Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stepping into the Middle JJ Faces Tall Task in Miami

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Stepping into the Middle JJ Faces Tall Task in Miami

Article excerpt

DAVIE -- The hair is stiff, but the man in the shorts and knit

shirt is not. He jumps. He crouches. He cusses, grimaces and

peers. He scowls.

And Jimmy Johnson is not happy. Not yet.

It is a sunny, South Florida morning, and it is hot, and until

now, for the first 20-25 minutes, Johnson scarcely has noticed

practice. The Miami Dolphins have been running the same drills

all NFL teams run early in training camp practices -- passing,

stretching; dull, boring.

Johnson ignored these. He spoke on the sidelines with men

dressed similarly, coaches and team administrators. Dan Marino

threw passes on one side of the field. Johnson stood looking

away, discussing who knew what.

Until now.

Now, it's time for what Johnson calls his "middle drill." The

media, usually corralled far away from the action at the

Dolphins' Nova University training site, is herded to the far

end of the field for a close view.

"That's my favorite drill," Johnson said later.

Media dictates public perception, and this is how the first man

other than Don Shula to coach the Dolphins since 1969 wants to

be perceived.

Lines collide. A back runs into the collision. The toughest win

this drill. There is violence, but more noticeable is Johnson.

He is back, in his element. He is in Miami after a two-year

absence from the NFL, coaching in the only job he said he would

have come out of retirement to hold.

He shows off, yelling. With South Florida's cameras running, he

embarrasses players. This is how he will be perceived: tough,

crazy, confident. A lunatic. The savior. A winner? Maybe not

this year. Eventually. Without question. That's what he'll tell

anyone who will listen. It's what he believes. He is, finally,

out of the television studio and on the sidelines, hating what

he sees, and loving it, too.

He hates what he sees because what he has seen during training

camp is not a team, as he said in March, that "is the team to

beat in the NFL." He loves what he sees because, although it is

not the NFL's best team, it his team, which is something he

missed.

The middle drill is at the core of a very healthy self-image.

It is a drill where salary and reputation matter little compared

to whether a player stands or lands on his rear when it's over,

which is the attitude he wants.

"He's a guy who puts people on the field that might not get the

press or anything, but they make plays," said Daniel Stubbs, a

Dolphins defensive end who played for Johnson at the University

of Miami. "Some coaches go by hype, or potential. With him, if

you don't show it on the field, you're not going to get out

there."

That, Stubbs said, is why Johnson is respected. It's why Dallas

won Super Bowls after the 1992 and 1993 seasons. That, Stubbs

said, is why Johnson will build a champion in Miami. That,

certainly, has been his philosophy since he was hired in January.

The Dolphins, last year, were the antithesis of the team

Johnson coached in Dallas. The Cowboys were young, arrogant and

talented, but they were a team -- and there was only one reason

to play, winning the Super Bowl. All coaches love winning.

Johnson craves it, and unlike some, doesn't mind discussing it.

"I like to compete," he said. "I like the camaraderie with the

coaches and players. I like being on that field. I liked the

feeling I had when we won it all in Pasadena [with Dallas]. I

remember [Cowboys quarterback] Troy [Aikman] coming off the

field in the third or fourth quarter, and I asked, `You've

thrown four touchdowns passes. …

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