So when Johnson retired, Shula's comments were predictable.

"He came in with great expectations, and none of them were fulfilled," Shula said of Johnson. "That's how I was judged, and that's how he is going to be judged. That's how you're remembered. That's why they keep score."

Shula, though, said he misses the game.

"No, I haven't been able to disconnect. Especially the big games, the Monday night games, the playoffs, the Super Bowl. That's where you really feel the void," he said. "You can't play enough golf or do any of those other things that fill that kind of excitement that coaching gave me in the big games."

Retired

One who has been able to fill the void is former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who's running a successful NASCAR team.

Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf called him when he started his coaching search just to make sure, and Gibbs said again he had coached his last game.

"He's got a multimillion-dollar business," Wolf said. "He's not going to coach."

Bad snap

Nobody took it harder than Dan Turk when his errant long snap foiled the Washington Redskins' bid to have Brett Conway try a 52-yard, potentially game-winning field goal against Tampa Bay eight days ago.

The odds of hitting a 52-yarder on grass would have been against Conway, but Turk was so distraught that he didn't fly back with the team.

He told a Washington Times columnist he was upset that his brother, Matt, and Conway were the only teammates to console him.

"Irving Fryar, Darrell Green, all those guys who are God-fearing men, it would have been nice if they had said something to me," he said. "Where were they when I needed them? But nobody said, `Hey, Dan, we're going to pray for you. We're behind you.'

"It was like a nightmare, and I was sick about the whole thing. God made this happen for a reason, and I'm going to work through it."

Home-field edge?

For many Indianapolis Colts fans, the first home playoff game since the team moved from Baltimore in 1984 was a chance to make money by scalping their tickets.

The result was that between 5,000 and 10,000 Tennessee fans attended the game and made so much noise last Sunday that quarterback Peyton Manning had to use a silent snap count at times.

Bill Polian, the team's general manager, was not happy.

"Clearly, there was a lot of scalping," he said. "Clearly, we need an anti-scalping law in this state. We need that law, but we also need people to understand that it's important to the home team to have the home fans behind the team."

Quotable

"People like to disparage our division. They call it a patsy division. It's not. We play some excellent teams twice a year, and that one against Tennessee [a 36-35 loss in the opener] could have gone either way." -- Mike Brown, Cincinnati Bengals president, on the AFC Central's Jaguars and Titans making the AFC title game.

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