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Jimmy Johnson Era Begins For Miami Dolphins

January 12, 1996

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) _ Jimmy Johnson stepped before a mound of microphones Thursday and picked up where he left off two years ago, talking about the Super Bowl.

Only the team had changed.

The Miami Dolphins introduced Johnson as their coach at a news conference in the same room where Don Shula announced his resignation last Friday. It was a swift and smooth transition, as if scripted by owner Wayne Huizenga.

``I thought this was going to be a much longer process than it turned out to be,″ Huizenga said. ``It’s hard for me to believe.″

With just one four-hour meeting Wednesday, Huizenga persuaded Johnson to end his two-year vacation from coaching.

``I saw somebody who wanted to win as badly as I wanted to win,″ said Johnson, the championship ring on his left hand reflecting the glare of TV lights. He added with a smile, ``That’s what got me excited to the point where I even forgot about asking for money.″

Johnson, 52, signed a four-year, $8 million contract, less than expected but enough to make him the highest-paid coach in the NFL.

Shula, who set an NFL record with 347 victories, was the league’s highest-paid coach this past season with a salary estimated at nearly $2 million. Pat Riley of the NBA’s Miami Heat is believed to be the highest-paid coach in professional sports and reportedly will make $3 million this year.

Shula, who is known to have mixed feelings about Johnson, left Thursday for vacation in Phoenix and was unavailable for comment. The team issued a release with comments from a dozen players and others, but no statement by Shula.

Huizenga said he spoke with Shula daily about the search for a new coach, and Johnson said he talked with his predecessor Wednesday.

``Don heartily supports this decision,″ Huizenga said.

``I asked Don for input,″ Johnson said. ``He wants to give input. He’ll do whatever it takes for this organization to be the best. I would think he’ll be a fixture here with the Miami Dolphins forever.″

Shula, frustrated by a team with high salaries, low morale and a disappointing 9-8 record, retired last week to end a 26-year era in Miami.

The new era began with the hiring of a coach who led the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl titles in 1992 and 1993.

``I don’t think this team needs a major overhaul at all,″ Johnson said. ``There’s talent on this team. This team can win. There will be changes _ that comes with the territory. We’ll try to make it a situation where it’s not a rebuilding time.″

Several players welcomed the news.

``It’s a positive step,″ quarterback Dan Marino said. ``He’s a guy that may get us to the point where we can win a championship, and that’s everybody’s goal.″

Backup quarterback Bernie Kosar, who played for Johnson with the Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes, said he believes Johnson will help the Dolphins reach their potential.

``Just talking to him and sitting across the desk from him, and seeing the intensity and the way he’s focused already on this coming year shows he’s not going into this planning to do it halfway,″ Kosar said.

Johnson followed coaching great Tom Landry in a tumultuous transition at Dallas seven years ago. Change came more easily in Miami.

``I’m here to announce today we do not have any tickets available for the Dolphins-Cowboys game coming up this year,″ Huizenga joked before introducing his new coach.

The teams do indeed play in 1996 at Joe Robbie Stadium.

By all accounts, the relationship between Huizenga and Johnson is off to a good start. Their contrasting hair styles _ bald vs. coiffed _ have already become a running joke, and at the news conference Huizenga held up a doctored picture of Johnson with a shaved head.

Johnson likes the talent he inherited from Shula. Along with many other prognosticators, Johnson made Miami the preseason favorite in the AFC, and even after the team barely made the playoffs, he picked them to reach the Super Bowl.

Instead, the Dolphins were blown out at Buffalo in the first round, and Shula decided five days later to retire.

``On the outside, I felt they had the opportunity to go all the way,″ Johnson said. ``I was wrong. On the inside, it’s going to be my responsibility to make the adjustments so we can achieve that.″

Johnson may keep a couple of Shula’s assistant coaches, including Gary Stevens as offensive coordinator.

The third coach in the Dolphins’ 30-year history, Johnson hopes to avoid the growing pains that came with rebuilding teams in his previous jobs. He went 4-7 his second year at Oklahoma State, 8-5 his first year with the Miami Hurricanes and 1-15 his first year in Dallas.

Johnson returns to Miami with his mystique intensified because he’s unbeaten since 1993, spending the past two seasons in television. He won as many NFL titles in five years as Shula won in 33. Only two other active coaches have won a Super Bowl: Bill Parcells and George Seifert.

Miami TV stations interrupted their broadcasts of President Clinton’s news conference to carry Johnson’s announcement live in South Florida. The new coach acknowledged that memories of trips to the White House after his three championships were on his mind.

``When three different presidents grabbed my hand and said, `Congratulations Jimmy, you were part of the very, very best,′ that gave me a special feeling, and I want that feeling again,″ he said.

Colleagues and fans lauded Johnson’s hiring.

``Jimmy Johnson is an outstanding coach who is replacing one of the all-time great coaches,″ said New York Jets coach Rich Kotite. ``The rivalry between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins has always been a great one and with Jimmy taking over at Miami, it certainly promises to continue that way.″

Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher was guarded.

``I’ve had a lot of respect for Don Shula,″ Cowher said. ``Jimmy is a good coach, but it will not change the balance in the NFL. Don Shula also was a good coach.″

Miami fans were elated.

``I think it’s great,″ said Javier Sievers of Miramar. ``I think Don Shula was running out of gas. I think Jimmy Johnson is a guy who is going to spark up the Dolphins.″

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