Russell Maryland: These three guys helped my career most

Russell Maryland was the first pick of the 1991 draft, and talk about pressure. But he made an impact, and he made it with the help of three familiar names from the Dallas Cowboys.

Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys
Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys

(Jimmy Johnson, Russell Maryland photos courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Talk of Fame Network

Russell Maryland was the first pick of the 1991 draft, and he was chosen by the Dallas Cowboys – a team that just completed its fifth straight losing season.

Talk about pressure. There was plenty of it on the University of Miami defensive lineman, but he never flinched -- saying he gained immediate help when he appeared on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.

“There was an incredible amount of pressure,” Maryland said. “I remember that first day after the draft when all the rookie came together, and I came into the locker room. It was like all eyes were on me. After having gotten Emmitt Smith in the first round the year before and having gotten Troy Aikman a couple of years before that as the No. 1 player, it was like: You’re supposed to be a skilled player, a big name guy. And it was like: We got this? They looked at me like they were really unimpressed and disappointed.”

That never fazed Maryland. He not only became an immediate starter. He helped launched a mini-dynasty in Dallas, with the Cowboys winning three Super Bowls within his first five seasons there.

“Me coming from Miami, I never had any doubt I’d be successful because of two things,” he said. “I had great mentors going into our locker room, with Jim Jeffcoat. He was a guy who already had played seven or eight years, and he really took me under his wing. And I appreciated that a lot.

“And Tony Tolbert. He was a big, mean defensive lineman out of UTEP. He took a liking to me. I guess I was one of the only guys he didn’t really hate. They kept me going. They taught me how to be an NFL player. And, most importantly, any time I had even any doubt in my self, which is very little, I had to say, ‘Hey, I’m from Miami. I spent the last five years with trained killers.’ “

Maryland caught himself and started laughing.

“Not literally, guys. Not literally,” he said. “That was supreme confidence that was instilled in us by Jimmy Johnson.”

In the end, Maryland said, it was Johnson who made everything possible … for him and his teammates.

“I owe all of my success to him,” he said. “Coach Johnson is a great manager of men, young men especially. He didn’t just go out there and recruit just blue-chip guys and put them in cookie-cutter situations and make them quote-unquote cardboard cutouts. He got guys with great potential – guys who were fast and guys who were smart.

“And he had a great set of assistant coaches. Your Butch Davises (and) Dave Wannstedts. Tommy Tuberville (at the University of Miami). Ed Orgeron (University of Miami assistant). Dave Campo. The list goes on and on. Once he put us in tutelage under those guys in those situations he was able to build a culture and get the best out of all of us.”