Johnson quits Dolphins job

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 17, 2000

The Associated Press

Davie, Fla.

Monday, January 17, 2000

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Davie, Fla. – TV cameras clustered at the exit from the Miami Dolphins’ parking lot, hoping to record reaction to Jimmy Johnson’s departure as coach.

Some players stopped and rolled down their windows to be interviewed. Dan Marino left without answering questions, his destination unknown.

Following perhaps the most tumultuous weekend in team history, it’s still unclear whether Marino is headed for retirement.

Johnson called it quits Sunday and was replaced by Dave Wannstedt, but the coaching change did little to clarify the quarterback situation. Wannstedt stammered when asked if Marino, 39 next season, can still win in the NFL.

”Ah, you know what, I … yeah, I mean, Dan had a tough year because of some injuries and so forth,” Wannstedt said. ”Dan and I will talk. What his plans are for the future I don’t know. We’ll hold off on the Dan thing.”

Later, Wannstedt declined to say whether he wants Marino back.

”It’s a very sensitive issue,” Wannstedt said. ”We’re going to do the right thing.”

The Dolphins are hesitant partly because Marino’s salary cap figure will be about $7.5 million in 2000. But after Saturday’s 62-7 playoff loss at Jacksonville, the future Hall of Famer sounded like he wanted to play another season.

”I still feel like I can win games in this league,” Marino said. ”I’ve proven that and will continue to do that. So we’ll see.”

The coaching change slightly increases the likelihood that Marino will return, because Johnson wasn’t expected to want him back. The transition was surprising only because it happened so fast – less than 24 hours after the worst defeat in franchise history ended Johnson’s fourth season at Miami.

Johnson, 56, will remain with the team as a consultant on personnel matters, but his involvement will be limited, owner Wayne Huizenga said.

Wannstedt, 47, signed a three-year contract as the fourth coach in Dolphins history. He went 40-56 in six seasons with the Chicago Bears before being fired in 1998, then joined the Dolphins’ staff.

as assistant head coach.

Wannstedt was also an assistant to Johnson with the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes.

”People are going to find out how great a coach he is,” Johnson said. ”He’s a better coach than I am.”

Johnson was frustrated in Miami by his disagreements with Marino, his feuds with the media and his failure to deliver a championship. Late-season collapses were a perennial problem, and this season the Dolphins stumbled to a 3-7 finish after a 7-1 start.

Johnson told Huizenga of his plan to quit late in the regular season. Unlike a year ago, when Johnson briefly considered retirement, Huizenga didn’t try to dissuade him.

”This time it’s final and forever,” Johnson said. ”I’ve had my time in the sun. I’ve had my time in the spotlight. And now it’s time to spend time with my family.”

The Dolphins are the sixth team to make a coaching change since the end of the season, joining, Dallas, Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets.

At Johnson’s recommendation, Wannstedt gets a second chance. Huizenga wanted continuity and decided against pursuing a high-profile college coach such as Steve Spurrier.

”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.”

The choice of Wannstedt was popular with players.

”That’s a great decision,” said quarterback Damon Huard, the likely starter if Marino retires. ”A lot of guys have a good relationship with him and will be excited to play for him next year.”

Wannstedt said there will be no change in philosophy. But he fired offensive coordinator Kippy Brown, offensive line coach Rich McGeorge and quarterbacks coach Larry Seiple.

”We’ll look at every area of the team,” Wannstedt said, ”and make a decision on the areas where we can improve.”

What that means at quarterback has yet to be disclosed.