Of course that was a perfect segue for me to ask about all of the off season turmoil surrounding Jack Johnson and that he seems to be talked about in every single trade deal. Lombardi cleared the air.
“Aw, that’s not fair. This is the truth. The thing that set off the firestorm was the comment about the father calling Russia. I kind of just blew it off. I know the coach and I played for the coach over there in St. Petersburg, Gary Smith. I was more pissed at him, “what are you doing? You’re just being used for leverage”. He said “His father called me!”
New information. It wasn’t standing in the hot-dog line, as I still prefer to imagine.
During negotiations last season, Johnson dismissed his agents leaving his controversial father to take over negotiations. “Okay. It’s not the first time a father’s wanted to do it, or sit in on it”, Lombardi explained. “It kind of went on for a while before the father actually came in, sat down and talked for a while.”
When Johnson finally did settle on an agent, his clients included NASCAR and NFL players, and since he needed to learn the ropes and Johnson wasn’t eligible for an offer sheet or arbitration, there was no sense of urgency. Except from a fans standpoint.
“The problem was, it was kind of out there that we’re talking about doing a contract and nothing’s happening so everybody assumes were fighting. There’s nothing happening! There’s no need for it! He’s hurt, he’s changed his agents but there’s a perception dragging on but we just said “fine, we got all the time you want”. THEN somebody puts out there that the kid is asking for 5.5 million dollars. That’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because he never asked for it. Even on his proposals that we talked about originally, we weren’t anywhere near that!”
But what about the internet chatter that Johnson had refused a conditioning assignment to Manchester following his shoulder surgery? “We kind of talked but it was a mutual thing. That’s one of the things you ask your coach. Murph said “lets get him in”. I think we talked about it but it was more internally up here (front office) like “what’s the best thing for him?” I do remember having some discussion about it and I probably would have been in favor of putting him down there but Murph said “he’ll be fine. Let me just make sure he’s healthy and we’ll break him in”.