Q&A with Jimmy Johnson

The legendary coach and commentator talks football and marlin fishing

While Jimmy Johnson is best-known for his accomplishments in football — which include winning two Super Bowls and a collegiate national championship, as well as hosting Fox NFL Sundays — he’s a passionate angler who would rather be chasing blue marlin in the Florida Keys. Here’s the play-by-play.

Q&A with Jimmy Johnson
"I didn’t really start fishing a lot until I moved to the Keys about 20 years ago — and now it’s all I want to do."Courtesy Jimmy Johnson

M: First question: Who's going win the Super Bowl this year?

(Laughs) Well, the same teams you would expect will be strong again this year. New England looks even better than they did last year. Atlanta, Green Bay and Pittsburgh should all have good seasons.

M: You were born in Port Arthur, Texas, just across the state line from Louisiana. Did you fish growing up?

We did some fishing when we were young; my dad had an old wooden boat, and we were always boating or water skiing.

M: You went to the same high school as Janis Joplin. Did you know her well?

I did. She lived two blocks away. Back then, the drinking age across the river in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was only 18, and it was 21 in Port Arthur, so she used to go over there and sing in the clubs. We had quite a few great times but nothing serious.

M: When did you get into offshore fishing?

I had been on a few ­charters, but I didn’t really start fishing a lot until I moved to the Keys about 20 years ago — and now it’s all I want to do. I’ve caught five blue marlin fishing alone on my boat.

M: That's an incredible accomplishment!

Probably 90 percent of the time I fish by myself. It’s my time to get away and enjoy the ocean. I usually run five lines, and it’s a handful to clear everything, fight the fish and drive the boat at the same time, but I love it. I really do.

Q&A with Jimmy Johnson
"I travel so much with Fox NFL Sundays that I’m happiest at home."Courtesy Jimmy Johnson

M: What boats do you own now and what are some of your past favorites?

I’ve owned 21 boats so far. Right now I have two SeaVees: a 39-footer with twin 480-­horsepower Cummins diesels, and a 43 with a pair of 550-h­orsepower Cummins. Both are great boats because they run shallow enough that I can get in and out of my slip at low tide. I really loved my 53 Ocean, especially for going over to the Bahamas.

M: What's the scariest time you have ever had while out on the water?

One time we were spearfishing and I was ­chasing a big grouper — I got excited and ran completely out of air about 60 feet down. Fortunately I had another diver with me, and we buddy-breathed to the surface. One other time I was laying down the outriggers with the boat on autopilot and fell overboard. Luckily, I managed to hang on to the outrigger and pull myself back in. On all the boats I own now, you can put the outriggers in and out from the cockpit or the tower.

M: What are your top three favorite fishing destinations in the world?

I travel so much with Fox NFL Sundays that I’m happiest at home. Islamorada, Florida, is my first, second and third pick.

M: The 2018 Jimmy Johnson National Billfish Championship is offering a $1.5 million guaranteed prize purse. Why run a high-stakes fishing ­tournament at this point in your life?

Two reasons: The first is to raise money for charity. My son runs the Tranquil Shores Foundation, which provides drug- and alcohol-recovery services, and we also raise money for the University of Miami Sylvester Cancer Center. And the second is to generate goodwill among all my friends in the ­fishing community. The tournament has the best parties and dinners you can imagine, and it’s very well-run, so we have an incredible amount of fun with it.

Q&A with Jimmy Johnson
One of the autographed guitars offered as prizes during the 2017 Jimmy Johnson National Billfish Championship.Courtesy JJFishWeek

M: Which one is bigger: your trophy room or your tackle room?

I’ve collected a lot of game balls and trophies in my career, but I also have a lot of tackle and fishing gear — I’d have to say it’s about even.

M: Favorite after-fishing cocktail?

A Heineken Light. A few years ago it would have been regular Heineken, but the light has 50 fewer calories.

M: Which one's tougher: a big blue marlin or an NFL linebacker?

Both of them can whip you pretty good, but I’d have to say a blue marlin.