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Tom Landry, Saint, ‘Plastic Man’ or Neither

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June 30, 2024

Tom Landry and The End of the Landry Era

Facebook’s ‘Memories of Texas Football’

by Memories Inc. Exec. Director Paul Heckmann

Edited by Mike Farris

I’m going to give you the unobstructed view of Tom Landry’s history as I know it, and this one is not from 30,000 feet. There is no sugarcoating here. I will stick to the facts, which is something I think Coach would have appreciated. Thanks to all the folks from Mission, Texas, and Dallas, Texas, the NFL, his players and opponents, the NFL Players Association, and all the news outlets that helped with this article, as well as the many members at Memories of Texas Football who contributed. Couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to the sportswriters of the day, credited where I shared their thoughts. Thanks to all the Cowboys fans who contributed to the ‘Dallas Cowboys Timeline’ on MemInc.org website. ‘Memories of Texas Football’ on Facebook is part of that organization.

It was an interesting journey. Along the way I was able to clarify a lot of misconceptions and half-truths about Coach Landry, such as the fact that he was not terminated by the then-new owner Jerry Jones on a golf course in Austin, but rather that he got the news from Tex Schramm in the film room at Valley Ranch a short time earlier. I was able to substantiate or refute several claims that have grown into “facts” over the years. I thought it would be a good idea to find out the truths while many of the people involved were still alive. I’ll keep my opinions out of this project until the summary at the end of the piece.

Introduction

I worked in the same building as the old Cowboys’ headquarters back in the day so I ran into Coach Landry and a lot of the Cowboy players quite often. Tom and his wife Alicia came to our club several times for dinner and a show, as we had lots of folk from his era performing. Also, his daughter and I lived at the same complex. I was over at her apartment one day, not knowing who her dad was when he happened to show up. Boy oh boy, did he remember me. Not sure that he wanted someone who worked at the Playboy Club of Dallas around his baby girl! RIP Lisa. I also was a manager at nightclubs like Papagayo, da Vinci, and others that Cowboy players frequented. Tom and Alicia would show up for events like the WCT Finals, which gave me even more insight into the man that many claimed to be a “Saint” and others the “Plastic Man.” Of course, neither view is entirely accurate.

I’ve interviewed folks like All Pros Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Bob Breunig, Charley Waters, Jerry Rhome, and others who gave me bits and pieces of Tom Landry over the years. I called them specifically for this article to give me insight into who Tom Landry really was in their view. And a lot of thanks to legendary Dallas sportswriter Brad Sham, who really opened my eyes to not only the greatness of Landry, but also the warts. We all have them.

And now, on with the show!

Who was Tom Landry?

Tom Landry was born in tiny Mission, Texas, close to the Texas-Mexico border on September 11, 1924, His parents were working folks. His dad Ray was an auto mechanic and part-time volunteer fireman. He and Tom’s mom, Ruth, raised four kids: Tom, his older brother Robert (who will come into play a few years later), and his younger sister and brother, Ruthie and Jack.

Tom grew into an excellent athlete at Mission HS, leading his team to an undefeated record his senior year, winning Regional title, which was as far as smaller schools could go back then.

A very young Tom Landry in his Mission, Texas days, about 1939. Photo courtesy Mission Historical Museum, City of Mission, Texas

Tom had already decided on his college and was headed off to what probably seemed like the Far East, the Far East being Mississippi and Mississippi State University. He had a friend there, John Tripson, who was from Madero, just south of Mission. John was part of the 1936 Mission team that went undefeated, and he was doing well for MSU, where he was All SEC and then All American. He convinced Tom to join him.

However, the Landry family felt Mississippi was too far to drive to watch him play. Remember, this was the 30s/early 40s and transportation moved at a much slower pace. That was when Tom, after talking with his family, decided that University of Texas would be the place for him.

Tom, the Longhorn. Frat brothers photo ot Tom at UT, courtesy DKE

Tom enrolled at UT in the Fall of 1941 to study industrial engineering. He attended school on a scholarship to play football and was also on the swim team. However, a couple of events were about to change the direction of millions of people from around the world, including one that affected Tom directly. The newly-formed “Axis” powers created World War II, which engulfed most of the free world, including both the Pacific and European theaters. Tom’s brother Robert, who was three years his senior, had enlisted with the Army Air Force to be a Pilot. (FYI, the Army Air Corps had become the Army Air Force in June of 1941 and would evolve into the separate branch of the armed forces, the Air Force, in 1947.) Robert passed the pilot course with flying colors and started ferrying B-17s across the Atlantic to England. On one of those flights, his plane mysteriously exploded in mid-air over the Greenland Sea, off the coast of Iceland. Robert’s body was never recovered, and the family held an empty casket funeral back in South Texas.

