DALLAS — Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson said receiver Dez Bryant has yet to prove he’s worth the off-field trouble he’s brought upon himself and the team.
“Time will tell,” Johnson said Wednesday during a press conference at a Dallas hotel. “I don’t think you can say yes or no right now. Up to this point, we don’t know. He’s just a young guy that hasn’t really done it.”
Johnson, who coached the Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, was back in Dallas to speak at the PwC SMU Athletic Forum.
His appearance coincided with the latest controversy surrounding Bryant: a reported set of rules designed to reign in the young receiver’s off-field troubles. The rules, including a curfew and a security detail, were later denied by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Since joining the Cowboys in 2010, Bryant’s off-field troubles have ranged from financial disputes and run-ins with mall security, to a recent charge of domestic violence involving his mother.
For Johnson, who coached the Cowboys from 1989 to 1993, Bryant’s off-field behavior has likely affected his on-field production.
“I think he’s an extremely talented player who’s underachieved, and he’s got to get better. I’m not too sure some of the off-the-field distractions haven’t taken away from his performance. I know he’s had some injury problems, but sometimes that all goes hand-in-hand, too. I think sometimes attitude has a lot to do with whether a guy’s hurt,” Johnson said.
“Everybody’s waiting for him to show what he’s capable of doing. This is just me being an outsider, looking from afar.”
During his tenure with the Cowboys, Johnson was known for treating his star players differently from the rest of the team.
“You had to treat guys different,” Johnson said. “For instance, I could scream and holler at Michael Irvin, when he got out of line, in front of the team. But I couldn’t scream and holler at Charles [Haley] or Emmitt [Smith] in front of the team, because Charles would sull up and go into a shell. My counseling had to be one-on-one with him.”
Johnson indicated he likely would go to the same lengths the Cowboys apparently have to keep Bryant focused on football.
“The type of head coach that I was, I was going to go to the very last mile to give them a chance — if they were talented,” Johnson said, then laughed. “If they weren’t talented, I wasn’t going to. I might not give them a second chance if they weren’t talented. But hey, that’s life.”
Johnson currently shares his football expertise on Sundays as an analyst on Fox’s NFL pregame show. But as a coach, he often made use of his psychology degree.
“You had to treat everybody differently,” Johnson said. “If you’re going to push the right buttons, if you’re going to get the most out of everybody in your organization, then you’ve got to treat them differently. You can’t treat everybody the same because there’s no two people alike.”
Johnson also offered his opinion of current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who was a backup quarterback for him in Dallas.
“I think he went through some growing pains as far as being a head coach,” Johnson said. “A lot of times when a guy’s an assistant coach for years, you don’t realize the decisions and what you’ve got to do as a head coach. It’s a different world, especially in professional football.”
Johnson repeated his belief that head coaches should not be coordinators, too. Garrett calls the offensive plays for the Cowboys. However, Johnson said that ultimately a head coach has to be true to himself.
“I’ve said for years the ideal way is for the head coach to be an overseer, to have his hand in all phases,” Johnson said. “I think Jason’s growing, he’s getting better. And that’s what happens — the more you’re in that job, the better you’re going to be.”
Johnson said he has some great memories of Dallas, where he coached the Cowboys to wins in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII. He cherishes the relationships he had in Dallas, although since a falling out with Jones led to his resignation, he rarely returns to the area.
“When I was coaching here, we were so bad there at first it was just night and day trying to get this team ready,” Johnson said.
“I really didn’t have any activity away from Valley Ranch (the Cowboys’ practice facility). I took my assistant coaches over to On The Border (a chain Mexican restaurant) and we’d have a couple of beers on Friday afternoon, but other than that, I did my TV show on Thursday nights, and that’s the only two times I ever even saw Rhonda (Rookmaaker, his then-fiance and current wife).
“People have asked me, ‘Well, where’d you live?” I said well, four blocks from the complex. I really didn’t get to see much of Dallas when I was here.” Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter:@Keith_Whitmire