Saturday, September 26, 2009

Jimmy Johnson talks about Tony Romo

Who loves you, Tony Romo? The Jimster, for one

McClatchy Newspapers

In these desperate football times, when the heavy clouds of quarterback doubt swirl, when the Tony Romo bandwagon is now orange-stickered in a ditch out there on Texas I-30, and with only my man Babe Laufenberg standing on the shoulder, still trying to wave down a friendly face . . .

The logical question is always this:


Just wondering. What Would Jimster Do?

The answer came Thursday in a phone call to the Florida Keys. And for a former head coach who treated turnover-prone players as if they were Taliban, Jimmy Johnson surprised me. No, actually, he shocked me.

"I watched the Giants game," Jimmy said. "Like everyone else, I couldn't believe what I was seeing there a couple of times with Tony.

"But if I were still coaching today, I'd want Tony Romo to be my quarterback. I know everybody is down on him right now, but I am 100 percent sure he can be a big winner in this league.

"Absolutely no doubt in my mind you can win what you want to win with Tony. He'd be my quarterback."

After three picks like the other night, and those being a major factor in a loss, Romo might also be a dead quarterback if Jimmy were coaching him.

But it's by far the nicest evaluation anybody even remotely connected with the NFL has had this week about Romo. Coming from Jimmy, who would have thunk it?

Actually, Johnson was working Thursday on a Romo sermon to be delivered Sunday morning from the Fox pulpit on the popular NFL pregame show. And on his way Thursday to the California studios, he will be a local visitor, stopping over in Grand Prairie, Texas, for a charity fundraiser.

Just a thought, but Jerry needs to make a call, and since Johnson is in town anyway, ask him to stop by Valley Ranch for a private come-to-Jimmy meeting with Romo.
The what-to-do-about Romo question currently looms very large.


"First, this has nothing to do with his talent," Johnson said. "Tony has the talent. More talent, I'd argue, than Eli Manning. But who was the best quarterback Sunday night?

"Since we know it's not about ability, obviously it's about confidence. And I'll hear a hundred 00 people jump up and say, 'Hey, Tony is the most confident guy in the world.' Yes, but he's so confident, he takes unnecessary risks. That gets you and him beat."

Jimmy also added more on that Romo Mojo thing, and the "confidence factor:"

"There are different degrees involved when you talk about that," he said. "Why is Tony gangbusters in the games you know you can win, and then does what he does in the bigger games against tougher teams? Is that really confidence? Can he sink the 8-ball when the money is on the table?"

Obviously, Jimmy doesn't buy the gunslinger mentality bringing down Romo, or that he's a talented tease who will never overcome his small-college breeding. Both are very popular local theories at the moment.

"What I see is a quarterback who is pressing when the spotlight is bigger," Johnson said.

What sounded to me like a serious indictment - Romo chokes - Jimmy's answer was, "No, not at all."

Johnson said if he were coaching Romo, he'd have a 1-2-3 plan.

(1) He is well-prepared. "From what I hear," said Jimmy, "that's not an issue. Tony will work."

(2) Pull back the game plan against stronger opponents. Don't put the game in Romo's hands. "And I don't mean he needs to be a bus driver. He doesn't need to be Trent Dilfer," added Johnson. (Actually, I thought he was talking bus driver.)

(3) The bigger the game, the simpler the game plan. "That's not just about the quarterback, that's overall," said Jimmy. "People used to tell me, the bigger the game, the more wrinkles you add. No, the bigger the game, the simpler you get.

"The wrinkles are for the teams you know you can beat, so you can take a chance in those. The big games are about the team that makes he fewer mistakes. So keep it simple."

The bottom line from Johnson is that, since Tony doesn't have success in big games, for now give him fewer responsibilities.

Jimmy: "That can only work if you have a good team, and I think the Cowboys are talented enough to be called a good team. But how many times, like against the Giants, do they beat themselves?

"Let Tony start winning some of these spotlight games, or a playoff game, and you will see his confidence build. That's only natural. Once that happens, you've got something, because you've got a talent there. But first, I'd lighten his load in the game plan."

And that's not a bus driver, right?

"No, Tony is a Corvette quarterback," said Jimmy. "But for now, he needs to be driving the speed limit against certain teams. There's a lot of engine there, but stay off the gas pedal. Then up ahead (against weaker teams), when there's an open stretch of highway, you can get down on it.

"I know Tony has got a lot of fans frustrated, but the kind of quarterback who frustrates me is the talented guy who won't change or won't listen. I think Tony will do what you ask him to do. He's a team guy first. So I'd tell him what I want him to do.

"That's why I said he could be my quarterback. I'd take him right now. I believe Tony is going to be a winner."

In these dark times, a brief message of hope. Now we know. WWJD?