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Tom Landry
Tom Landry

Landry on sideline as Cowboys Head Coach, "The man in the fuuny hat", 1970's

Personal information
Born: September 9, 1924
Birthplace: Mission, Texas, U.S.
Died: February 12, 2000(2000-02-12) (aged 75)
Deathplace: Dallas, Texas, U.S.
College Texas (football)
Head Coach
Jersey #(s):
6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
195 lb (88 kg)
Career information
Draft Information
League Drafted by: AAFC
Year drafted: 1947
Round drafted: 20
Draft Pick: 184
Selected by: New York Yankees (AAFC)
As player:
Played for:
  • 1949 New York Yankees (AAFC)
  • 1950-1955 New York Giants
  • As coach:
    Teams coached:
    Coaching Stats
    Record (W/L/T): 250-162-6 (Regular Season)
    .607 Win Pct (%)
    Career Stats
    Games Coached     418
    Overall coaching record     270-178-6
    Overall Win Pct (%)     .685
    Playing stats
    Coaching stats Pro Football Reference
    Career highlights
    Awards and Honors
    • Pro Bowl selection (1954)
    • First-Team All-Pro selection (1954)
    • AP Coach of the Year (1966)
    • Sporting News Coach of the Year (1966)
    • UPI Coach of the Year (1966, 1975)
    • Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor
    Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1990

    Thomas Wade "Tom" Landry (September 11, 1924-February 12, 2000) was an American football player and coach. He is ranked as one of the greatest and most innovative coaches in National Football League (NFL) history, creating many new formations and methods. He invented the now popular 4–3 defense, and the "flex defense" system made famous by the "Doomsday Defense" squads he created during his 29 year tenure with the Dallas Cowboys.

    Landry won two Super Bowl titles (VI, XII), 5 NFC titles, 13 Divisional titles, and compiled a 270-178-6 record, the 3rd most wins of all time for an NFL coach. His 20 career playoff victories are the most of any coach in NFL history. He was named the NFL Coach of the Year in 1966 and the NFC Coach of the Year in 1975. His most impressive professional accomplishment is his 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966–1985), an NFL record that remains unbroken and unchallenged.

    Personal life[]

    Born in Mission, Texas, to Ray (an auto mechanic and volunteer fireman) and Ruth Landry, Tom was the second of four children (Robert, Tommy, Ruthie and Jack). [1] Landry's father had suffered from rheumatism, and relocated to the warmer climate of Texas. Ray Landry himself was an athlete, making his mark locally as a pitcher and football player [2] After playing quarterback (primary passer and runner, and also punter) for Mission High School (including leading his team to a 12-0 record his senior season). The Mission High School Football Stadium is named Tom Landry Stadium and is home to the Mission Eagles. He attended the University of Texas in Austin, Texas as an industrial engineering major. Landry had given thought to enrolling at SMU, but he knew that he would be away from his friends and family. The main driving force in keeping him from enrolling at SMU was the notion that it would be too long a travel for his parents to see him play college football.

    Military service[]

    Landry interrupted his education after a semester to serve in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. Tom was inspired to join the armed forces in honor of his brother, Robert. Robert Landry had enlisted in the Army Air Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. While ferrying a B-17 over to England, Robert Landry's plane had gone down over the North Atlantic, close to Iceland. It was several weeks before the Army would be able to officially declare Robert Landry dead. Landry began his basic training at Sheppard Field in Witchita Falls, and his pre-flight training would begin at Kelly Field, located near San Antonio, Texas. Tom's first experience as a bomber was a tough one. A few minutes after take off, Landry realized that the pilot seemed to be working furiously, and it was then that Landry had realized that the plane's engine had died. Despite this experience, Landry was committed to flying. At the tender age of nineteen, Landry was transferred to Sioux City, Iowa, where he training as a co-pilot for flying a B-17 had begun. In 1944, Landry got his orders, and from Sioux City he went to Liverpool, England, where he was assigned to the Eighth Air Force, 493rd Squadron in Ipswich. Landry earned his wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant at Lubbock Army Air Field (today Reese AFB), and was assigned to the 493d Bombardment Group at RAF Debach, England, as a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber co-pilot in the 860th Bombardment Squadron. From November 1944 to April 1945, Landry completed a combat tour of 30 missions, and survived a crash landing in Belgium after his bomber ran out of fuel.

