Former Dallas Cowboys head football coach Jimmy Johnson, right, get wired with a microphone by Larry Rodriguez before filming a commercial outside Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Thursday.AP photo
ARLINGTON, Texas — Jimmy Johnson loves the video boards at Cowboys Stadium right where they are.
Johnson was in the $1.15 billion new home of his former team in June for the first event, a concert featuring George Strait and Reba McEntire, and couldn’t take his eyes off the screens. He returned Thursday to film some commercials and still thinks they’re just fine, even if a punt banged off them during a preseason game against Tennessee last weekend.
“If there’s anything wrong, it’s that people are going to watch the video board and not the game,” Johnson said. “It is so dominating, but I think it’s so cool. I think it’s great.”
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent about $40 million on the boards, which are about 60 yards long, making them the world’s largest high-definition television screens. They hang right over the middle of the field, 90 feet over the turf. While that’s 5 feet above the league’s minimum, the fact they stretch from 20-yard line to 20-yard line makes them a giant target.
Sure enough, one of 14 punts in the preseason game hit it, prompting all sorts of debate about whether a change is needed. Titans coach Jeff Fisher and backup punter A.J. Trapasso — who repeatedly hit the boards during warmups, then for real in the third quarter and almost did it again on his do-over — have said the screens need to be raised.
“Who knows, Jerry might’ve put them up to it so people will talk about it,” Johnson said, laughing.
Actually, Jones has been adamant about keeping the boards in place. A change would be expensive, of course, but Jones also is defending the reason he put them at 90 feet to begin with — the fact most punts are aimed toward a sideline. Johnson agrees, citing the same reason.
“Once the regular season starts, I don’t see it being an issue because I don’t think you’ll have punters trying to punt the ball straight up to try hitting the video board,” Johnson said.
The Cowboys will play San Francisco in a preseason game Saturday night.
Will 49ers punter Andy Lee take aim at the boards?
“Maybe in warm-ups,” he said.
As for the game, Lee said he’ll be more concerned with putting the Cowboys in the worst field position he can.
“You have to go out there and not change anything,” Lee said. “Otherwise you might start messing things up. I’m trying to get ready for the regular season.”
Twenty years ago, Johnson made the leap from coaching the University of Miami to replacing Tom Landry as coach of the Cowboys. Dallas won only one game that year, but won Super Bowls following his fourth and fifth years. Then he clashed with Jones and was gone. (The former college teammates are on good terms again, as evidenced by Johnson sitting with Jones at the Strait-McEntire concert.)
Now Johnson is heading into his 10th straight season as an NFL analyst for Fox. With that league-wide perspective, he considers the Cowboys among the teams to beat this season.
“I think they’re good enough to win the whole thing,” Johnson said. “But I think there’s 10 teams that are talented enough to win the whole thing if they stay healthy and if they don’t make the mistakes and if they get hot at the right time. I don’t think this team is as talented as they were a year ago but they could be a better team.”
Cutting Terrell Owens removed some of the talent and much of the turmoil. It also turned Roy Williams into Tony Romo’s No. 1 receiver, which has drawn skepticism from several players of Johnson’s era, most notably Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
Johnson’s take: “I haven’t seen enough consistency out of Roy Williams to go out on a limb.”
Williams had one big season in four full years in Detroit. Dallas traded for him in the middle of last season and he had 19 catches and one touchdown in 10 games.
“Any player in Detroit could be misevaluated,” Johnson said. “If a team is not winning, it’s hard for me to give credit to an individual who makes plays.”