Jimmy Johnson, the new coach of the Dallas Cowboys, rises from his table in the little Italian joint around the corner from the Cowboys' training center, and the bar comes alive. Everyone in the place has been sneaking peeks at this chubby guy from Port Arthur, Texas, who made a name for himself at the University of Miami before replacing a legend, Tom Landry. What did he eat? Caesar salad and stuffed egg-plant. Hmmm. And drink? A Heineken over ice. Must be some kind of Miami thing.
He's wearing a dark pin-striped suit, a white shirt with blue stripes and a conservative red tie—banker's clothes. Everyone checks the carefully groomed hair, the hair that was the subject of so many one-liners when the press and everyone else in town was lashing out in anger over the way Landry got dumped on Feb. 25, right after oilman Jerry Jones, who was Johnson's roommate and teammate at Arkansas, bought the Cowboys for a reported $140 million. Johnson has a ruddy, almost jolly-looking face, but the eyes are hard and penetrating.
Now Johnson is ready to leave, and the whoopees start.
"We're with you, Jimmy!"
"Give 'em hell, Jimmy!"
Then softer and grumpier, an old-timer's voice: "Just win more than three, Jimmy."
He can probably do that next fall, but don't expect a playoff season or even a winning record from the 1989 Cowboys. "There are no quick fixes," says Dallas's former offensive coordinator Paul Hackett, who last month was demoted to his current position, special projects coach, by Landry. "You could see 10 to 15 new faces on that football team."
Johnson has been on the job for less than three weeks. He has had his meals sent in to his office. He has been out to eat twice—at the Italian joint. Home is a condo rented by the team, 3½ blocks from the Cowboys' complex. His wife, Linda Kay, and their two boys are in Miami, where she is trying to sell a house the family bought seven months ago. The house was redecorated, but the Johnsons never got to live in it.
His staff consists of six of his assistants from the University of Miami, four Cowboy holdovers, offensive coordinator David Shula, who was brought in from the Miami Dolphins, and quarterback coach Jerry Rhome, who was with the San Diego Chargers. They have been working late and on weekends, trying to learn the personnel, breaking down game tapes. "You know, one of the Dallas people told me the coaching staff went home for dinner every night during the season—every night," says Johnson.
And his staff? "C'mon now," he says.