Insisting that "this time, it's final and forever," Jimmy Johnson resigned as head coach of the Miami Dolphins today, less than 24 hours after his team was stampeded out of the NFL playoffs in a 62-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the worst defeat in franchise history. Dave Wannstedt, the team's assistant head coach, was named to replace Johnson.
Johnson met with his team and his coaches this morning to tell them about a decision he apparently made several weeks ago, when he informed owner Wayne Huizenga that his fourth year as the team's head coach and final authority on all football matters would be his last.
Following the 1998 season, Johnson also had decided to quit, but Huizenga persuaded him to stay. This time, the owner accepted Johnson's resignation and gave Wannstedt, fired as the Chicago Bears' head coach after the 1998 season, a three-year contract.
Johnson, 56, will remain with the team as a consultant on personnel matters, but his involvement will be limited. "He does not want to be under contract," Huizenga said. "He does not want a job. He does not want any day-to-day position. He wants to fish."
Johnson also probably will be pursued as a television analyst. He served as a studio host for Fox for two years before he took the Dolphins job, and there might be interest from all the networks.
Johnson's departure also might leave the door open for the return of Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. He and Johnson had a strained relationship all season, and Marino hinted strongly Saturday that he wants to return for another chance to win his first Super Bowl ring.
Asked about Marino, Wannstedt said: "Dan had a tough year because of some injuries and so forth. Dan and I will talk. What his plans are for the future, I don't know. We'll hold off on the Dan thing."
In a prepared statement, Marino said: "I feel that [Johnson] has built a solid foundation, and that we're not far from being a championship team. I want to wish him the best. I also want to congratulate Dave on being named as head coach. I'm sure he'll do a great job continuing the progress we've made over the last few years."
The Dolphins began the '99 season 7-1, but their 3-7 finish, including two straight losses to end the regular season, led to a backdoor appearance in the playoffs. The Dolphins advanced to the second round by upsetting the Seahawks in Seattle on Jan. 9.
"I've had my time in the sun," Johnson said. "I've had my time in the spotlight. And now it's time to spend time with my family. You don't know how badly it makes me feel that we didn't bring a championship to [Huizenga]."
Huizenga said he turned to Wannstedt, who was 41-57 in six seasons with the Bears, because he wanted continuity.
"We came to the conclusion we had the best guy right here," Huizenga said. "He knows the players, he knows the coaches. He doesn't have to take a year or two to get up to speed."
Wannstedt announced the firing of three assistants today--offensive coordinator Kippy Brown, offensive line coach Rich McGeorge and quarterbacks coach Larry Seiple.
Wannstedt, 47, was not given Johnson's title as general manager, and Huizenga said the Dolphins will consider hiring a new personnel director. However, Wannstedt will have the final say in all personnel decisions.
Johnson won two Super Bowls in Dallas and a national championship at the University of Miami. But despite his pledge to reach the Super Bowl with the Dolphins, he went just 38-31 with two playoff wins and no AFC East titles. By comparison, predecessor Don Shula went 41-28 with three playoff wins and two division titles in his final four seasons before being pushed into retirement.
"We're one of just three teams that made the playoffs the past three years," Johnson said. "We didn't win a championship, but we've got a lot of young talent and we're in great shape with the salary cap. There's no reason we can't move up from here."