The Super Bowl Years Through The Eyes Of Jimmy Johnson

Christian Petersen

They Cowboys of the early 1990's were known for many things, most of all their swagger. That whole attitude originated from the Dallas head coach, Jimmy Johnson.

Self confidence has never been an issue for Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson. From his time as coach of the national champion University of Miami Hurricanes through his time at the helm of the Cowboys, where he helped build the "Dynasty Teams" of the 90s and on into his career as a broadcaster, one of Jimmy's trademarks has been his overwhelming belief in Jimmy and the teams he put together.

As a part of their week-long build up to the 2014 Super Bowl, Fox Sports 1 will be featuring a special interview with the former Dallas head coach (along with their other Lombardi winning analysts Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, and Michael Strahan) which will air on Fox Sports 1 this coming Monday at 7:00 PM. Host Curt Menefee goes "1-on-1" with each of these men and gets their reflections on the Super Bowl experience. Thanks to the generosity of David Harris with Fox Sports, Blogging The Boys is able to share with our community an early preview of what Johnson had to say.

In discussing his first Super Bowl appearance, Jimmy revealed that, despite the importance of the contest that he and the team would soon face, he was more confident of success than at any other time in his coaching career.

"First of all, the first Super Bowl, I don't think I’ve ever coached in any game —college or process [sic]—in a big game where I was as confident as I was in that game. We’d beaten the 49ers two weeks prior and we felt like the 49ers were the best team in football. So once we beat them we said hey we got Buffalo coming on. We’re going to beat Buffalo. The night before the ballgame I told the players, I said listen. This team turns the ball over too much to even come close to us." - Jimmy Johnson

In retrospect, this might sound like some after the fact bravado on the part of the former coach, but those of us who were around back when the Cowboys last dominated professional football can easily see Johnson having those exact thoughts. Johnson always carried himself with an air of supreme confidence and he instilled that in the men who played for him. It was as though he was actually able to will the team's success into happening, and perhaps he did exactly that.

Jimmy Johnson was, and still remains, a devout believer in a concept called the Pygmalion effect. In short, this theory states that the expectations of a teacher (either positive or negative) are likely to cause the leader to act in a manner that makes the fulfillment of his belief more likely. This concept becomes nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophecy. Much of Johnson's coaching philosophy was based on the work of social psychologist Robert Rosenthal and elementary school principal Lenore Jacobson and their theory that a teacher can actually will his/her beliefs into being.

"When we expect certain behaviors of others, we are likely to act in ways that make the expected behavior more likely to occur." -- Robert Rosenthal

Jimmy Johnson was 100% convinced that thanks to his total belief in the abilities of his players, he and his staff would be able to lead the squad to unparalleled levels of success. Based on the results that Johnson achieved during his short time in Dallas, there is little evidence to counter his opinion.

"It’s the Pygmalion effect in psychology, the self-fulfilling prophecy. I know a lot of coaches you know to the media and outwards say oh we don’t have a chance. You know, they’ve got this great team and on and on, but obviously to his players he’s trying to give them confidence. I try to set the expectations for you know any team that I ever coach you know probably a little higher than what they could really go to try to achieve that. If they see that kind of confidence and that kind of swagger in their head, coach…it’s kind of like what Emmitt Smith said before the San Francisco game you know when I made the prediction. He said well, he said coach you wrote the check and now I guess we’re going to have to cash it. You know, it put the expectations on the players that this is what I expected out of them. I believed in them. I believed they were going to win. So it gives them a little bit of confidence." - Jimmy Johnson

Interestingly enough, Johnson had more concerns the second time around. Some circumstances had changedand the coach was not sure how they would impact the outcome. Perhaps his biggest concern was his starting quarterback, Troy Aikman.

"I was really concerned with the second Super Bowl because we only had one week to prepare for the no huddle offense. That was a concern. Also, Troy Aikman had a concussion and had missed some time going into that game. So we knew he wasn’t going to be as sharp, and sure enough he wasn’t sharp going into that game. We got into a little bit of a hole."