Robert had been the outgoing, magnetic-personality brother. Tom was much more reserved and worshipped his brother. Losing him closed Tom off even more.

Tom decided to drop out of UT after his first semester and enlist in the Army Air Force. He began his basic training at Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls and then did his preflight training at Kelly Field near San Antonio. Later, he began training at Sioux City, Iowa, to become a B-17 co-pilot. In a preview of his future life, his plane engine died during his initial flight. He helped recover the plane and landed safely. This was a man that got used to extreme circumstances quickly.

A very young Tom Landry in his early days in the Army Air Force. Courtesy the Army Air Force History. Net

In 1944, he received his orders and was assigned to Eighth Air Force at Ipswich, England, just northeast of London. The following is from a conversation I had with Darren Jolley of the 493rd Bomb Group historical organization in England:

1944 – Tom flew a total of 26 missions. On the 24th of December, he was listed as NLD (i.e., Not in the Line of Duty), so probably a hangover, and again on the 23rd of January when pilot Lt Jesse P Jacobs flew his familiarization mission. The “familiarization” mission was to take a newly arrived pilot, fresh from training, on his first combat mission with an experienced crew. The new pilot would take the right hand seat, flying as the co-pilot, and would learn everything he could from the experienced crew around him… on his return, this valuable information would then be passed on to his own crew before they all flew their own first mission together.

Looking at the Record of Sorties, you can see that Pilot Kenneth Sainz flew his first mission, #87, which was his “familiarization” flight. He then flew his first mission with his crew starting with mission # 90, which was Tom’s first mission. Mission # 106 flown by Kenneth was the one where Tom was missing and newly-arrived pilot Lt Jacobs was taken on his first combat mission before taking his own crew into combat. So, Kenneth was able to pass on his own experience to another crew.

Tom Landry B17 co-pilot missions. Courtesy Darren Jolley of the 493rd Bomb Group historical organization in England

Hence, Tom has 26 missions credited against the 29 of his pilot. The other mission was when Lt Kenneth Sainz flew his own familiarization mission, leaving Tom and the rest of his own crew on the ground.

(credit Darren Jolley of the 493rd Bomb Group historical group in England)

Tom showed himself to be an excellent co-pilot, but his heart was not in flying either for the Army Air Force or even commercially. He had his heart set on becoming an engineer. However, he had gained a huge love of flying that would stay with him all of his life.

Tom Landry points to a map when he was a co-pilot on a B17 in WWII. Courtesy EBay

1946 – Tom returned to UT for the Fall semester. He quickly worked into the Longhorns rotation, playing fullback and defensive back. He was a big part of the bowl game winners from New Year’s Day games in 1948 and 1949. He was a member of the DKE fraternity at UT and got his bachelor’s degree in 1949. In the off season of his upcoming job, he planted himself in Houston to get his industrial engineering master’s degree from University of Houston in 1952.

Tom rejoins the Longhorns.
courtesy The History of Longhorn Sports

In 1948, Landry was drafted by both the New York Yankees of the AAFC (All-America Football Conference) and by the New York Giants of the NFL. He played for the Yankees in the 1949 season. The AAFC folded after that season, and the Yankees were not absorbed by the NFL. The Giants selected Tom in the dispersal draft.

Tom’s Bowman football card from 1952, courtesy Comc.com

The Giants ran a 6-1-4 defense to combat the run-oriented teams of the time. Under the tutelage of the head coach Steve Owen, Tom would be called upon to explain to the other players how that defense worked. He was a coach-in-training, learning what each position had to do in any given situation.

1953 presented a different challenge as the Giants lost their first three games. They ended up 3-9, including giving up the second most points in franchise history in a 62-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Owen was fired that season.

1954 saw Landry being selected as an All Pro. Tom played through 1955 and was a player-coach for those last two years under new coach Jim Lee Howell. His football career ended with 32 interceptions in only 80 games, with 3 TDs. He also recovered 10 fumbles for 67 yds and 2 TDs. Tom’s title was Defensive Coordinator for 1954-55, while Vince Lombardi was the Offensive Coordinator. The Giants went to three championships between ‘56 and ‘59, winning it all in ‘56.

