When Jerry Jones brought Jimmy Johnson to Dallas nearly 31 years ago, he was about the only one that would admit he wanted him.
Nobody at the time could envision both of them would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When Dave Baker, the president of the Hall of Fame, walked on the set of Fox’s halftime show during the NFC playoff game Sunday night he made the announcement Johnson was being inducted as a coach.
Johnson is now the fourth former Razorback selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The others are Lance Alworth, Dan Hampton and Jones.
It was Johnson who recruited and coached Hampton for two years with the Hogs.
Johnson, for the first time in the roughly 47 years I’ve known him, got red-eyed with emotion.
And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I first met Johnson when he was coming through my hometown of Warren in the spring of 1973. He stopped to talk to Lumberjacks coach John McGregor, who hollered across the locker room to me to find a film on a game played in the fall of 1972.
Johnson had just been hired as defensive coordinator of the Razorbacks by Frank Broyles during the worst three-year stretch of his tenure. He was trying to find players anywhere.
The biggest difference back then was the coaches were driving their own cars and hoping there was a gas reimbursement when they got back to Fayetteville.
He was climbing the coaching ladder and probably had no idea at that time of the meteoric rise his career would take a little about a decade later.
Johnson was one of the senior captains on the undefeated 1964 Razorback team that got a version of the national championship, the only one in school history. He was a smallish lineman that got by on quickness and made the key defensive stops against Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl to secure the undefeated season.
None of that mattered when he came to Dallas at the end of February 1989.
Jones had proclaimed he was worth several first-round draft choices alone in replacing Tom Landry, who was too stubborn to leave and probably over-stayed his usefulness with the Cowboys by about five years or so.
Yeah, he did. I was there and had seen it first-hand from 1982.
Johnson came in and cut Hall of Fame lineman Randy White. About a month after coming to Dallas he fired another Hall of Famer in personnel director Gil Brandt, who had hosted Johnson in the Dallas Cowboys suite at the Super Bowl a few weeks earlier in Miami.
But what Johnson got was the No. 1 draft choice in Troy Aikman to go with another Hall of Famer in wide receiver Michael Irvin (who suddenly became a different player under his old college coach).
He brought discipline and accountability to the Cowboys, which had been sorely lacking under Landry. The team had become a clown show where the owner didn’t like the coach and ordered he be fired a couple of years previously … but the general manager was more intimidated by the coach and gave him a million-dollar new contract instead.
When Jones basically bounced into the press conference that he was buying the team, he created a ton of pressure for Johnson, who was trying to be as low profile as possible in the situation of replacing Landry.
Fans suddenly took out their dislike for Jones on Johnson, who just went about re-making an entire franchise. There were rough spots with Jones, but it was mainly a pair of egos clashing over who should be getting most of the credit as the team improved year by year.
When it all came together with Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, things boiled over and Johnson was ready to leave and Jones was willing to pay several million dollars to help make that happen.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Johnson coming to the NFL in his five years in Dallas, though, was his ability to change himself and adapt to the professional game. He actually thought in 1990 he wanted to trade Aikman and go with Steve Walsh, but Jones said that wasn’t going to happen.
Johnson, who got a degree at Arkansas in industrial psychology, put that to use and became Aikman’s best friend. Their relationship changed because Johnson changed.
He saw he needed to make some changes and did what he had to do to win games.
After leaving Dallas in the spring of 1994, Johnson worked at Fox a few years before going to the Miami Dolphins where he never was able to duplicate his Cowboys’ success.
Johnson has worked as a studio analyst with Fox since retiring from the Dolphins after the 1999 season because, he said, he was “burned out.”
His NFL career was just nine seasons. The record wasn’t that impressive, but what he did was show the entire league you could trade in draft choices just like a commodity.
Oh, and you could build a championship football team out of rubble in less than five years.