Tom Landry

  • Born: September 11, 1924
  • Died: February 12, 2000
  • Location: Irving, Texas


Tom Landry

Former Cowboys' coach dead at 75

Tom Landry, the Dallas Cowboys coach who led America's Team to five Super Bowls and was famous for pacing the sidelines for three decades wearing a stone face, business suit and felt hat, died Saturday. He was 75.

Landry had been undergoing treatment since May for acute myelogenous leukemia.

Baylor University Medical Center called in Landry's family earlier in the day. At 7:45 p.m. CST, the hospital issued a release in behalf of Landry's family:

"Coach Tom Landry passed away today - at 6 p.m. He went peacefully surrounded by his loving family. He will also be missed by his many friends and fans, and he will never be forgotten by all of us whose lives he has touched so deeply."

Landry, who coached the Cowboys for their first 29 years, won two Super Bowls with star quarterback Roger Staubach. His 270 victories are more than any NFL coach except Don Shula and George Halas.

"Tom Landry's familiar presence on the Dallas Cowboys' sideline for three decades represented the NFL at its best," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in a statement. "He will always rank as one of the all-time great coaches and as an architect of one of the most successful teams in sports history. He will be remembered for many special reasons, including his record as a coach, the innovations he brought to our game, and the personal integrity he displayed."

Landry considered those innovations his greatest contribution to the game. His legacy continued through the coaches he produced, including Atlanta's Dan Reeves and former New Orleans coach Mike Ditka, who both went to the Super Bowl.

"He shaped my philosophy on everything," Reeves said Saturday night. "I followed his philosophy on football and how he handled himself on and off the field. He was a tremendous influence on me.

"He was something unique to the NFL. He was someone who had tremendous knowledge of the NFL, but he was also a man of such integrity. He had a strong Christian faith that was unusual at that time. And he didn't just talk it. He walked it, too."

In Landry's first season, 1960, the expansion Cowboys went 0-11-1. He didn't have a winning season until his seventh. But that began a streak of 20 consecutive winning seasons, 13 division titles and five Super Bowl appearances.

After three straight losing seasons, Landry was fired by Jerry Jones the day he bought the team in February 1989.

"We will never be able to measure the complete significance of coach Landry's contributions to the Dallas Cowboys. Simply stated, he is the single most important figure in the history of this franchise," Jones said.

Landry's final record as 270-178-6, a .601 winning percentage. And when he left, he was as much a symbol of the Cowboys as the star on their helmets.

"I think the whole Cowboys image came from him," said Staubach, who had the honor of introducing Landry at his Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1990, just as Landry had done for him in '85. "I think Tom will always make the Dallas Cowboys more than a football team."

Landry was a college star at the University of Texas, then a defensive back for the New York Giants in one of the innovative defenses of the early '50s "The Umbrella," the first to put four backs deep to counter the passing game.

At 29, he became a player-coach in charge of the defense, a job now known as the defensive coordinator. He changed the front seven of the Umbrella from a 5-2 to a 4-3, essentially creating the middle linebacker position for Sam Huff. The system became such a success that Landry later had to devise the multiple offense to counter it. Both alignments remain standards at all levels of football, from Pee Wee to pros.

General manager Tex Schramm was still trying to get the NFL to award Dallas a franchise when he introduced Landry as the team's first coach. Their agreement was that Schramm would run the business side and Landry would be in charge of football.

A dynasty was formed through the unlikely pairing of the strait-laced, religious Landry and Schramm, the flashy showman whose promotional flair included bringing scantily clad cheerleaders to the NFL.

"We were totally different," Schramm said. "We were never close socially, but we got along very well because he had his domain and we each knew where the lines were. I respected him, he respected me and things worked perfectly."

Landry's Xs and Os betrayed his bland persona. He thrived on doing things differently, especially if he could mix in deception.

He created the "Flex" defense that placed one tackle a half-yard behind the other and he used gadget plays on offense, notably the quarterback throwback and the halfback pass.

His offensive line also had a gimmick it would often crouch down, raise up and then reset, a style often imitated by kids on playgrounds.

"I really enjoyed the challenge of bringing a team to the game," Landry once said. "I enjoyed the challenge of that more than the actual game."

Landry was emotionless on the sidelines and in the locker room, even in the bitter cold of the "Ice Bowl." He avoided becoming close to his players for fear that friendship would interfere with personnel decisions. Instead, he ruled through a stare known as The Look.

Former running back Walt Garrison summed it up best when he was asked if he ever saw Landry smile.

"N," Garrison said, "but I was only there nine years."

Landry worked differently with his assistant coaches, many of whom became NFL head coaches. The contrast was stunning for those who had played for Landry.

"When you played for him, he's the boss," said Ditka, a tight end for four years and an assistant under Landry for nine. "When I coached for him he was the boss, too, but when you played for him there was a fear in there."