Jim Lee Howell & Tom Landry together in New York in 1959. Courtesy EBay

Cowboys early history and how Coach Landry came to be with them:

1959

– Clint Murchison signs Don Meredith to a five-year personal service contract with his marine company, Tecon, to lock him up for the proposed Dallas Steers (yep, that was their original name) franchise. In November 1959, they also signed Don Perkins to a personal-services contract for a $1,500 bonus and a $10,000 salary

– The Steers name was changed to the Dallas Rangers after a short time.

– Murchison doesn’t have the votes against the powerful Redskins franchise that has the South locked up.

– Clint and Bedford Wynne find out “Hail to the Redskins” is not owned by Washington, and ‘in a nutshell,” purchase it and trade it to the Skins for their vote.

– The founding investors were Clint Murchison, Jr. (45%), John D. Murchison (45%), Toddie Lee and Bedford Wynne (Director and Secretary) (5%) and William R. Hawn (5%).

Tex Schramm, Bedford Wynne, Clint Murchison and Tom Landry Courtesy Twitter. This would be in 1960, Bedrord was a partial owner. He is Angus Wynne Jr’s brother. Toddie Lee Wynne was also part owner. Courtesy Dallas Cowboy Timeline

– Clint Murchison Jr. becomes the new team’s majority owner. His first order of business was to hire Tex Schramm as General Manager and Gil Brandt as Player Personnel Director

– December 22, 1959: Clint Murchison hires Tom Landry as Head Coach of the Dallas Steers.

Tom almost took a job with the new Houston group. However he said in an interview “Tex gave me what I wanted from the beginning, complete control of the football end — anything that had to do with the players other than signing them,”

(Courtesy Memories of Texas Football, Dallas Cowboys Timeline https://meminc.org/cowboystimeline/ )

When I took the job in 1960, I wasn’t worried in the least, mainly because I didn’t plan to stay in football. I had earned a business degree at Texas and had just added a degree in industrial engineering at Houston. I felt it was just a matter of time before I found a good job.”
Tom Landry, Sporting News, 8/15/81

Landry’s first season was the Cowboy’s first season, 1960. That year they recorded a 0-11-1 record, not exactly a monumental start, along with five or fewer wins in the next four seasons.

1960-64

A QUICK HISTORY: Before 1964, you could go to a Cowboys’ game and, in between sips from the flask, actually follow the plays. Then Landry, already known for his defensive wizardry from his days as assistant coach of the New York Giants, installed a new defense never before seen in football. A couple of the defensive linemen would get in this bizarre, four-point crouch, looking like frogs. A couple of other linemen would be backed off the line for no apparent reason; the linebackers would jump around like they had ants in their pants; the strong safety, who we thought was supposed to be back waiting for a pass, would suddenly show up right on the line of scrimmage, and everyone on the defense was shouting stuff to one another.

Then the ball would be snapped and, instead of the defensive players chasing after the runner, they would all head to specific, predetermined territories they were supposed to cover. We’d rise from our seats, alarmed. No one was attacking! No one was pursuing the runner! What is this? They’ve all gone crazy out there! Yet something very odd happened. It seemed no matter where the runner went, there stood some Cowboy waiting to make a tackle. This would happen play after play—and a great murmur would run through the stadium, as we’d all turn to one another asking what the hell was going on. 

(Courtesy Skip Hollandsworth, August 1987, D Magazine)

Landry with diminutive quarterback Eddie LeBaron, 1960. Courtesy EBay

The early 60s were rough on Tom but he endured, then:

February 5, 1964: Clint Murchison signs Tom Landry to the longest contract in sports history, a ten-year agreement.

While those first few years were tough, the Cowboys improved to 7-7 in 1965. In 1966, they finally made it to the NFL Championship game but lost to the Green Bay Packers.

1972 – Finally, no longer the bridesmaid, on January 16, 1972, Cowboys win their first Superbowl, 24-3 over the Miami Dolphins in Superbowl VI

1978 – The Cowboys win Super Bowl XII against the Broncos. 

Cowboys win it all… World Champions, finally!

As this is more about the individual journey of Landry, we are going to jump ahead to the years that were important. For more info on the year by year progress of Landry and the Cowboys, go to Memories of Texas Football, Dallas Cowboys Timeline https://meminc.org/cowboystimeline/ 

Landry and Staubach, courtesy Washington Times

The Super Bowl years are over. Enter the 1980s:

As the 1980s went on, it was not the greatest time for Coach Landry and the Cowboys as teams began to figure out his flex defense and his over- complicated offense. The NFC Championship in 1982 was the last time Landry would coach a playoff game; the prior week had been his last playoff win.

