Jimmy’s first head coaching job, at Oklahoma State, lasted five years and culminated with a win in the Bluebonnet Bowl in 1983. This for a program that had been playing football since 1901 and had been to eight bowl games. So the Bluebonnet Bowl was a pretty big deal. Rather than stay around for the next challenge – helping insignificant OSU compete for a Big 8 conference championship against national powerhouses Oklahoma and Nebraska – Jimmy jumped ship for a job at the University of Miami.
Success is cyclical, and Jimmy had a habit of leaving franchises in successful times with the needle still pointing upward. As a result, everywhere he went, Jimmy would leave wins on the table. His successor at Oklahoma State, Pat Jones, would go to four bowl games in the next five years. Jimmy had some success, then Jimmy left. The dean of students didn’t force him out. He just left.
Jimmy took over a national champion in Miami. He endured three straight bowl losses before winning a national championship in 1987. After failing to repeat in 1988, Jimmy jumped ship again. Five years at OSU; five years at Miami. Patterns. His final year with the ‘Canes marked a grim lesson in the psychology of sports fans – Johnson would go 11-1, including a convincing 23-3 Orange Bowl win over Nebraska, but the season was considered a disappointment because Miami finished second to Florida State in the national rankings.
Success at the University of Miami had become very narrowly defined. Anything less than a national championship would be a failure. So Jimmy bolted and, again, he left wins on the table. His successor at Miami, Dennis Erickson, would win two national championships in the next three years. Jimmy’s exodus had little to do with the demands of an overzealous booster club; it wasn’t because the university president was an egomaniac. Jimmy left because that’s what Jimmy does.
Before Jimmy ever got to Dallas he had displayed a pattern of leaving town amid swelling expectations and the pressure to perform. He would do the same thing in Dallas after helping to build a back-to-back Superbowl winner. Again he left wins on the table, as his successor in Dallas, Barry Switzer, would win a Super Bowl two years later.
Surely Jimmy’s experience in Miami taught him that anything less than a third straight ring in Dallas would be viewed as a failure. Better to leave town a martyr. Fortunately, an unwitting Jerry Jones makes for a very serviceable Pontius Pilate.
We couldn’t understand why Jimmy would leave the Cowboys when they were so well-positioned to enjoy continued success, but Jimmy did that everywhere he coached. Jimmy walked out with the organization’s needle still pointing upward, just like he did at Oklahoma State and Miami. He left wins on the table in Dallas, just like he did at Oklahoma State and Miami.
It’s been 20 years, Cowboys fans. Time to see Jimmy for what he is – a brilliant coach with a five-year shelf life. Five years at OSU, five years with the ‘Canes, and five years in Dallas. They were a great five years. So what if they were all he had to give? The Cowboys were lucky to get them. I don’t blame Jimmy for leaving, because Jimmy can’t change who he is.
And I don’t blame Jerry because, well, Jimmy can’t change who he is.