As the Dallas Cowboys transition from nearly a decade of disappointment under Jason Garrett to a new regime under Mike McCarthy, many wonder if they'll ever again achieve the success they once had when Jimmy Johnson was at the helm. Many would argue Jimmy Johnson being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is far past due, and you'd be hard-pressed to mount an argument countering their point.
The former Dallas Cowboys head coach took the reins at one of the most tumultuous points in team history, as fans lamented the purchase of the team by Jerry Jones and the subsequent move to fire longtime head coach Tom Landry -- having delivered two Super Bowl wins for the team before things got lean in the late 1980s.
Who did Jones think he was to send Landry packing like that? And did he really believe Johnson could suddenly morph from a collegiate-only coach to one that could dominate at the NFL level??
The first step to answering that question came with the decision to select Troy Aikman with the No. 1-overall pick in the duo's first draft together, joining Michael Irvin -- drafted one year prior. It was a rough go in Year 1 for Aikman, going winless in 11 starts, and with a mountain of "I told you so's" raining down from those who felt they knew the regime change would be a catastrophe. One historic Herschel Walker trade later -- used to acquire pieces like Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, Darren Woodson and the current all-time leading rusher in NFL history, Emmitt Smith -- the Cowboys reversed course and went on to establish a dynasty in the 1990s.
So when Johnson received the surprising news during his coverage of the NFL playoffs that he'd been chosen to join Aikman, Irvin, Smith and others he helped propel to Canton, it was all Aikman could do to fight back tears watching the announcement from a broadcast booth in Green Bay.
Troy Aikman with tears in his eyes as Jimmy Johnson chokes up while talking about how much it means to him to now be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame pic.twitter.com/EZ0YkPRrUr— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) January 13, 2020
One day later, he issued a formal, heartfelt congratulations to Johnson.
"My relationship with Jimmy Johnson spans over 35 years," he wrote in an Instagram post. "He was the first to recruit me out of Henryetta High School when I was 17 [years old] and he was the head coach at Oklahoma State. Two years later, when I was transferring from Oklahoma, he recruited me to the University of Miami. I chose UCLA.
"After turning him down twice, the Dallas Cowboys chose me as the No. 1-overall draft pick in 1989. We had a rough start, went through some difficult times and had stretches when we didn't speak. What I've learned though, in life, is we remember those who make us better. Jimmy made me better but, more importantly, he made the Dallas Cowboys better.
"He was the architect of our 1990s dynasty and as our leader and coach -- he should've been the first to be enshrined. I am so grateful he will have his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Congratulations, coach! You're going to look good in gold! How 'bout them Cowboys!"
Just as emotional was Irvin, who took to Twitter to express his gratitude to Johnson.
"With tears in my eyes, I watched my coach, Jimmy Johnson, get what he so rightfully earned," Irvin wrote. "My coach has turned men into CHAMPIONS on every level. Congrats coach, and welcome to the [Pro Football Hall of Fame]."
Not long after, Smith issued his salute, rounding out The Triplets once again.
"Congratulations to the greatest head coach I've ever played for!" he said. "Welcome to the Hall!"
Johnson, a legendary evaluator of talent and former teammate of Jones' at the University of Arkansas, helped architect a Cowboys team that not only won two Super Bowls during his time in Dallas, but a third following a toxic split from Jones following the 1993 season. While it was Barry Switzer who steered the Cowboys to a third Super Bowl win in the mid-1990s, the accomplishment was and continues to be roundly viewed as Switzer simply keeping the house of cards built by Johnson from collapsing -- until it eventually did just that.
Since parting ways, there has been no love lost between Johnson and Jones, but they've mostly reconciled in the past few years; as evidenced by Johnson congratulating Jones on his Hall of Fame induction in 2017. And with the announcement of Johnson set to join him in immortality, Jones returned the favor, after having also credited Johnson in his HOF induction speech.
"We're so happy that the Hall of Fame recognized Jimmy Johnson for what he is: a great coach," Jones said in a statement. "To Jimmy, I say 'The stars were aligned and our dreams came true when we joined the Dallas Cowboys.' And on behalf of the Dallas Cowboys, and our fans all over the world, I say congratulations, Jimmy. We're proud of you."
There are still questions on if Jones would ever put Johnson in the coveted Ring of Honor, however, but the odds are better now than they've ever been in the past. Whenever Jones does decide to do the right thing, he knows where to find Johnson:
In the Hall of Fame alongside him.