Ditka said Landry was one of the most influential people in his life.

"I love him very much," Ditka said. "He was always the epitome of fairness, honesty, integrity and all the virtues and values people talk about he had.

"Lately I've been trying to be more like him, but I'm an emotional person and I can't be what I'm not. To be that stoic and that under control and that disciplined is amazing."

Landry began letting his guard down in the early '80s by doing a series of commercials playing a gunslinger fending off the arch-rival Redskins. He became a sympathetic figure following his ugly dismissal by Jones.

The city of Dallas held a "Hats Off to Tom Landry Day," which included a parade that drew 100,000 people. The guest of honor cried and called it the "most exciting and meaningful" day in his life.

Landry spent his final years devoted to businesses endeavors, including being a spokesman for a health insurance company, and Christian organizations.

He stayed away from football except for his 1990 Hall of Fame induction and his 1993 induction into the team's Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium. Instead of a jersey number, a tiny hat hangs next to his name and the years 1960-88.

Seven of Landry's former players join him in the Ring of Honor. He's also joined in Canton, Ohio, by Schramm, Staubach, Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, Randy White and Tony Dorsett.

"There was somewhat of a shyness about him, but he was always there when you needed him," Staubach said. "I don't know anyone who didn't have respect for him as a person. As a human being, coach Landry is right there among the very best. There was nothing phony about him."

Thomas Wade Landry was born Sept. 11, 1924, in Mission, Texas, deep in the Rio Grande Valley. After one semester of college, he joined the Army Air Corps and spent two years as a bomber pilot in World War II. Although his older brother Robert died flying a B-17, Tom flew 30 combat missions and survived one crash landing.

War hardened Landry and the tough exterior was necessary in his early days in Dallas. Public criticism was peaking after his fourth season, 1963. Landry had a 13-38-3 record and one year left on his original contract. Owner Clint Murchison showed his support with a 10-year extension.

The Cowboys hosted a playoff game for the first time on Jan. 1, 1967. Green Bay jumped ahead 14-0 before the Dallas offense took the field, but quarterack Don Meredith rallied the Cowboys within 34-27. Dallas had a first down from the Packers' 2-yard-line in the final minutes, but failed to score the game-tying touchdown. Green Bay went on to win the first Super Bowl.

Landry's first postseason victory came the following season in Cleveland, setting up a rematch against the Packers only this time it would be in Green Bay.

Playing in a wind chill that dropped to 40 below, the Cowboys again trailed 14-0, then led 17-14 in the game remembered as the "Ice Bowl." Bart Starr's touchdown on a quarterback sneak with 13 seconds left gave the Packers a 21-17 victory. Again, they went on to win the Super Bowl.

"I can't believe that call, the sneak," said Landry, who wore a long, fur-lined coat and matching fur hunter's cap borrowed from one of the team's minority owners. "It wasn't a good call. But now, it's a great call."

Fans lashed out at Landry's inability to win big games, citing his lack of emotion on the sidelines. They wanted him to be more like Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose bombastic style Landry had seen up-close on the Giants, when Landry was the defensive assistant and Lombardi the offensive assistant. Landry, who modeled himself after Paul Brown, couldn't be someone he wasn't.

Cleveland knocked Dallas out of the next two playoffs, then the Cowboys lost to Baltimore in the January 1971 Super Bowl on a field goal by Jim O'Brien in the final seconds.

Along the way, a Dallas-area writer tagged the Cowboys as "Next Year's Champions," a chiding reference to Landry's penchant for coming up short of a title.

But the following year, with Staubach entrenched at quarterback, Dallas returned to the Super Bowl and beat Miami 24-3. Players hoisted him onto their shoulders in celebration and, finally, there were some cracks in the stone facade.

"I still see that image of him being carried off the field," Staubach said. "I think that was a big deal to him, the best in his life. Seeing that smile on his face showed how happy he was to finally get over that hump."

After losing in the Super Bowl following the 1975 season with a team Landry called his favorite, he reached the top again in 1977, Dorsett's rookie year. The Cowboys beat Denver 27-10 in the Super Bowl.

Things would never be the same again. Dallas lost to Pittsburgh in the next Super Bowl, then was beaten in NFC championship games in 1980, '81 and '82. The '81 game is best remembered for San Francisco's Dwight Clark making "The Catch."

A playoff shutout at home in 1985 was followed by a losing season in '86, Landry's first since 1964. Landry had vowed to remain the coach until things turned around, but a combination of bad draft picks and poor personnel decisions sunk the team. Dallas went 3-13 in his final season.

"People will forget me quick," Landry said at the time of his firing.

Landry is survied by Alicia Landry, his wife of 50 years; a son, Tom Landry Jr.; and a daughter, Kitty Phillips. Another daughter, Lisa Childress, died in 1995 after a four-year battle with liver cancer.