    Early collegiate studies, athletic career[]

    Landry returned to his studies at UT in the fall of 1946. On the football team, he played fullback and defensive back on the Texas Longhorns' bowl game winners on New Year's Day of 1948 and 1949. At UT, he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Omega Chi chapter). He received his bachelor's degree from UT in 1949. In 1952, he earned a Master's degree in Industrial engineering from the University of Houston.[3]

    Christian faith[]

    Landry was known as a quiet, religious man, unfazed by the hype that surrounded the Cowboys, then being billed as America's Team. A Methodist Sunday school teacher, he would sometimes arrive for home games only moments before a noon kickoff after teaching an adult Bible study class in the morning. He was in a comic book promoting Christianity in 1973. Landry was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Landry was a friend of the Reverend Billy Graham, speaking at many of his crusades. In fact, one of the suit coats Landry commonly wore was a gift from Graham.

    Landry married the former Alicia Wiggs on January 28, 1949. The Landrys were married for 51 years, prior to his death and had three children; a son, Tom, Jr. and daughters Kitty and Lisa (d. 1995).[4]

    Collegiate and NFL Career[]

    NFL player[]

    Landry played in the AAFC in 1949 for the New York Yankees, then moved in 1950 across town to the New York Giants. In 1946, the New York Giants had drafted Landry in the Seventh round of the college draft. He was drafted as a "Futures" pick, which was a rule in place at the time that allowed NFL teams to draft underclassmen, and hold their rights until the player had completed their college requirement. In 1948, the New York Yankees of the AAFC also drafted Landry.

    Landry had just finished his final college football game, when Jack White, who was an assistant coach for the Yankees, took Landry aside. He offered Landry a contract to play for New York in the AAFC. The contract was for $6,000, plus a $500 signing bonus. Landry used the bonus money to pay for a wedding with high school sweetheart, Alicia.

    Landry's career got off to a start after the Yankees starting punter was injured in the preseason, and Landry performed well in his place. The Yankees shared Yankee staduim with baseball's beloved Yankees, and Landry remembered in his autobiogrpahy how in awe he was seeing names like DiMaggio, Rizzuto, and Ruffing above the lockers. Landry's career began as a back-up to Yankees star running back Buddy Young. His first start would come against the AAFC's powerhouse, the Cleveland Browns, coached by Paul Brown, and a roster full of future hall of famers like Lou Groza, Bill Willis, and Otto Graham. Landry did not have a good debut as a starter, Mac Speedie, the receiver he was assigned to cover, set an AAFC record for receiving yards in the game. It was after the game that Landry would learn his wife had given birth to their first child, a son.

    After the 1949 season the AAFC folded, and the New York Yankees were not among the teams absorbed by the NFL. The New York Giants exercised their territorial rights and selected Landry in a dispersal draft. It would be under the guidance of Giants head coach Steve Owen that Landry would get his first taste of coaching. Instead of explaining the 6-1-4 defense to the players, Owen called Landry up to the front, and asked him to explain the defense to his teammates. Landry got up, and explained what the defense would do to counter the offense, and this became Landry's first coaching experience. The 1953 season would be a season to forget, with the lowest point coming in a 62-10 loss at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. This lost would ultimately cost Coach Owen his job, and would again have Landry pondering his future.[5] In 1954 he was selected as an all-pro. He played through the 1955 season, and acted as a player-assistant coach the last two years, 1954 through 1955, under the guidance of new Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell. Landry ended his playing career with 32 interceptions in only 80 games.

    NFL coaching[]

    For the 1954 football season, Landry became the defensive coordinator for the Giants, opposite Vince Lombardi, who was the offensive coordinator. Landry led one of the best defensive teams in the league from 1956 to 1959. The two coaches created a fanatical loyalty within the unit they coached that drove the Giants to three appearances in the NFL championship game in four years. The Giants beat the Chicago Bears 47–7 in 1956, but lost to the Baltimore Colts in 1958 and 1959.

    In 1960, he became the first head coach of the Dallas Cowboys and stayed for 29 seasons (1960–88). The Cowboys started with difficulties, recording an 0–11–1 record during their first season, with five or fewer wins in each of their next four. Despite this early futility, in 1964 Landry was given a ten year extension by owner Clint Murchison Jr. It would prove to be a wise move as Landry's hard work and determination paid off, and the Cowboys improved to a 7–7 record in 1965. In 1966, they surprised the NFL by posting 10 wins, and making it all the way to the NFL championship game. Dallas lost the game to Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, but this season was but a modest display of what lay ahead.

