Football School: Three Things We Learned This Week

Jimmy Johnson. Kirby Lee/USA Today

Jimmy Johnson. Kirby Lee/USA Today

Like many of you, I am a football consumer. And one reason I like this slow period from mid-June to early August is I can catch up on things I’ve been meaning to read, watch, listen to, etc. So from time to time between now and training camp, I’ll share three items I find interesting.

1. Back in March, Peter King revealed that Chip Kelly had been using Jimmy Johnson as a sounding board this offseason. Johnson said one piece of advice he gave to Kelly after Kelly was given full personnel control was to go with players who fit his personality and his system.

The 30 For 30 short on Johnson that focused on the Herschel Walker trade provided further insight into Johnson’s mindset and perhaps what he shared with Kelly.

“I considered trading every player on our roster, everybody, even a player that I loved, Michael Irvin, who played for me at Miami,” Johnson said. “…I didn’t understand the way the NFL worked. But back then, teams didn’t trade that much. I think everybody on our football team realized that anything could happen.”

Per Johnson, the Cowboys made 51 trades in five years, more than the rest of the league put together. The biggest one, of course, was the Walker trade with the Vikings. Why did Johnson make such a bold move with that deal?

“You had to have the system for Herschel Walker for him to be productive,” he said. “I was more interested in the nifty back that could get the big run rather than the power back that was a straight line runner.”

Anyone else notice the irony?

As for Kelly’s team-building approach, I don’t think anyone has an issue with him getting his 53 guys on the roster. The issue is more his willingness to part with talent without getting anything in return. The Walker trade helped the Cowboys acquire draft picks with which they were able to build the foundation of a Super Bowl-caliber team. Kelly, on the other hand, was willing to give away a second-round pick to acquire Sam Bradford.

The situations obviously are far from identical. Johnson’s Cowboys squad needed more work. Dallas was coming off a 3-13 season when he took over. The Eagles were 4-12 prior to Kelly, but they still had some talent and were decimated the previous season by injuries.

“I went into the press conference and said, ‘It was like the great train robbery,’ ” Johnson recalled when discussing the Walker trade. “All the media looked at me like, ‘This guy’s a fool from college. He knows nothing about professional football.

“My attitude was not only confidence, but also a little bit of arrogance of I’m not overwhelmed by this professional football. …At the time when I made the trade, even though I was criticized, I knew I was right.”

The entire documentary is embedded below.

2. The Bill Walsh Football Life on NFL Network is must-see TV. Walsh was initially passed over for head-coaching jobs because Paul Brown told people he would not be able to handle the extreme highs and lows associated with coaching. He went 5-22 in his first 27 games and won only eight games in his first two seasons combined before winning a Super Bowl in Year 3.

Something I did not know: Walsh’s first year as a head coach was Dick Vermeil’s fourth year with the Eagles, and Walsh leaned on Vermeil as he dealt with those early struggles.

“I’m coaching now in Philadelphia, and I’ve finally got my program going, and he would call on Monday,” Vermeil recalled. “I’d be on the phone with him a half hour, would hold up my entire offensive meeting. Hell, there’s a three-hour time zone difference so it’s midnight in Philadelphia and 9 o’clock in San Francisco, and I’m trying to convince him not to jump off the bridge, that he might win next Sunday. Bill, you’re crazy, you’re crazy.”

In his fourth year, even after Walsh had a Super Bowl title under his belt, he was ready to quit because the 49ers went 3-6 in a strike-shortened season, and he didn’t think he had what it took. One summer, he told Dwight Clark that the wide receiver probably wouldn’t make the team, and if he did, he’d have to take a pay cut because he wouldn’t start.

And then my favorite anecdote. Walsh liked to script plays at the beginning of the game. Against the Giants one year, the headsets on his sideline happened to go out. Not as big of a deal since he knew what the 49ers were going to do at the start of the game anyway. But that meant the Giants and Bill Parcells had to put their headsets down too.

“Getting ready to play them again next year in the playoffs, and I said to Bill, ‘These phones go out again to start the game, I’m gonna expose you,’ ” Parcells recalled. “He looked at me with a little wink and says, ‘Just a little gamesmanship.’ And I said, ‘I understand.’ ”

Grown-ups handling a little gamesmanship and competition. No Wells Report necessary. Imagine that.

3. And the final item today comes from Bruce Feldman’s Audible podcast with Daniel Jeremiah of

Jeremiah, a former scout for the Eagles and other teams, recalled the reaction when the Birds selected QB Matt Barkley in the fourth round in 2013.

“Matt Barkley, everybody said, ‘Well, it killed him to come back for that next year because he went from being the No. 1 overall pick,’ ” said Jeremiah. “Well no, no. NFL people who had studied Matt knew his limitations, and he at best probably would have been a high second-round pick coming off that huge year at USC. Won 10 games off probation, he played well. But again, I come back to the fact that he doesn’t have an elite trait – doesn’t have elite size, doesn’t have elite arm strength. Mobility-wise isn’t elite. So those guys don’t go in the first round if you don’t have at least one elite trait.”

Jeremiah nailed it. Just because some draft analysts have a guy as a top pick in January doesn’t mean that’s where the particular player will go.

It’s the same thing with Jahlil Okafor. I heard people say, ‘Back in November, he was the No. 1 overall pick.’ What does that mean exactly? That when the decision-makers were able to gather more information and analyze the situation further, they decided other players were better.

I’m not criticizing the Sixers or Okafor. I’ve been watching summer league like everyone else. But you get the point.

It’s the same idea when we say a prospect slipped to a team and use that as a positive. The teams have more information than anyone else. They are not always right, but if everyone passes on a guy multiple times, there is usually a reason.