PHOTOS () -
By Steve Waters
ISLAMORADA, Fla. - As Jimmy Johnson trolls 12 miles off the Florida Keys for blackfin tuna, the man who was once consumed with offensive lines and defensive lines now cares only about the fishing lines trailing behind his 39-foot boat.
After catching the first tuna, Johnson cheers on his four fishing buddies as they reel in two more blackfins and chides those whose fish get away. Then he heads 24 miles offshore, where, four hours later on a beautiful summer day, he skillfully lands an 8-pound dolphin that had crossed two other lines.
"I was getting worried," says Johnson after putting the fish on ice, because he knew his friends would have given him grief had he not caught at least one dolphin.
Fishing, diving and relaxing in the Florida Keys is a lifestyle that has the 67-year-old former coach, who won a national championship at the University of Miami and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, happier than he has ever been.
Tanned, fit and trim, Johnson is wearing a new white University of Miami football T-shirt - "I talk to the team each year and they give me a sack of them" - blue shorts, socks and sneakers. A bottle of Heineken Light beer in a foam koozie is close at hand and so is his iPhone, which is filled with fishing photos.
While Johnson runs the boat, Bill O'Brien, a former Miami police chief, says Johnson's life since he left the Miami Dolphins after the 1999 season to live permanently in the Keys is driven by QTL - quality time left. It's a term Johnson learned from former Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga that's a reminder to enjoy every day to the fullest because you never know how much QTL you have.
Johnson was ready to do that after the 1993 season when he left the Cowboys and bought a home in Tavernier. The Eagles, Chargers and Dolphins all talked to him about getting back into coaching and he chose Miami because he would at least be near the Keys, but he may as well have been in San Diego.
"Kind of what got me out of coaching was here I had a home in the Keys, I'm coaching the Dolphins and one year I spent three nights down here the entire year," Johnson says. "I tried to retire after three years and Huizenga asked me to stay for one more year."
These days, Johnson's toughest decision is whether or not to go fishing.