A Different Year, a Different Jimmy Johnson

From Associated Press

Jimmy Johnson recently stood for 90 minutes before a room full of Texas sports editors and gave a thoughtful answer to every question asked.

A year ago, the Cowboys coach might not have stayed 90 seconds.

NFL success has given Johnson a chance to relax around his critics. He no longer feels like he has to examine each question with a mine detector for hidden explosives.

Even when a questioner needled Johnson about some quick postgame exits after losses, the Dallas Cowboys coach answered with a smile and a sense of humor: "Sometimes I get a little hot after we lose. I'll try to hang around a little longer this year. I'll try not to get so hot."

He admited dumb questions drive him up a wall.

"I'm a professional and do my homework," he said. "It irritates me to do an interview when the reporter doesn't do homework and comes in cold and doesn't know the subject."

It was a remarkable performance by the Port Arthur native who had the unsavory task of replacing that famous Texan from Mission, Thomas Wade Landry.

Not until the Cowboys had clinched a playoff berth last year with an 11-5 record, did Johnson finally admit how following Landry had ground him down.

"I could finally relax, I could finally get a good night's sleep," Johnson said last December.

Now you see the new Johnson. He's still intense. But he showed he's finally starting to enjoy life again.

He's slim and trim with a recent weight loss of 22 pounds. The diet consisted of running, lifting weights and starving.

"I hope I don't gain it all back like Oprah," said Johnson, who is a Tex-Mex food addict.

On this day in the Austin American-Statesman meeting room he was model sharp in a designer suit, looking for all the world like the CEO of some worldwide company.

In a way, Johnson is the executive of a world famous product, the Dallas Cowboys.

Once billed by NFL Films, Inc., as "America's Team," the Cowboys are quickly regaining that label under Johnson and owner Jerry Jones.

The Cowboys recently became the top seller again for NFL Properties which markets caps, shirts, pennants, coffee mugs, etc.

They will open up NFL Monday Night Football in September at home against the defending world champion Washington Redskins.

They will be making a trip with the Houston Oilers to Japan this summer to play a preseason game. The Cowboys were in such demand that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue asked Jones and Johnson to make the trip to Tokyo as a personal favor.

"I'll have to waive some team rules on this trip or I might lose my sanity," Johnson said. "We'll get back to work when we get back to Texas."

You could see Johnson is clearly relishing the role of being near the top of the professional mountain after he claimed a collegiate national championship at Miami.

"We will win," is the way he bluntly put it without such qualifying statements as "the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise."

"I don't have any concerns about the talent of the team," he said. "We can be very strong at the end of the year. It's important that we go farther than we did a year ago. That means going to the (NFC) championship game."

Johnson lives in a tight shell, but he gave the sports writers a show of candor in the relaxed setting.

For example, he admitted he used the newspaper printed word to get a message back to his players.

Most coaches do. Few admit it.

In some cases, he said it was more effective than one-on-one talks.

"Sometimes you can get through to them easier when they read something in the newspapers," Johnson said. "Their friends and relatives read it to so you know it's getting back to them."

But what if a player uses the media the same way?

"A player is on thin ice there," Johnson replied. "I can cut them. They can't cut me. I've got a bigger hammer."

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