When Bum Bright bought the team in 1984, the Cowboys went from 10-6 in 1985 to 7-8 in 1987 and finally 3-13 in 1988. Bright was becoming quickly disillusioned with Landry and the team at that point. Public outcry to remove Landry grew to a tidal wave, Tom’s single-mindedness had left him totally exposed to the reality of the situation. For three years in a row, he said he was going to resign as Cowboys coach but reneged each year after Dallas spent millions of dollars to bring in replacements. It didn’t help that “Landry treated me like s**t.”

(Bum Bright quote)

1986 – In the Brad Sham book Stadium Stories, Tex Schramm says that, in the Spring of 1986, he, Bum Bright, and Landry agreed that Landry would retire at the end of the season. According to Tex, the NFL had moved past

“Stadium Stories” by Brad Sham, courtesy Brad Sham

Landry and he would not adapt. Paul Hackett was brought in from San Francisco as Offensive Coordinator to take over for Landry and revive the stagnating offense, installing the West Coast offense. As the year went on, Landry decided he didn’t like the changes and gradually took over the offense again, bringing back much of his old offense. At the end of the season, Landry did not retire, infuriating even his closest friend, Tex Schramm.

1987 – Landry once again said that this was his last year and that he would retire. Schramm intended to hire Marty Schottenheimer to replace Landry, and had him in town, looking at houses. But when Landry held a press conference, Schramm discovered that Landry was not quitting. Brad Sham notes, “Landry then decides, without telling anyone, he is not going to quit.” Still, Tex would not fire him. He, Gil, and Tom had been hired together, and he always felt that they would leave together.

Last year, you just got a taste of the unpleasantness to come. Remember what happened? The Cowboys were 6-2 at the midway point, looking good, and then, mostly due to a defense that went bust, they lost seven of their final eight games, finishing with their first losing season since 1964. The defense gave up 337 points last season, which ranked 18th in the NFL. They finished 10th in the league in yards allowed. The Cowboys’ defense, always the final proof of Landry’s brilliance, hadn’t looked this bad in two decades.

(Courtesy Skip Hollandsworth, August 1987, D Magazine)

Our drafts weren’t super-spectacular anymore because everyone knew the same things our guys did. The Cowboys became just another team. And Tom had diminished capacities in his coaching; he was not the coach he was earlier. People that were brought in to help, like Paul Hackett, he shoved aside. He still did everything himself. He still only had the three main assistants. And he was still calling goal-line plays.”

(courtesy Russ Russell, the former Dallas Cowboys Weekly publisher.)

Landry had been like “a bankrupt baron sitting in a castle. The electricity was off. The furniture covered. The servants gone. But he still dressed for dinner every night.”

(Courtesy Dallas Morning News’s David Casstevens)

Coach Landry on a radio show with Frank Gleiber. Found in a box at SMU deGolyer Library, Paul Heckmann

1988 – Possibly Landry’s worst year since he began. He could no longer relate to the players, the NFL had long since figured out the flex defense, and his GM and owner had expected him to retire for the past two years. They go 3-13. Once again, he did not retire as promised to, arguably, his best friend, Tex Schramm.

Japanese investors came along in the latter part of 1988 and were rumored to be making plans to purchase the club and move it to Los Angeles as the Rams were about to move to St Louis. The Rams’ last season in LA was ‘89. Bright was having massive money problems at that time and Dallas almost lost the Cowboys. Jerry Jones had entered the picture not too long after and one might say that he rescued the Cowboys from leaving Dallas.

* * There are several news reports reporting the transition of the Cowboys so I’m copying them here, as they are stated. Some overlap each other in the time frame. For your perusal:

1989 – Team owner H.R. “Bum” Bright announced that the Cowboys had been sold to Jerry Jones, a longtime friend of (Jimmy) Johnson. Bright said Jones, 46, of Little Rock, Ark., “will be the most enthusiastic owner that the Cowboys have ever had.” Announcement of the sale, rumored since Thursday, came at a news conference at the Cowboys’ headquarters at Valley Ranch, about 25 miles northeast of Dallas.

“He is as square as a graham cracker, he will do exactly what he says he will….I think the group out here is in the best hands it can be in,” Bright said of Jones. “He is going to be enthusiastic, he’s going to be interesting, he’s going to be aggressive. He’s going to do what the Cowboys need to do to be in the position they have been in the past few years.”

After Bright’s opening remarks, Jones said that Johnson will be the Cowboys’ head coach, effective intermediately. “The man that is going to be with the Cowboys is Jimmy Johnson. He is going to be the heart and the soul of the Cowboys. The greatest thing that is going to ever happen to the Cowboys is Jimmy Johnson,” Jones said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter, himself a serious bidder for the Cowboys, said he thought he was in the thick of things a week ago, “but something happened.”

