Jimmy Johnson needs no introduction to any football fan. The current Fox analyst is the rare coach to achieve multiple championships at both college and professional level and is best known for his University of Miami and Dallas Cowboy’s teams.
Johnson previously wrote a memoir back in the middle of his coaching days in 1993. Swagger, written years after he retired from coaching, isn’t a typical memoir and sets out much of Johnson’s life and career in fairly broad strokes. Instead, Johnson zooms in and out on different chapters of his life while building the broad narrative of a man who worked harder than anybody at coaching football at the expense of, and to the detriment of, his family.
The book combines reflections on Johnson’s most famous teams and relationships with the lessons Johnson learned along the way and the knowledge which he know imparts on (seemingly) anyone in football willing to visit him (but for one night only!). There are plenty of interesting stories and anecdotes about those he met along the way, none more so than his relationship with Cowboys owner (and his former college teammate) Jerry Jones.
The most gripping parts of the book are his personal stories about the cost his total dedication to football had on his family. Here we see Johnson, the cocky, confident coach, become unsure of himself as he faces obstacles much greater and more meaningful including his son’s addiction. At times it feels like Johnson is trying to convince himself that his single minded dedication to the job was worth the cost – what is clear to him is that it wouldn’t have been possible to be as successful without it.
Overall Swagger is a fun read. Cowboys fans will enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at the team’s glory days and ponder what might have been had Johnson’s relationship with Jones not soured. Any sports fan will find plenty to enjoy in Swagger.
What to watch after reading: Johnson and his teams are at the centre of a bunch of great documentaries. Before They Were Cowboys (ESPN+) tells the story of his time in college at Arizona playing alongside Jerry Jones. The U (ESPN+) is a gripping documentary on his play-hard win-hard University of Miami teams, and their rivalry with Notre Dame during this period is given it’s own documentary Catholics v Convicts (ESPN+). NFL Films also produced an episode of A Football Life dedicated to Johnson (available on NFL+) which gives a broader account of his career. There is also a great ESPN short The Great Trade Robbery on the trade of Herschel Walker which provided the draft picks Johnson needed to rebuild the Cowboys.