This was March of 1994 and I was headed into a luxury hotel in Orlando for a 7 a.m. breakfast with the NFL coaches as part of the annual owners' meeting. As I was arriving, Jimmy Johnson, coach of the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, was leaving. Make that "storming out."
When I walked into the media work room it was only about 6:15 but the Dallas-Fort Worth media were already toiling on a red-alert basis.
It seems Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner, had spent the early hours of that morning drinking and holding court at the hotel bar. Jones made some bombastic pronouncements such as "the Cowboys are such a good team I could have coached them as well as Jimmy did" and "Barry Switzer could have done a better job." Jones played with both at the University of Arkansas.
In a matter of days, Johnson had resigned and Switzer was the new coach of the Cowboys. The moral of this story? Bill Parcells should have known better.
Parcells may know all there is to know about players, but team owners are in an entirely different category. The Tuna was fried to a crisp the moment Jones decided that Terrell Owens, the one-man distraction crew, was just what the Dallas offense needed. The mere thought of another season dealing with the infamous "T.O." convinced Parcells that passing up the final $5 million on his contract was worth putting Owens and Jones in his rearview mirror.
Relations between owners and their coaches can be unpredictable.
In Baltimore the word was that Brian Billick, the Ravens coach, would be gone if they didn't beat Indianapolis in the playoffs. Owner Steve Bisciotti is not enamored with Billick personally since the coach can be insufferably arrogant. It's hard to believe he once worked in the 49ers' public relations department and didn't learn any lessons in how to handle people. In a recent book on the Ravens there is a recounting of an exchange between Bisciotti and Billick after the new owner took charge of the team from Art Modell. "You have some bad habits," the new boss told his coach. "You call me 'young man' as if I were some kid asking for your autograph; you address my wife as 'young lady.' "
The Colts beat the Ravens but Bisciotti doesn't allow personal likes or dislikes to influence his business decisions. Billick is still his coach. Neither does Alex Spanos, the San Diego owner. Marty Schottenheimer made a mess of the Chargers' playoff loss to the Patriots. His team was undisciplined and fell apart in a game it should have won. Schottzy was expected to go but he'll get a season to redeem himself. He could have had a year's extension on his contract at $4.5 million but he turned it down. If the Chargers do roar back, Spanos is likely to reward him for not being greedy.
Then there is the case of Bill Cowher, currently taking a sabbatical after an extremely successful run with the Steelers. Cowher won't be 50 until May 8. In a few years he'll be back in coaching -- count on it.
By then Jerry Jones may be looking for another high profile coach on whom he can lavish a fortune. Cowher should keep this in mind: The Rooney family of the Steelers is the anti-Jerry Jones.
Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.