    Throughout his tenure, Landry worked closely with the Cowboys general manager, Tex Schramm. The two were together during Landry's entire tenure with the team. A third member of the Cowboys brain trust in this time was Gil Brandt.

    The Great Innovator[]

    File:Tom Landry sculpture.jpg

    Tom Landry invented the now-popular "4-3 Defense", while serving as Giants defensive coordinator.[6] It was called "4-3" because it featured four down lineman (two ends and two defensive tackles on either side of the offensive center) and three linebackers — middle, left, and right. The innovation was the middle linebacker. Previously, a lineman was placed over the center. But Landry had this person stand up and move back two yards. The Giants' middle linebacker was the legendary Sam Huff.

    Landry built the 4-3 defense around me. It revolutionized defense and opened the door for all the variations of zones and man-to-man coverage, which are used in conjunction with it today. —Sam Huff [7] Landry also invented and popularized the use of keys (analyzing offensive tendencies) to determine what the offense might do.

    When Landry was hired by the Dallas Cowboys, he became concerned with then-Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi's "Run to Daylight" idea, where the running back went to an open space, rather than a specific assigned hole. Landry reasoned that the best counter was a defense that flowed to daylight and blotted it out.

    To do this, he refined the 4-3 defense by moving two of the four linemen off the line of scrimmage one yard and varied which linemen did this based on where the Cowboys thought the offense might run. This change was called "The Flex Defense," because it altered its alignment to counter what the offense might do. Thus, there were three such Flex Defenses — strong, weak, and "tackle" — where both defensive tackles were off the line of scrimmage. The idea with the flexed linemen was to improve pursuit angles to stop the Green Bay Sweep — a popular play of the 1960s. The Flex Defense was also innovative in that it was a kind of zone defense against the run. Each defender was responsible for a given gap area, and was told to stay in that area before they knew where the play was going.

    It has been said that, after inventing the Flex Defense, he then invented an offense to score on it, reviving the man-in-motion and starting in the mid-1970s, the shotgun formation. But Landry's biggest contribution in this area was the use of "pre-shifting" where the offense would shift from one formation to the other before the snap of the ball. This tactic was not new. It was developed by Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg around the turn of the 20th century; Landry was the first coach to use the approach on a regular basis. The idea was to break the keys within the defense used to determine what the offense might do. An unusual feature of this offense was Landry having his offensive linemen get in their squatted pre-stance, stand up while the running backs shifted, and then go back down into their complete "hand down" stance. The purpose of the "up and down" movement was to make it more difficult for the defense to see where the backs were shifting (over the tall offensive linemen) and thus cut down on recognition time. While other NFL teams later employed shifting, few employed this "up and down" technique as much as Landry.

    Landry also was ahead of his time in his philosophy of building a team. When the Packers were a dynasty in the 1960s with 245-pound guards and 250-pound tackles, he was busy stockpiling size for the next generation of linemen. Tackles Rayfield Wright stood 6'6" and Ralph Neely weighed 265 lbs. Center Dave Manders weighed 250 lbs. All went on to block in Pro Bowls and Super Bowls in the 1970s.

    The same with defense. The better linemen of the 1960s were the shorter, stockier, leverage players like Willie Davis, Alex Karras and Andy Robustelli. But Landry drafted the taller, leaner linemen like {{convert|6'7" George Andrie and 6'6Jethro Pugh in the 1960s and later 6'9" Ed Jones in the 1970s. Long arms allow for increased leverage in the pass rush. A quarter of a century later, all NFL teams covet pass rushers who resemble thickly muscled National Basketball Association (NBA) power forwards.

    In the days before strength and speed programs, Landry brought in Alvin Roy and Boots Garland in the early 1970s to help make the Cowboys stronger and faster. Roy was a weightlifter and Garland a college track coach. Now every NFL team has specialty coaches.

