I’ve long thought that several key moments mark the precipitous and premature collapse of the 90s Cowboys, the greatest, deepest team this sport has ever seen: the departure of Jimmy Johnson; Michael Irvin’s suspension to start the 1996 season; the signing of Deion Sanders. In recent weeks, however, another moment has been added to this disappointing litany, one that received precious little press coverage at the time: the firing of strength coach Mike Woicik. Woicik was fired six weeks after he chewed out Barry Switzer following a November tilt against the Packers in which Switzer had Dallas kicker, Chris Boniol, kick a record-tying but meaningless field goal late in a game in which the Cowboys enjoyed a sizable lead.
Woicik had been in the Cowboys’ employ from 1990 until his dismissal early in 1997. Now that he has been rehired, numerous players from those 90s teams have come forward to praise his work. Michael Irvin is on record as saying that Woicik was a key element--the engine--driving the Cowboys’ dynasty; this weekend, the Dallas Morning News caught up to Daryl Johnston, who shared a similar opinion:
He came in and changed the weight room and changed the program....He raised the expectations. He created accountability. I laugh because you'll hear a team say we have 85 percent participation in our offseason program. We had 98, 99 percent every season....The guys enjoyed being around….I think it was critical element of the success that we had.
More on Woicik after the jump..
As has been well-documented, prior to Woicik’s arrival at Valley Ranch, the Cowboys had an antiquated system: an outdoor space with crusty, old weights. Woicik pushed Jerry Jones to invest in state-of-the-art equipment. Thus, as Jimmy Johnson built his team, Woicik built them up. As Emmitt Smith remarks, in his inimitable style, "If there is a player in that locker room who questions that man's ability to build great football players physically, that player shouldn't even be on the team."
After leaving the Cowboys, Woicik worked for the Mike Ditka-coached Saints before landing in New England, where he was one of Bill Belichick’s first hires. In his eleven years working with the Patriots, he earned three more rings. As Johnston points out: "Only two teams have won three Super Bowls in four years and he was the strength coach for both of them. And I don't think that is by coincidence."
In 1997, about a year after Woicik’s dust-up with Switzer, Tim Green, the former Falcons defensive-end-turned-radio-personality, published what proved to be a best-selling insider’s view of professional football, The Dark Side of the Game: My Life in the NFL. Green devotes an entire chapter of his book to Woicik, who he terms "the most valuable man in the NFL." In it, Green quotes former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson saying in 1994, "If I do ever get back into coaching, the first phone call I make after I get the job will be to Mike."
Like Belichick, it appears Jason Garrett is a historian of his sport. And, like both Belichick and Johnson, one of his first calls was to Woicik. It remains to be seen whether Woicik will enjoy the same success with Dallas 2.0 as he had during his first stay in Big D, but, I have to admit, I like the precedent that he's set. So do his former players. And, apparently, so does Garrett.