A Q&A with Jimmy Johnson: First pitch at a Marlins game, thoughts on UM, Dolphins and more

·6 min read

Jimmy Johnson is a Hall of Fame football coach. He won the National Championship with the University of Miami in 1987 and won the Super Bowl twice with the Dallas Cowboys before coaching the Miami Dolphins for four seasons from 1996-1999.

He’s been part of big moments, including ones where he was Saturday.

“My biggest concern today,” Johnson said, “is if I can get the ball to home plate.”

Johnson, who turned 79 last month, threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Miami Marlins’ first game of a doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves at loanDepot park — which is located at the site of the former Orange Bowl where Johnson roamed the sidelines while with the Hurricanes from 1984-1988.

How did he prepare for the moment?

“I walk every morning,” Johnson said, “and the last couple of mornings, I picked up a rock about the weight of a baseball and I’m throwing the rock to see if I could make it to home plate, which is going to be debatable. I’ve got a fused wrist. I’m 79 years old. So the last two mornings, I’ve picked up a rock and threw it because I’ve seen some of these crazy pitches.”

Johnson got the ball to home plate on Saturday, albeit outside of the strike zone with Marlins relief pitcher Richard Bleier catching.

Prior to his first pitch, Johnson spoke with the Miami Herald for a wide-ranging interview. Here are the highlights.

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson is greeted by Richard Bleier (35) after Johnson throws the games first pitch at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson is greeted by Richard Bleier (35) after Johnson throws the games first pitch at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.

On the day at the ballpark

So, this place looks a little bit different than it did during your coaching days...

“It doesn’t look like the Orange Bowl. I loved the Orange Bowl and everybody that ever played in the Orange Bowl or went to the game there loved it. That stadium was rocking when we had a big game there. There was no better place in the world than being on that field and kicking somebody’s rear end with all the fans screaming and hollering.”

And you did that often...

“We did it quite a few times.”

First time at a Marlins game here?

“This is the first time. It’s beautiful. Really, really nice. I talked to one of my friends who is a big Marlins fan on the phone this morning and he said ‘Oh, it’s great.’ He loves coming to the park, sitting back and relaxing.”

You’ve thrown out a first pitch before, right?

“I threw a first pitch for the Marlins during spring training back when Wayne Huizenga owned the team. He said ‘Always throw it higher than you think it is because if you try to throw it at him, it’s gonna bounce.’ He gave me some good advice. Well, do you know what happened? It still bounced.”

Are you a baseball fan?

“When I was a kid, I did follow baseball. In fact, I was gonna say something to [Marlins manager] Don Mattingly that one of my thrills when I was fairly young, I met Mickey Mantle when he played for the Yankees. But then once I got off to college and got into football and went here, there and everywhere, I kind of started going in a different direction.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson waits to throw the first pitch before the start of the game between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson waits to throw the first pitch before the start of the game between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.

On the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes

On the Miami Dolphins front, what are your thoughts on the Mike McDaniels hire and the state of the team?

“I talked to Chris Grier, their general manager, last week. I told him, ‘Man, you’ve brought in some talent.’ Obviously they haven’t played a game yet, but this may be the most talented Dolphins team since the [Dave] Wannstedt took them to the playoffs [in the early 2000s], which is a long time.

“In professional football, first of all, the No. 1 thing is talent, and they’ve got talent. As I’ve said on Fox NFL Sunday, the 49ers last year with [Kyle] Shanahan — and McDaniel — did the best job of anybody in the league with their run schemes. That will really help as far as Tua [Tagovailoa], being able to protect him and keep the pressure off him to where he can throw the ball to those great receivers.”

And with the University of Miami hiring Mario Cristobal — who you recruited when he was a high school player — what is it like seeing him back at UM and leading the Hurricanes?

“I went by and saw Mario this morning. They had a walkthrough and have a scrimmage tonight. I stopped in and talk to Alonzo Highsmith for a few minutes and talked to Mario. Obviously, it comes down to money. And for the first time ever — even going back to when I was here — for the first time ever, they put money into the program. It’s allowed him to get as quality of a coaching staff as I’ve seen since my guys. Obviously, facilities to where they can compete with recruiting guys. Them hiring Mario, I’m excited. I haven’t been as excited for UM ever as what I am right now.”

Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson throws the first pitch before the start of the game between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.
Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson throws the first pitch before the start of the game between the Miami Marlins and Atlanta Braves at loanDepot Park in Miami on Saturday, August 13, 2022.

On his plans with Fox NFL Sunday this season

Are you going to be in studio? Working remotely? How is that going to work?

“For doubleheaders, I’ll be in Los Angeles [in the studio] and obviously for playoff games and on Veterans day when we go to Doha, Qatar. On singleheaders, I’ll do it remotely from the Keys, and occasionally Sean Payton will jump in my seat.”

Early on, what were the challenges of doing Fox NFL Sunday remotely?

“They don’t like it when I’m not there. They’ve said, ‘Hey, when you’re there on set, it’s a lot better show.’ But at my age, I just don’t want to go to LA every week. At first, when we started doing it remotely, there was a concern because you had to have the camera just right. There was sometimes a little bit of a delay. They ended up running 2 miles of fiber cable to my house to make sure it wouldn’t be delayed. I told them we won’t have a delay if when we go through rehearsal — and we don’t rehearse what we’re going to say, but what we do is Bill Richards, our producer, will say ‘you talk, then you talk, then you talk’ so we don’t talk over each other’ — and if I know when I’m going to talk, if you kind of give me a hint, a word or two, I’ll jump right in so there won’t be a delay. That was in a production meeting. And then, the very first show, Howie [Long’s] talking; I’m ready to talk and Bradsahw cuts in. We just went through the production meeting and couldn’t get it right.”

And, of course...

Any good fishing stories recently from down in the Florida Keys?

“It’s been so hard the last couple of weeks. I’m gonna go lobstering [Sunday] because it’s going to be flat. I was going to go today but I’m doing this. I haven’t been fishing as much the last couple of weeks.”