    Landry also was one of the first NFL coaches to search outside the traditional college football pipeline for talent. For example, he recruited several soccer players from Latin America, such as Efren Herrera and Raphael Septien, to compete for the job of placekicker for the Cowboys. Landry looked to the world of track and field for speedy skill position players. For example, Bob Hayes, once considered the fastest man in the world, was drafted by and played wide receiver for the Cowboys under Landry.[8]

    Landry also was the first to employ a coach for quality control. Ermal Allen would analyze game films and chart the tendencies of the opposition for the Cowboys in the 1970s. That gave Landry an edge in preparation, because he knew what to expect from his opponent based on down and distance. Now every NFL team has a quality control coach, and most have two.

    Landry produced a very large coaching tree. In 1986, five NFL head coaches were former Landry assistants: Mike Ditka, Dan Reeves, John Mackovic, Gene Stallings, and Raymond Berry.

    Coaching in the Super Bowl[]

    While Tom Landry's Cowboys are known for their two Super Bowls against Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Landry also led Dallas to three other Super Bowls, and were a Bart Starr quarterback sneak away from representing the NFL in the second Super Bowl.

    Landry coached the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl win, defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-3, holding the Dolphins to a mere field goal. The Cowboys had now won their first Super Bowl, a year after losing a heart breaker to the Baltimore Colts. The Cowboys lost the first battle with the Steelers, in a game that is heralded as a classic. The rematch would be just as good, with the Cowboys being a Jackie Smith catch away from beating the Steelers in the rematch. Super Bowl X, the rematch, featured Cowboys Linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson saying famously "Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell c-a-t if you spotted him the C and the T." Landry recalled in his autobiography how he cringed when he heard that, because he didn't feel that Bradshaw needed addition motivation in a big game like the Super Bowl.

    Retirement and legacy[]

    In the 1980s, the Cowboys won two Division Championships, made five playoff appearances which included reaching the NFC Championship Game three consecutive years (1980–1982) but failed to reach the Super Bowl. In 1984, H.R. "Bum" Bright purchased the Dallas Cowboys from Clint Murchison, Jr. As the Cowboys suffered through progressively poorer seasons (from 10–6 in 1985 to 7–9 in 1986, 7–8 in 1987, and 3–13 in 1988), Bright became disenchanted with the team.

    Landry had signed a three-year contract in the summer of 1987. However Schramm brought in Paul Hackett as the new offensive coach in 1986, and in 1987 he hired offensive line coach Jim Erkenbeck and special teams coach Mike Solari. Some suggested that Schramm's moves divided the coaching staff, a plan to first undermine and then dismiss Landry. Bright who usually stayed behind the scenes from the time he purchased the Cowboys in March 1984, publicly criticized Landry after an embarrassing home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in 1987, saying that he was "horrified" at the play-calling and complaining "It doesn't seem like we've got anybody in charge who knows what he's doing, other than Tex". Bright was also upset at how top draft pick, defensive tackle Danny Noonan and running back Herschel Walker weren't being used enough. Two weeks later, one day after the Cowboys' 27-17 loss to the Detroit Lions, a team that had come into the game tied with Kansas City, the Giants and the Rams for the worst record in the NFL, president and general manager Tex Schramm said on his radio show "There's an old saying, "If the teacher doesn't teach, the student doesn't learn". Nonetheless, Bright maintained his hands-off approach on the team while Schramm retained his confidence in Landry.[9][10] Landry's game strategies and single-mindedness in the past few seasons left him open to public criticism.[11]

    Landry's Cowboys finished the 1988 season going 3-13 which earned the No. 1 pick in the draft with the worst record in the NFL, taking his personal record to 270-178-6. It was the fourth time in five years that they missed the playoffs, as well as their third consecutive losing season. Nonetheless in February 1989, before the start of the 1989 season, Landry remained determined to coach into the 1990s "unless I get fired", as he dismissed or reassigned his assistants. Landry had one year left on his contract which paid $1 million a season.[12]

    Two weeks later on February 26, 1989, Landry was dismissed as head coach, shortly after H.R. "Bum" Bright sold the team to Jerry Jones. Bright had suffered major losses in his banking, real estate and oil businesses in the last three years; during the Savings and Loan crisis, Bright's Cowboys and Savings and Loan were taken over by the FSLIC who later forced the team's sale to Jones. During a more solid economic climate, it was said that Bright could have held on and Landry may have remained as coach. Jones hired Jimmy Johnson, his former teammate at the University of Arkansas who had been serving as coach of University of Miami football team. Schramm was in tears at the press conference which announced the coaching change, and he was forced out as general manager shortly afterwards; Schramm and Landry had been together for 29 years since the Cowboys' inception in 1960. When Landry met with his players two days later to tell them how much he would miss them, he began to cry, and the players responded with a standing ovation.

