After winning the National Championship as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes in 1987, Johnson was the next hot coaching prospect. Jerry Jones had just purchased the Cowboys and was looking to replace the legendary Tom Landry. Landry had been the only head coach the Cowboys had ever known since their inception in the league in 1960. Jones and Johnson had been friends and teammates at the University of Arkansas which helped persuade Johnson to take the job in Dallas.
Johnson's tenure in Dallas started off a little rough, in his first season the Cowboys went 1-15. He had drafted what would become his franchise quarterback in Troy Aikman, but Aikman was raw and he still lacked a team around him. Four games into the 1989 season, Johnson engineered the largest trade in NFL history by moving Herschel Walker to the Vikings. The trade was instrumental in turning the team around, names like Emmitt Smith, Alvin Harper, and Darren Woodson came to Dallas through draft picks they had garnered from Minnesota. In his second year with the team Johnson had revamped the roster and their record improved to 7-9, the team was on the rise. In just his third year the team posted an 11-5 record and grabbed a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The team was knocked out in the division round but they had completed a huge turnaround and the best was yet to come.
It ultimately came down to a power struggle and with Jones as the owner of the team, there could only to be one winner. Johnson surprised everyone with his announcement that he would be leaving the team. The tension between him and Jones had come to a boiling point and he was done as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Jerry Jones hired Barry Switzer to take over the club and he would lead them to the NFC Title game in his first season in 1994 then a Super Bowl Championship in 1995. While Switzer was the head coach the team won their third ring in a four year span, a lot of credit went to the way Johnson had built the team and deservedly so.