The coach did have an ace up his sleeve, however. Even though filming of pre-Super Bowl practices was forbidden, the league would allow cameras for the first ten minutes or so while the players loosened up. Something that Johnson caught from ESPN's use of that bit of film would play a key role in how the Cowboys prepared for their second meeting with the Buffalo Bills.

"And so, we had a practice and I had gone back to the hotel and turned on ESPN. I saw the B-roll of Buffalo warming up. And, you had Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas in shorts just kind of playing around, tossing the ball around. And I looked at it and said that looks like the shuffle pass. I’m thinking you know, wheels started turning. I got to my defensive coordinator, Butch Davis, I said Butch check the computer printouts. Has Buffalo run the shuffle pass? He went and checked everything and said no. He said we looked at film. The entire year they have never run the shuffle pass this year.

I got to thinking back. We had played the Miami Dolphins in preseason.They had run the shuffle pass and really hurt us. I told Butch, I said they’re going to run the shuffle pass against us. I said let’s start practicing against it. Sure enough, three of the biggest plays in the entire bowl—we’re behind early in the game. We’re having a tough time because we only had one week to prepare for the no huddle offense. Well, they ran the shuffle pass. We had three big plays. In fact, the biggest play of the first half, we stripped Thurman Thomas on a shuffle pass. James Washington picks it up, runs it in for a score, and we’re back in the ballgame."

Although his teams won two championships during his tenure and they went on to win a third under Barry Switzer, Johnson still feels that they were capable of winning so much more. Jimmy still stands firm in his conviction that, had he remained on the sidelines in Dallas, the Cowboys would have achieved even greater success. When the topic was broached with Jimmy, the coach replied with typical Jimmy Johnson Bluntness.

"Yeah, I believe. Maybe that’s being a little egotistical. But I think we would have won more Super Bowls."

His foundation for that belief comes from his philosophy on how to deal with a successful program, a tip that he once shared with Bill Belichick after he won his first Super Bowl. Jimmy would not let his players rest on their laurels, instead he always demanded more the next time around.

"Bill Belichick and I talked about this. You know he came down and we’d fish in the offseason together after he won his first Super Bowl. I said Bill, I said you know you're the only guy that’s got the hammer. I said, when you have that kind of success…you know these assistant coaches, they become very comfortable with these players. I had a running back coach, Joe Borski [PH]. It was after our first Super Bowl, and he was just wearing Derrick Lassic, this running back, out—a backup, and not saying anything to Emmitt Smith. This went on for a while. I said Joe, I said you got to coach Emmitt Smith. I said he’s the guy that’s going to determine us winning or losing a game. And Joe says he’s been there before. He knows how to do it. Come Sunday, he’ll do it. Well, that’s the attitude when you've had success.

I told Bill, I said you're the only guy that’s got the hammer for these assistant coaches or these players. You know, and the more success you have the more you've got to demand it out of them. That’s why it’s so hard on the head coach you know winning a first Super Bowl and then winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Terry Bradshaw you know he said coach, he said…before when we were starting out together he said if you would have stayed with the Cowboys that third year you would have let up right—veteran players? I said no. I said I was an SOB that second year, that second Super Bowl. I would have been a bigger SOB the third year. That’s the only way I could get it out of them."

While we will never know what might have been if circumstances had been different, at least Cowboys fans can always recall with pride the dynasty that Jimmy Johnson helped to build. While those days are likely to never come again, there remains a lesson to be learned from the way Johnson ran and motivated his team.

In the course of the complete interview Jimmy touches on many other subjects of interest to Dallas Cowboys fans, including his relationship with team owner Jerry Jones. If you have access to the Fox Sports 1, I encourage you to tune in and watch. Having been privy to not only the discussion with Johnson, but to all of the interviews, I can assure you that there is some fascinating information for any fan of the game.

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