    Landry received an outpouring of public support after his firing as the city of Dallas and fans everywhere forgot about the team’s decline during the 1980s and instead remembered the memories of the legend in the fedora who built America’s Team from nothing to champions. Jones stated that he did not give consideration to retaining Landry for even a season, as he said that he would not have purchased the team unless he could hire Johnson as coach. Jones also did not discuss the matter beforehand with Landry before announcing the decision. Landry's unceremonious dismissal by Jones was denounced by football fans and media as totally lacking in class and respect, as pride and tradition were part of the Cowboys where great performance and loyal service were expected to be rewarded. In the years since, while most fans retain their support for the team, there persists significant levels of resentment towards Jones over the mistreatment of Landry.

    Landry's success during nearly three decades of coaching was the impetus for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990, less than two years after his last game. Landry was inducted into the "Ring of Honor" at Texas Stadium in 1993. Landry had declined several earlier offers by Jones to enter the Ring of Honor before accepting in 1993.

    File:Tom Landry centograph, Austin, TX IMG 2141.JPG

    Texas State Cemetery

    Landry died on February 12, 2000, after battling leukemia. Landry's funeral service was held at Highland Park United Methodist Church, where he was an active and committed member for forty-three years. He was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallas. A cenotaph dedicated to Landry, complete with a depiction of his fedora, was placed in the official Texas State Cemetery in Austin at the family's request.[13]

    The Cowboys wore a patch on their uniforms during the 2000 season depicting Landry's trademark fedora. A bronze statue of Landry stood outside of Texas Stadium, and now stands in front of Cowboys Stadium since the Cowboys relocated in 2009. The section of Interstate 30 between Dallas and Fort Worth was named the Tom Landry Highway by the Texas Legislature in 2001. The football stadium in Landry's hometown of Mission, Texas was named Tom Landry Stadium to honor one of the city's most famous former residents.[14] Similarly, Trinity Christian Academy's stadium in Addison, Texas is named Tom Landry Stadium in honor of Landry's extensive involvement and support of the school.[15][16]

    In popular culture[]

    • In 1959, while defensive coach of the Giants, Landry pretended to be a Catholic missionary priest on the TV panel game To Tell The Truth (on an episode that included balloonist Commander Malcolm Roth).
    • The coach in Peter Gent's novel North Dallas Forty is based on Tom Landry. G.D. Spradlin played the role in the film of the same name.
    • In Fox's animated sitcom King of the Hill, the local middle school is named after Tom Landry, and Landry is a personal hero of the show's main character Hank Hill. He mentions being "mortified" because he went to work on the date of Landry's death after his cousin Dusty (guest star Dusty Hill of ZZ Top) had previously tricked him into thinking Tom Landry had died, and he thought it was a repeat of that prank. Hank also has a Tom Landry Ceramic plate that he sometimes consults in times of need, on one occasion saying "Where did I go wrong, Tom?" Landry also occasionally appears to Hank in dream sequences to counsel him in times of need, like during Hank's varnish induced hallucination on the episode "Hillennium".
    • In an episode of The Simpsons ("You Only Move Twice"), Homer Simpson buys Tom Landry's trademark fedora in an effort to improve his leadership qualities, and is shown in several later episodes wearing the hat. Landry was also featured in Season 7 episode ("Marge Be Not Proud") as one of the Christmas carolers introduced by Krusty the Clown early in the episode.
    • The series Friday Night Lights features a character named Landry hinted to be named after Tom Landry, given the town's obsession with football.
    • The fantasy football board game Blood Bowl features a necromantic team coach called Tomolandry the Undying.


    • "When you want to win a game, you have to teach. When you lose a game, you have to learn."
    • "Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control."
    • "Leadership is the ability to get a person to do what he doesn't want to do in order to achieve what he wants to's getting the best out of people."



    Further reading[]

    • Summerall, Pat and Levin, Michael (2010), Giants:What I learned about life from Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry, Hoboken, NJ:John Wiley and Sons, Inc., (eISBN 978-0-470-90908-9)

    External links[]