Jimmy Johnson, having guided the Dallas Cowboys to a six-game improvement and into playoff contention this season, as named NFL Coach of the Year Tuesday.

Johnson, in his second year with the Cowboys after an illustrious career as a college coach, got 18 1/2 votes from 80 sportswriters and broadcasters in balloting conducted by The Associated Press. He edged Art Shell of the Raiders by 2 1/2 votes."That's very nice. and I'm truly honored," Johnson said. "I think the voters looked at the entire year and the improvement we had made over last year."

In 1989, the Cowboys were 1-15, the worst team in the NFL and in franchise history. It was a rude debut as a pro coach for Johnson, who won the national title in 1987 at the University of Miami.

"We were a ragtag team a year ago," Johnson said. "It really gives me a good feeling, it really takes the edge off the way that we finished, to get this (award)."

This season, Dallas was 7-7 and needed a victory in either of its final two games to make the playoffs as a wild card. But quarterback Troy Aikman was injured and the Cowboys couldn't recover, losing out to New Orleans on the last weekend of the season.

Still, it was a remarkable turnaround for the Cowboys.

Jones bought the Cowboys after the 1988 season, he immediately summoned Johnson to coach the team.