Of Jones, Carter said, “I don’t know much about him, but from what I saw tonight, I’m impressed.”

(credit to the Deseret News, an AP story, https://www.deseret.com/1989/2/26/18796703/new-cowboys-owner-fires-landry-hires-jimmy-johnson-br-arkansas-millionaire-buys-club-taps-miami-coac )

1989 – Dale Hansen, the famed sports anchor for WFAA, Channel 8, was speaking at a banquet when the (Scott Murray on a competing station) promo aired. WFAA’s news director saw it and called Hansen back to the station to try to nail down the story.

Hansen immediately called Schramm. “What’s going on?” he asked.

Nothing,” Schramm said.

C’mon, Tex, I’m your guy.”

There’s no story there, Dale. There’s nothing to it.”

I’ll call you back after the report,” Hansen told him.

I’ll wait for your call.”

Murray’s report at ten o’clock detailed that Jones was buying the team and that Landry was going to be fired.

Hansen called Schramm back.

Our young boy in Fort Worth has just f—ed up his entire career,” Schramm said. “That stupid f—er has made the biggest mistake of his career. He’s f—ing dead.”

The report sounded credible,” Hansen allowed.

Schramm shot back, “Do you really think they’d sell the Cowboys and I wouldn’t f—in’ know about it?”

But Bum Bright had done exactly that.

Bright wanted Schramm and Landry to be stuck just like they were,” Hansen said later. “He revelled in it. He called me bragging about it: ‘Schramm spent more of my money buying goddamn houses for his girlfriends, and that son of a bitch Landry treated me like s**t. To hell with both of them.’”

That afternoon, Tom Landry was at the Cowboys’ headquarters, Valley Ranch, watching game film with Jerry Rhome, a newly-hired assistant coach, when (Tex) Schramm stuck his head in the door and told the coach he needed to talk to him outside. Landry walked out, returned a few minutes later, and said nothing. He turned on the film again. A couple of minutes later, Rhome looked over at Landry and saw tears in his eyes. “You’re a fine young coach, and I’m sorry I got you into this,” Landry told him, “but they just fired me.” He wished Rhome well and left. *

(courtesy Dallas Morning News and WFAA TV)

(Jerry Rhome would stay on and tutor the future Hall of Fame Quarterback Troy Aikman. I had just interviewed Jerry for Memories of Texas Football and then I ran across that last tidbit. So I picked up the phone and asked him about that moment that Tom came back into the room from talking with Tex Schramm. He remembered it well.)

We were sitting there going through procedures, film study and all the things coaches talk about. Tex stuck his head in the door. I remember Tex sticking his head into the film room and calling Tom out into the hallway. After a few minutes Tom came back in and said, ‘Well, they just fired me.’ And that was that.”

(Jerry was the first non-participant to hear the news. And onto the “official” firing news. At this point it appeared that Landry left Valley Ranch and headed to the airport so he could fly down to Austin to play golf and did not wait to speak to Jerry Jones.)

Brad Sham: “So, Bum Bright says to Jerry Jones, ‘I’ll fire him for you.’  And Jerry says ‘No, no, I’m going to fly down and tell him face to face.’  Well, people don’t want to hear that, because that doesn’t make Jerry a villain.”

Bright says he had wanted to sack Tom Landry in 1987 but couldn’t talk Tex Schramm into doing it. Bright said Schramm realized the Cowboys were skidding downhill fast. “Something needed to be done,” Bright said.

A new direction was needed on the coaching staff from Tom on down. But despite the fact he appears gruff at times, Tex is a sentimentalist. He didn’t have the stomach to do what needed to be done.” Besides, “Schramm said he didn’t have a replacement ready.”

Jones continues to take criticism for firing Landry and installing Jimmy Johnson, his longtime friend and former Arkansas Razorbacks teammate, as head coach, but Bright said Jones may be getting a bad rap about having fired Landry in a cold-hearted fashion. He said Jones had insisted, two days before a news conference to announce the team’s sale and coaching changes, that there would be no deal until he personally talked to Landry.

On Friday, the day before the deal was finalized, Schramm joined Bright and Jones at Bright’s offices, and Schramm called Landry to inform him that Jones was bringing in his own coach, Bright said.

Bright also said later, a year after selling the Cowboys, that not firing Landry himself was one of his biggest regrets in life. “If I had known there would have been this much heat over Tom, I’d have taken it myself,” Bright said in the Dallas Morning News. “I know that Jerry doesn’t deserve all this stuff. It wouldn’t have been as hard for me as it has been for Jerry, because he was the one continuing. I just didn’t realize.”

