Jimmy Johnson was asked if he ever considered getting back into college coaching and responded by taking out his phone and scrolling through his pictures.
”There’s where I live on the ocean,” he said. ”What I spend my time doing is …”
And Johnson showed the small crowd gathered around him a photo of himself and a 250-pound blue marlin he caught one morning, fishing by himself off the coast of Florida.
”They realize now I’m not coming back,” said Johnson, who went 52-9 and won the 1987 national championship in five years at the University of Miami before leaving to become coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
That’s OK, Jimmy. You’ve done enough to be a College Football Hall of Famer.
Johnson was part of a class of 17 former players and coaches selected for the hall by the National Football Foundation and announced Tuesday at the Nasdaq stock exchange in Times Square.
”While winning back-to-back Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys was rewarding, the most fun I had in football was in college,” Johnson said.
The other coaches to be inducted in December are Phillip Fulmer, who won the first BCS title in 1998 with Tennessee, and R.C. Slocum, the winningest coach in Texas A&M history.
Ty Detmer, the record-breaking 1990 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for BYU, led a group of 14 players heading to the Hall of Fame.
Steve Bartkowski, who played quarterback at California from 1970-72, joined Johnson at the news conference in Manhattan. He said the call he received from NFF President and CEO Steve Hatchell to let him know that he had been selected to the Hall of Fame caught him totally off guard.
”When Steve called last week to inform me, I thought he had the wrong number,” said Bartkowski, who led the nation in yards passing as a senior and was drafted first overall by the Atlanta Falcons. ”It’s absolutely an honor.”
The rest of the class includes receiver Art Monk of Syracuse; tight end Dave Casper of Notre Dame; tackle Jonathan Ogden of UCLA; running backs Charles Alexander of LSU and Otis Armstrong of Purdue; quarterback Tommy Kramer of Rice; defensive backs Scott Thomas of Air Force and Greg Myers of Colorado State; split end Hal Bedsole of Southern California; defensive end Gabe Rivera of Texas Tech; linebacker Mark Simoneau of Kansas State; and guard John Wooten of Colorado.
Johnson, who has become a fixture working as an NFL analyst for Fox, spent five seasons at Oklahoma State before replacing Howard Schnellenberger at Miami in 1984. He coached two College Football Hall of Famers – defensive tackle Russell Maryland and defensive back Bennie Blades – and at least one more eventual honoree in 1986 Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde.
He left Miami after the 1988 season for the NFL.
”It was a challenge,” Johnson said. ”I think that’s why coaches leave college to give professional football a shot. The challenge. Their own egos. And that’s what it was for me.
”I told the team this is not really something I want to do. This is something I have to do just for my own ego.”
It worked out just fine, of course. He’s got the sparkling Super Bowl ring to prove it. Johnson built another dynasty in Dallas and had some success with the Miami Dolphins, but it wasn’t the same in the NFL.
”You’re more than a football coach (in college),” he said. ”I was in my office with young kids … being homesick. Young kids that had financial problems. Young kids that had academic problems.
”They thought they came there to get ready for pro football, but then they realized they had to get ready for life. It’s a lot more than Xs and Os.”
Johnson’s teams won with attitude. The Hurricanes were a brash, trash-talking bunch that became the team everybody loved to hate in the 1980s and ’90s.
”A lot of people didn’t like our approach because they had what we called a swagger,” he said. ”Our guys were disciplined. I didn’t let our guys get away with being penalized. They were confident and maybe they were free-spirited but they were good kids. Our guys got their diplomas.”
Johnson said his best Miami team was the 1986 squad with Testaverde and defensive tackle Jerome Brown that lost the Fiesta Bowl and national championship to Penn State.
The Hurricanes arrived in Arizona wearing camouflage and talking tough, but they turned the ball over seven times and lost 14-10 to Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions in a game they dominated from the line scrimmage.
Johnson called it the most devastating loss of his career – college or pro.
”It probably gave me the determination to be a better coach,” he said.
The next season Miami ran the table and won the title. The following year Miami lost only once, at Notre Dame 31-30, when Johnson went for 2 late instead of a tying extra point that might have given Miami another national title. The game was also famous for a controversial fumble call at the goal line involving Miami running back Cleveland Gary.
Johnson said he’s happy to see college football heading toward a playoff system.
”If we would have had playoffs at Miami, I probably would have had another couple national championships,” he said. ”If we would have had replay, we’d probably had another one that Notre Dame won, but that’s another story.”