IRVING — Jimmy Johnson said he wasn’t interested in creating controversy, but he wanted to set the record straight Wednesday about his role with the Cowboys in the years he coached the team.
“The time I was with the team, I had complete and total responsibility over the football operation,” Johnson said in a telephone interview from his home in the Florida Keys. “That meant personnel, the draft, coaches, including the strength coach. Everything.
“It was always in my contract.”
Johnson was reacting to comments owner Jerry Jones made in the wake of the Cowboys’ loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Jones said he ran the Cowboys’ football operation from the day he bought the team in 1989 and would continue to do so.
“When I bought the team, the night I bought it, I said I would be doing what I’m doing and that’s GM the team and making the final decisions on personnel,” Jones said late Sunday night. “That’s the way it’s always been done. We’ve won three Super Bowls doing it that way, so I’m going to do it again.”
Johnson, who coached two of those three Super Bowl teams, and has been widely credited for assembling the talent that twice beat the Buffalo Bills and the team that went on to win a third against the Pittsburgh Steelers under Barry Switzer, agreed that Jones held the title of “general manager” but…
“When we signed that first contract Jerry said, ‘I’ll be in charge of the finances, you’ll be in charge of the football,’ we’ll make history,” Johnson said.
Jones responded in a statement Wednesday night.
“I came into the NFL as the owner and general manager of this team, and one of the first decisions I made in the role of GM was to hire Jimmy as head coach,” Jones said.
“Jimmy and I worked well together. We had great communication, and I have always appreciated what he has done for the organization. I wanted all the input in the world from Jimmy on personnel.
“During Jimmy’s tenure, the authority to hire the players was with the GM. But it was agreed that we wouldn’t bring a player into the organization that he didn’t approve of. We were a team and it worked very well. In our unique circumstances, where the owner and the GM were the same person, in the case of a disagreement — which we never had — the owner had the ultimate authority.”
Jones and Johnson arrived in 1989. The Cowboys won Super Bowls after the 1992, 1993 and 1995 seasons.
“Jerry was trying to pay for the Cowboys those first three or four years,” Johnson said. “That’s the way it was.”
Jones did not respond to an interview request Wednesday.
In a May 21, 1989 Dallas Morning News story detailing Johnson’s authority with the Cowboys, Jones was quoted saying, “Jimmy is coach and chief executive officer of the Dallas Cowboys. Jimmy has the capacity to run major corporations, so he can certainly handle the Cowboys. It’s a unique situation, but he has unique abilities.”
But Johnson said Jones wanted more credit when he realized the business end of the Cowboys was not quite as glamorous as the day-to-day football operation.
“In the third or fourth year, Jerry said, ‘I want to be part of this. Nobody cares how much money I make, they want to know about a second-string guard,’“ Johnson said.
Johnson said when the Cowboys traded with Atlanta for defensive tackle Tony Casillas in training camp before the 1991 season, he was surprised to hear Jones taking credit. Johnson said when he told Jones about the trade, the owner was not familiar with Casillas, who had played at the University of Oklahoma and been the second pick of the 1986 draft.
“I was steamed,” Johnson said.