Dallas Sports History: Johnson Era Ends

Jimmy Johnson
c, Head Coach for the Dallas Cowboys looks on from the sideline during the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers on January 17, 1993. | Image by Otto Greule Jr/Allsport/Getty Images

The relationship between Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former college teammate, longtime friend, and two-time Super Bowl champion head coach Jimmy Johnson had its ups and downs while they were working together, and this week in 1994, it reached its boiling point.

Jones had hired Johnson to replace the legendary Tom Landry when he bought the team in 1989. The two had been teammates at the University of Arkansas, and the former Miami head coach, who had won an NCAA title, quickly built a successful team at the pro level. However, while the team went on to become the NFL’s dynasty of the 1990s with three Super Bowl titles, two behind Johnson’s “How ’bout them Cowboys!” rally cry, Johnson’s reign did not last as long as it should have.

On March 29, 1994, just two months after leading the franchise to its second straight Super Bowl title, Johnson quit. It was a surprising move then, but over the years, tales of struggles and a fractured relationship between the two due to decision-making power grew, and it all started to make sense.

“Johnson believed Jones was infringing on his role and often cited his contract, which he believed spelled out that he had control of football operations,” ESPN wrote in a December article highlighting the feud and some decisions that impacted it. “Jones has always reminded people he had the general manager title, and he helped finalize the deal by paying [Herschel] Walker a $1.25 million bonus. He believed he never got the respect he deserved for putting his financial wherewithal on the line to purchase the team, making the money work in the Walker deal, and acquiring [Charles] Haley from the San Francisco 49ers…”

Johnson was replaced by University of Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer, who won a Super Bowl but resigned after the 1997 season. Johnson eventually ended up as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, where he had three winning seasons in four years before ultimately turning to a second career as an NFL analyst for Fox, for which he still appears on the weekly Fox NFL Sunday pregame show during the season.

Much has been made of the relationship between the two men in the years since, but Jones appeared to have extended an olive branch of sorts this season by finally putting Johnson in the franchise’s coveted Ring of Honor during halftime of a December 30 game against the Detroit Lions, after making an official on-air announcement during Fox NFL Sunday weeks earlier.

“I don’t place blame on either one of them,” former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman told ESPN. “I know a lot of people have opinions on it, but I think both were at fault, and both were equally at fault. But I also know they were really good together in how they complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

“I never had a time when I didn’t have an appreciation for his confidence and skill level. Ever,” Jones added of Johnson. “… But, frankly, we were so tight and so strong … we didn’t have a lot of time to talk about the old times when we first got involved. In our first four years, this thing, every day was Pearl Harbor on and off the field. But it was a great atmosphere. Great. Again, his being in our ring of honor does, in my mind, say that.”

Nonetheless, we will never truly know what the Cowboys could have been if Jimmy Johnson had stayed with the team.

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