SI Vault
 
Deep Into His Job
Ed Hinton
September 07, 1992
Jimmy Johnson dived headfirst into coaching the Cowboys, and he won't come up for air until he wins a Super Bowl
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 07, 1992

Deep Into His Job

Jimmy Johnson dived headfirst into coaching the Cowboys, and he won't come up for air until he wins a Super Bowl

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

To their everlasting regret, the Minnesota Vikings made the trade Johnson dreamed up on that run. In return for Walker, Dallas got five players and seven high draft choices, two of which were first-round picks the Cowboys used to trade up so they could draft Emmitt Smith, the NFL's top rusher in 1991, and Russell Maryland, who became a starter at defensive tackle last season.

In all Johnson has made 44 trades since coming to the Cowboys, mostly wheeling and dealing draft picks to accelerate his rebuilding program. In the 1991 draft the Cowboys had seven picks of their own plus 10 picks acquired in trades with 10 other teams, for a total of 17 players drafted in 12 rounds. Johnson makes those picks pay off by joining his staff in probing college campuses for prospects. Johnson believes he and his coaches, as well as scouts, have to size up a prospect themselves, and when Johnson drafts the player, he turns him over to the assistants so they can do their jobs. "He truly gives responsibility," says Wannstedt, "but he expects results." That goes for practice as well as for games. Wannstedt runs the defense, Norv Turner the offense. Johnson takes in the big picture and the tiniest nuances.

"He was probably one of the most underrated coaches in the country when he was at Miami, but he wasn't there long enough for people to realize how good he was," says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, whose team lost four times in five games against Miami while Johnson was the Hurricanes' coach. "I called him a defensive genius after they beat us 31-0 [in 1988]. I guess I always had a lot of secret respect for him."

Scar Head By the vacant lot where the Johnson house once stood runs DeQueen Boulevard, in Port Arthur's old middle ground. The boulevard has a grass median, 10 yards wide. "We'd play tackle football there—no helmets, no pads, with some local kids, the black kids," says Johnson. "I mean, we'd have some knock-down-drag-outs. I've got scars on my head because when you got knocked out-of-bounds you'd go into the street. They were guys I hung around with. Baby Joe and I.E."

C.W. and Allene Johnson and their first son, Wayne, moved from Clarksville, Ark., to Port Arthur in 1942, the year before Jimmy was born. The Johnsons moved into the house on DeQueen Boulevard in 1949, when C.W. left his job as an oil-refinery mechanic to become a supervisor at a local dairy. "It was a company house," says C.W., who could walk right out the back door to the dairy.

At the elementary school for white children, Jimmy's best friend was Jimmy (Max) Maxfield, who dubbed him Scar Head. In junior high Scar Head and Max became partners in a successful "tour" business. Smooth operators, they had gained entrée to several of the better bordellos, whose keepers wouldn't let them partake of the hired help or allow them to drink but thought they were cute and let them look around. "So Jimmy and I would charge other kids 25 cents to take them in for a look at these evil places," says Maxfield, now a pharmacist in Houston. "The whores walked around in little nighties, and they'd come sit on your lap and the kids would go nuts. They were happy to pay the 25 cents for our little tour."

The quarters came rolling in for a few weeks, until one night Scar Head and Max were bringing in a tour group and never made it to the front door. Across the street, on the hood of a car sat C.W., who had suspected what they were up to and followed them. C.W. wasn't the kind of daddy to use the belt. Just the sight of him and a word would do. "I just said, 'Let's see how fast you boys can get out of here and get home,' " C.W. says.

Still, C.W. wasn't always so wise to his youngest son's shenanigans. Once when Wayne was nine and Jimmy was six, C.W. caught them smoking in a movie theater. He took them home, gave each one a big cigar "and made us light 'em up," says Wayne. "Now Jimmy knew how to smoke just as much as I did. But when Jimmy lit his cigar, he started blowing the smoke out the end, rather than drawing on it. Daddy said, 'Aw, Jimmy, you don't even know how to smoke. Wayne put you up to it.' Daddy made me smoke both of 'em, and I got sick. And Jimmy was lying in bed laughing. He knew what he'd done."

Jimmy had his parents fooled into thinking he wasn't a drinker in high school, until the night he forearmed one too many cars. At the time the forearm was the most feared weapon in high school football in the South, and Jimmy would practice his technique on parked cars. "Jimmy would forearm a car once every couple of weeks, just to keep his hand in," says Maxfield. "I once saw him forearm a '56 Chevy—the model that had the big 'V' under 'Chevrolet' on the trunk—and he forearmed it so hard the 'V' flew off, all the way across the street in the air."

But one night, "for some reason this girl kind of infuriated me," Jimmy recalls. "I'd had too much to drink. I went foom! and bashed in her door. She was so upset."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9