Best of West: No, Jimmy Johnson didn’t praise Jones’ suspect draft

Published 6:01 pm Thursday, April 18, 2013

Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on April 27, 1994.

    The irony was remarkable. Just as I was reaching the spot in my column on the NFL draft where I was going to question Jerry Jones’ statement about Jimmy Johnson supposedly praising his performance, the phone rang. Jimmy was on the other end.

    It didn’t take him long to confirm my suspicions.

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    “Here’s exactly what happened,” said JJ, who was speaking by car phone from Florida. “Jerry called to get a clarification on a trade I’d made with the Raiders last year for Elvis Patterson. Al Davis was telling him that I said we’d throw in a seventh round draft choice if we made it to the Super Bowl.

    “I told Jerry I didn’t recall saying that. Then, just sort of making conversation, I said: ‘Well, I see you got a pass rusher.’ It was just an observation. There was no praise involved.”

    The reason there was no praise, I suspect, is because Johnson is like other football people who can’t imagine Jones giving up a second-round choice to trade up five places for a too small, too slow Shane Carver. According to some opinions, Carver not only would still have been there had Dallas waited to pick at No. 28, he would have lasted into the second round.

    JJ, however, would not be pressed into saying that. Matter of fact, he wouldn’t say anything one way or another about the Carver pick. And he begged off when asked to give an evaluation of the first Dallas draft in five years without his influence. Other than to clarify the “praise” issue, he said he wasn’t going to take any shots at his former boss.

    He said time will tell how the Cowboys did in the 1994 draft.

    While Jimmy took it easy on Jerry, media reviews have been harsh. My first inclination after looking at the Dallas draft was to give it a grade of C or C minus. John McClain in the Houston Chronicle and Richard Weiner in the Houston Post penciled in a C. The Dallas Morning News, meanwhile, gave the Cowboys a D for their draft efforts. That’s D as in depressing.

    Down deep, Jones has to know he pretty much fell flat on his face. That’s probably why he upgraded Johnson’s simple comment to the level of praise when starting to feel heat from the media. Jones, of course, is a master of spin control.

    Or, to put it more bluntly, as was done in an earlier column in this space, he’s a master of dealing out a substance which corresponds to the initials of his new coach, Barry Switzer.

    What we saw in this draft, I think, was the tip of the iceberg on just how much the Dallas organization is going to miss Jimmy Johnson. For all the talk out of Dallas about how the basic organizational team is still in place, about how Larry Lacewell would be able to keep things on an even keel in the personnel department, take it to the bank this would have been a vastly different draft with JJ in the war room.

    Not only vastly different but much better.

    One of Jimmy’s greatest gifts is being able to identify talent. It may be his No. 1 strength. Without taking anything away from Lacewell, he’ simply not Jimmy Johnson when it comes to making personnel decisions. Nobody is. Certainly not Jerry Jones. Jimmy was sorely missed on draft day and he’ll be missed even more in the heat of battle come next season.

    What should now concern Jones, Switzer and the legions of Cowboys fans is that while Dallas has taken a couple of steps back through free agency and a suspect draft, several NFC challengers made significant strides forward. At the front of the list is San Francisco — the Cowboys victim in the last two NFC championship games.

    Other NFC teams who used the draft to further narrow an already shrinking gap with the Cowboys included Minnesota, Buddy Ryan’s Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay. Like San Francisco, those teams had already significantly improved themselves through free agency. Strong drafts speeded up the building process even more.

    In fairness to Jones, it would be unrealistic to cite Johnson’s absence as the reason other teams are getting stronger. Their acquisitions, for the most part, were going to happen anyway. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to assume Johnson’s departure cost the Cowboys a couple of free agents who would have stayed. And, as discussed earlier, Dallas would have come out of the draft better.

    Oh, well, what’s done is done, and Jimmy Johnson certainly isn’t feeling any pain. In the past week alone he signed a $600,000 contract to do the Fox Network’s NFL pre-game show, taped a commercial that’s due out soon and flew to Las Vegas for the Holyfield-Moore fight. Next Tuesday, he’ll be in New York to sign yet another lucrative deal as a contributor to HBO’s weekly Inside the NFL show.

    Adding up the score, then, as the second month of the great Dallas divorce winds down, we find Jerry misses Jimmy a whole lot more than Jimmy misses Jerry. Is anybody surprised?

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at