(Courtesy Cowboy Owner Bum Bright and the LA Times Jan 1990 https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-02-26-sp-1290-story.html )

Bright then suggested to Jones that Schramm should be the one to officially tell Landry what was going on. The coach had already seen the photograph of Jones and Johnson dining at Mia’s on the front page of Saturday’s Morning News and had left Dallas, piloting his family in their Cessna 210 from Love Field to their golf-course home by the Lakeway resort, west of Austin.

Jones disagreed. “I have to face him,” he said firmly. “I can’t do this unless I face him personally.” He couldn’t do business without manning up.

That afternoon, Jones and Schramm flew in Jones’s Lear 35A to Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, in Austin, where they rented a car and drove to Lakeway. Schramm had called ahead to give Landry a heads-up: they needed to talk about the future. They found Coach and son practicing their putts at the Hidden Hills golf course in the waning light. The group retreated to an empty sales office.

Jones introduced himself to Landry, informing him, “I’m here and so is Jimmy.” It was Jones’s clumsy way of saying Johnson was in and Landry was out.

You could have saved your plane trip down here,” Landry replied. “You could have handled this whole thing a lot better. This whole thing is just a bunch of grandstand tactics. You could have saved your gas.” His blue eyes burned holes into the Arkansan’s skull. “You’ve taken my team away from me,” he said.

It was over. No recourse, no appeal, no nada. Landry and Schramm shook hands, both with tears streaming down their cheeks. The dynasty they had built was no longer theirs. Jones later acknowledged that the meeting had not gone the way he had imagined. “I was basically just trying to say something you just can’t say,” he admitted. And he hadn’t said anything very well. He claimed it was the first time he’d ever fired a key employee face-to-face. Before, he’d let others do it for him.

(Courtesy Joe Nick Patoski, October 2012, Texas Monthly, Adapted from the book The Dallas Cowboys, by Joe Nick Patoski.)

Jones offered Landry a consulting position with the Cowboys which Landry turned down.

It was a very difficult meeting, difficult and sad,” said Schramm, who will retain his role with the Cowboys. “It’s tough when you break a relationship that you have had for 29 years. But I am glad the ownership problem has been cleared up. It’s good for the ballclub.”…

Jerry Jones: “Our agreement on the purchase of the Dallas Cowboys was finalized with a few notes on a napkin and a handshake,” Jones said in a statement. “With Bum, his word meant everything….”

While Jones will be the majority partner, there will be five minority owners, including Ed Smith of Houston, who had 27% under Bright’s ownership. The other minority owners include Charles Wily, Sam Wily and Evan Wily.

Shortly before the news conference, Smith confirmed to the Associated Press that Landry was out. “It’s a sad deal, and Tom Landry and Tex Schramm were the only reasons I got into owning some of the Cowboys’ stock,” Smith said. “Tom should have gotten out two or three years ago. We shouldn’t have had to tell him to get out. But what are you going to do when you only have 38,000 people showing up at the stadium and you are losing hard cash?” Smith asked. “Tom just had to go, and we shouldn’t have had to tell him.”

Smith said Jones “will build an excellent team and organization here. I want to tell you, this is one class guy. He went all the way to Austin to tell Landry first hand, and he didn’t have to do that.”

(Courtesy L.A. TIMES ARCHIVES FEB. 26, 1989, AP Story) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-02-26-sp-1040-story.html

Post Cowboys Tom Landry

Tom ended his professional career with a record of 297 wins, 185 losses and 9 ties, a 61.43% winning record. He was 22-18 in playoff wins vs. losses with his last game, a loss, coming in 1982. Landry won the NFL’s Coach of the Year award in 1966 after guiding the Cowboys to a 10-3-1 record and a berth in the playoffs. As the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, he coached three players to award-winning seasons: Calvin Hill, AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1969; Harvey Martin, AP Defensive Player of the Year in 1977; Tony Dorsett, AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1977.

In 1990 Coach Landry was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He traveled a lot with Alicia. Also did a lot of work with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (“FCA”).

Landry was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in May of 2000 and underwent chemotherapy treatments in May and November. He was released Nov. 21 but returned to the hospital in Jan 2000. He was with his family when he died on Feb 12, 2000.

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What did his players/coaches/NFL folk think of Coach Landry?

Bob Breunig

Paul, you wanted to speak about Tom Landry. And I can just say a few things on this. He’s one of the greatest men you could ever meet. I remember when I was drafted by the Cowboys. I was told by the many scouts across the country I’d be taken in the first round, and I wasn’t.

