In March 1989, after he took the job as coach of the Cowboys, Jimmy Johnson asked veteran NFL coaches for advice. He wanted some tips. He wanted to do things right. Says Johnson, "Here's one thing they all told me: Make sure you get as much control as you can over the personnel side of the team."
So look at him now. Jimmy scouts, Jimmy drafts, Jimmy cuts, Jimmy coaches. No other coach in the league has as much power as the 3-18 Johnson. Although Cowboy owner Jerry Jones lists himself as president and general manager, he has such wide-ranging trust in Johnson that he allows his former college roommate to make almost all the football decisions—including trades—for the club.
When the season ends in December, Johnson will pack up reports prepared by team scouts and take his staff to six college all-star games. Beginning on Feb. 1, the coaches will analyze film of the Plan B players and sign the ones who might help the team. On Feb. 6, the coaches and scouts will meet at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, where the top 300 college seniors will be on display for five days. In March and April, Johnson & Co. will fan out to campuses across the country to interview and test prospects. By mid-April, Johnson and his scouts will have graded all the college players who will be entering the draft. Then he will grade them all over again with his coaches and merge the two lists. On draft day, April 21, all coaches and scouts will have input, but Johnson will have the final say.
In the next three or four years, it should be clear whether Johnson used his power wisely. "Actually, we ought to know by 1992," he says.
That's because Dallas has a total of 13 picks in the first three rounds of the '91 and '92 drafts. The Cowboys have four high choices coming from the megadeal that sent Herschel Walker to the Vikings a year ago this Friday, three from dealing quarterback Steve Walsh to the Saints three weeks ago, one from a swap of draft picks with the Chargers last April, plus five of their own. The 1991 draft should be particularly fruitful. Dallas has three first-round selections, and all of them could come fairly early, because in addition to their own, the Cowboys, who are 2-3, have the picks that belonged to the Vikings (1-4) and the Saints (1-3).
The Walker trade, Johnson says, "set us up to have the chance to get some impact players." Minnesota general manager Mike Lynn says he would still make the trade today, even though it cost him seven high picks and five players. He says that if the Vikings reach the Super Bowl with Walker, then the deal will have been a good one. But Minnesota is 8-9 since the trade and Walker has averaged only 56.8 yards rushing per game.
It'll be a good deal for Dallas if Johnson's all-encompassing job of rebuilding the Cowboys works. He thinks that's the only way to get the job done. "I want our coaches to scout players because I want them to be comfortable with the players they get," he says. "And I don't want to have a personnel guy sitting next to the owner on Sundays saying, 'Well, we drafted good players, but the coaches can't coach 'em.' "
DUPREE FOR FREE
If former Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree succeeds in his comeback attempt, it will be a story for the ages. "It would be like The Natural, wouldn't it?" says Ram coach John Robinson. Last week the Rams signed Dupree and placed him on injured reserve, which means he won't play for at least another four weeks. "We feel he needs to be scrutinized under some pounding and some stress," says Robinson.
After gaining 239 yards in the 1983 Fiesta Bowl as a Sooner freshman, Dupree quit the team after five games of his sophomore season because of conflicts with then Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer. In March 1984, Dupree signed with the New Orleans Breakers of the now-defunct United States Football League and played in 14 games. But in the first game of the '85 season, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and was told he would never play again. Dupree went home to Philadelphia, Miss. His weight ballooned to 270 pounds. His marriage failed. He spent a week in jail for failing to make alimony and child support payments. Until last week, Dupree says, he hadn't stepped on a football field in 5½ years.
Last January, he began working out again in earnest, for what will probably be his only shot at the NFL. "Every day I went out there and sweated and threw up, and I just said it's going to be worth it one day," Dupree says. In April he called his former USFL coach, Dick Coury, now the Ram quarterback coach, and asked if he could have a tryout if he got in shape. Coury said yes, and last week Dupree, now 26 and weighing 219 pounds, impressed Coury and Robinson enough to earn a contract.
Now Dupree will have a month to show the Rams if he can be the player he was for a short time at Oklahoma.
A RAID ON THE RAIDERS
Raider boss Al Davis was pacing in disbelief Sunday night, after the Bills had worked their fourth-quarter magic for the second week in a row. Buffalo scored 24 points in a span of 6:03 of the quarter—completing a 42-yard pass play, blocking a punt, recovering a fumble and stripping the ball from Raider wideout Willie Gault—to erase a 24-14 deficit and secure a 38-24 victory that knocked L.A. (4-1) from the unbeaten ranks.
"When the clock strikes four [as in fourth quarter], everybody's eyes light up," said Bills linebacker Darryl Talley. A week earlier, Buffalo scored 20 points in a span of 1:17 of the fourth quarter and defeated Denver 29-28.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Jet defensive coordinator Pete Carroll credits college coaches for spurring the move toward more wide-open offenses—and not just the run-and-shoot—in the NFL. "A lot of the ideas are coming from guys like Dennis Erickson at Miami and John Jenkins at Houston," says Carroll. Even the Giants, one of the most conservative teams in the league, are opening up their offense on passing downs, using three wideouts and usually putting backs Dave Meggett and Rodney Hampton in motion as slot receivers. Several other teams are using five-receiver formations with no running back in the backfield.
"Dealing with a passing situation, you want to get five guys out anyway," says Erickson. "Our thought is, by motioning the back out, you get five receivers in position before the ball's even snapped." By the way, Erickson is being mentioned by general managers as a future NFL coach.
THE END ZONE
The Colts are trying to kiss and make up with Eric Dickerson, who was fined and suspended by the team (costing him $634,375 in salary) for failing to report to training camp and refusing to take a physical. Not only arc the Colts talking about signing Dickerson to a three-year, $6.5 million contract extension, but they're also making him a part of history.
The Heritage Preservation Center in Indianapolis asked Colt general manager Jim Irsay to write a letter to be included in a time capsule that was sealed Sunday in Indianapolis and will not be opened until 2090. In the letter, Irsay writes of his hopes for a cure for AIDS. He writes of his hopes for the environment. And he writes about Dickerson.
"Believe me," Irsay writes, "he was something to see on Sunday afternoons at the Hoosier Dome. He was the greatest runner the game has ever seen."
THE WEEK THAT WAS
The Sam Wyche traveling locker room circus came to Anaheim on Sunday. It's a pity the Bengals and the Rams had to spoil it with a terrific passing show. Boomer Esiason, who had said before the game that the clamor over a woman's place in the locker room had made it the toughest week of his pro career, came up very big, throwing for 471 yards—the 10th-highest total in league history—in lifting Cincinnati to a 34-31 overtime victory. Ram quarterback Jim Everett held up his end of the air show, passing for 372 yards. The combined stats for the two passers:
Chargers at Jets. Beathard versus Steinberg. Two high-profile general managers, Bobby Beathard and Dick Steinberg, took over two low-profile teams, San Diego and New York, respectively, after both clubs had miserable seasons in 1989. The two have been pals since 1969, when Beathard, who was a scout for the Falcons at the time, quizzed Steinberg, who was an assistant at Kansas State, about pro prospects on the Wildcat team. "What I like about Bobby," says Steinberg, "is he's got absolutely no fear of failure. If a trade doesn't work out, hey, life goes on."