Monday, August 4, 2008

Jimmy Johnson's love for speed and quickness

A friend emailed me some notes he'd taken on Bruce Feldman's book "Meat Market: Inside the Smash-Mouth World of College Football Recruiting."

The book is essentially a biography of Ed Orgeron, a former assistant coach at USC , Miami, and Syracuse, and the head coach at Ole Miss from 2005-07.

It's an interesting book, but I found one passage about Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach at the University of Miami (and the NFL's Cowboys), to be particularly insightful:

It didn’t take Orgeron long to scope out the secret to Miami’s success: Talent. Lots of talent. Starters were understandably reluctant to come off the field in practice because they feared their understudies might never surrender the position again.

From the outset, Orgeron realized that he was in the presence of a master talent scout [in Jimmy Johnson].

Johnson detested stiff athletes. He was one of the first coaches to value speed and quickness over size and strength. Consequently, he was never afraid to turn safeties into linebackers, linebackers into defensive ends, and defensive ends into defensive tackles.

He was big on change of direction. Can a kid turn and run? Or is there wasted motion before he gets cranked up? Johnson sought physically explosive players with explosive attitudes. And he had an uncanny eye for potential. If a kid “flashed,” he had Johnson’s attention, and that could be enough, since the coach figured he could get the kid to play hard once he got him.

If Johnson didn’t believe in his gut that the player could excel, he wouldn’t bring him onto his team. Period. No way. End of discussion.

I remember back in the late 1980s when Jerry Jones bought the Cowboys and hired Coach Johnson to coach the team, which had been on a slide for several seasons.

Johnson and Jones changed the organization's culture, bringing a renewed energy and sense of urgency to the club. It's a good example of an owner and coach working closely to reverse a franchise's fortunes.