And then the second round came and went and I wasn’t drafted, but the third round came and I was drafted by the Cowboys. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, just to be able to come to the Cowboys and be in three Super Bowls in the next four years, but mostly because we were under the tutelage of Tom Landry, just a great, great man, and a great coach.

We arrived at 21, 22 years old, the dirty dozen year 1975. And so the timing was just great to be able to be under his leadership. His flex defense concepts—I mean, they’re one of a kind in the National Football League and really were outstanding. People gave him a ton of credit for being on offense and the creativeness on the offensive side, but the defense was equally as creative and like none other in the NFL.

So it was pretty cool on Wednesday morning when he would come in and address the defensive team and give us the game plan for the week after he spent two or three days thinking about the next team that we’re going to be playing. You know, I think in those days we had 14 games and then we went to 16 games (later). Every Wednesday morning, he’d walk into the defensive game room. The whole defense would be in there and he would deliver the game plan for the week. Whoever we were playing, he had been working on it for two or three days and he was ready to give the game plan, what the defense would do against the next opponent.

It’s pretty neat being under his watch for 10 years and to be in his midst. We had a lot of great teams, went to six NFC championships and three Super Bowls. Our age group caught him, I think, at his prime. He was a great, great man.

And I think mostly it was that he was a Christian man and was not afraid to say so and he encouraged me a lot. I think of many others in their Christian faith along the way, but he was very careful about how he did that, but in a good way.

(Bob Breunig, All Pro Linebacker – Dallas Cowboys, courtesy of interview with Paul Heckmann)

Duane Thomas

…the first inkling management had of what would soon be known in polite circles as “the Duane Thomas Problem” was when Duane called a press conference and described coach Tom Landry as “a plastic man, actually no man at all.” Gil Brandt was branded “a liar.” Duane put down club president Tex Schramm as a man who was “sick, demented and completely dishonest,” to which Schramm replied good naturedly, “That’s not bad. He got two out of three.”

Tom Landry’s attitude was one of bewilderment (re:Duane),” said Al Ward. “Tom couldn’t believe that the boy couldn’t be reached and helped. What a crime to see all that talent go to waste. Tom would just shake his head and say, ‘Why couldn’t I reach him? Where did I fail?’ ”

(courtesy Texas Monthly https://www.texasmonthly.com/arts-entertainment/the-lonely-blues-of-duane-thomas/ )

Charlie Waters

Coach Landry was, well, he dove into things completely. As far as taking on a player that has potential, he would take them on and really teach them properly the way to go, especially with a player that had some potential and was kind of wavering a little bit.

Yes, sir. And he was a genius in that regard. He was a genius, period about calculations and the way to stop offensive plays. He was also a genius at how he handled people. He brought out the very best in most everybody. Thomas Henderson, of course, you know, he was a great athlete, but Thomas was kind of a spoiled brat kind of guy, you know? Landry eventually got the best out of him, turned him into an All Pro.

Thomas was a great example, but there were also guys that were kind of timid who complained they would take on more (per Landry) and then they would be more forceful. There were a lot of players who had a lot of great athleticism and were not using it fully to their advantage. Coach Landry would figure out a way to bring that out in them.

He would put them on the spot and see if they would respond. And if they didn’t respond the right way, then he would show them. He was a teacher. If they did respond, he wouldn’t gloat in it, he would just give the guy a lot more responsibility.

That’s the way he trained players. He was just a genius. That’s the way he sold his system to us. You know, we’re the only team in the league that ran the flex defense. It’s goofy as hell.

Paul: I heard it called a lot of things, but not goofy.

Charlie: Well, there’s usually a lot of cussing involved, the down linemen with their very funny stance for the tackle that was “froglike.” Two hands down on the ground, butt up in the air. I think Ernie Stautner kind of summed it up later on when he said he’d been working it for three decades and he still doesn’t get it.

Paul: I know Coach Landry loved the way you played though. He said “If I had 45 players that tried as hard and cared as much as Charlie did, we would not lose a football game.”

Charlie: Yeah, he said something like that, didn’t he? Yeah, that’s quite a compliment. He didn’t compliment many people. He saw himself in me. He was a quarterback in college. I was a quarterback in college.

And so with me, he felt like I was a defensive back and I’m going, what? I’ve never run backwards in my life. I’ve never made a high tackle. And he was right. You know, he was right once again. I was a defensive back and I didn’t know it. He saw the quality you had, you know what I mean?

Thanks for doing this, Paul. Coach Landry was a very smart man. I mean he was a pilot in WWII. You gotta be smart to do that! He was a genius.

Good luck with this.

(Charlie Waters, All Pro Safety – Dallas Cowboys, courtesy an interview with Paul Heckmann)

Jerry Rhome

Jerry Rhome: He was about as funny as… well, you know…he was dry. And very serious all the time, serious. The greatest example of that is my first year after we came back from training camp. He called all the quarterbacks in one at a time to talk to us about our future and what he wanted us to work on during the summer, and where we are on the football team. So, we had our little talk, and he said, “Tell so and so to come in.” I said, “Coach, can I tell you something?” He said, “Of course,” and I said, “Coach, you’re a good coach, but you’re behind the times.”

Tom Landry and Don Meredith in the 1960s. Courtesy True Blue

Paul Heckmann: What was his reply?

Jerry Rhome: Well, he just looked at me. I said, “You’re being passed by. They all are throwing the ball and running and stretching their offenses out and running three receivers and one back.” I said, “You are strictly a two-receiver, two-back guy and the quarterback out of the center.” He finally decided to change about two or three years later. But when I said it to him, he said, “When you get your team, you can do it your way.” I said, “Coach, I’m sorry. I probably should’ve kept my mouth shut.” He said, “No, I like a young man that’s not afraid to step up.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to step up.” He said, “What now?” I said, “If you want me to get on the board and draw up some formations, I would love to do that.” He said, “I think I can wait on that one.”

(Courtesy our interview with Jerry Rhome by Paul Heckmann)

Sam Huff

In his autobiography Tough Stuff, Sam Huff wrote of Landry: “His theory was, don’t expect me to pat you on the back and tell you what a great job you did. You’re a pro, we expect you to do a good job, that’s what we pay you for… If you watch him on the sidelines, when a guy scores a touchdown, or kicks a field goal, or makes a big play on defense, he never even looks at him coming off the field.”

(Courtesy Sam Huff, NY Giants and Washington Redskins All Pro Linebacker https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1989/02/26/shoddy-farewell-for-a-living-legend/27985f6c-4945-430c-bc62-6cd0647df547/ )

Bob Kap (Kapoustin)

Bob was the former Cowboys kicking coach and took Tom Landry to Europe to scout Tony Fritsch among others when the new soccer style kicking was taking the NFL by storm

Dad didn’t think much of Landry. Landry was extremely bland and dad was full of piss and vinegar. Not a good mix.

(Bob Kap, Dallas Cowboys Kicking Coach (Kapoustin) RIP, Courtesy phone conversation with Mike Kapoustin, Bob’s son)

Danny White

If (Danny) White seemed somewhat mysterious to the players, he was going through enough troubles of his own trying to figure out his coach. Tom Landry’s stoic, inscrutable presence on the sideline has become a cherished part of sports folklore. Yet that image has held other meanings for Landry’s players. In his first four years on the team, White had only one conversation with Landry that touched on subjects other than technical parts of the game. Landry kept an arm’s length away from his quarterback; he never talked to him about desire or dedication. “If you wanted to look at your coach as a kind of father figure,” says White, “this was definitely not the place to do it.”

Landry believed that a head coach “simply can’t have close feelings toward his players. It’s unfortunate, but I can’t have a personal relationship with any of them because my decisions have to be based on what’s best for the team.” White says that he (Landry) and Staubach, the player Landry has liked most in all his years of coaching, weren’t that close when Staubach was playing. “What I try to do with a quarterback,” Landry says, “is work with him enough on the details of the game plans and so, on that, he can become an extension of my mind.” But not necessarily an extension of his heart – which is what plagued Danny White.

If White made a good play, Landry rarely said anything. “Once in a while,” says White, “if I was walking past him right after the play, he would say, ‘Okay, way-to-go,’ real fast, as if it were all one word.” It wasn’t that White needed constant praise, but he did want to know where he stood. How did someone win Landry’s favor? “I always wondered what he was thinking,” White says. “Was he behind me? Did he think I should do this better or work on something else? Why was he holding back? When you play for someone for thirteen years and in all that time have only a half-dozen personal conversations with him, then that circulates through your head. I’ve had a lot of time to observe him. But I don’t think he knows me well, not nearly as well as I know him.”

(Courtesy Danny White, Dallas Cowboys All Pro Quarterback and D Magazine Sept 1988 https://www.dmagazine.com/publications/d-magazine/1988/september/the-twilight-of-danny-white/ )

Credit to Mark Ribowsky, The Last Cowboy: A Life of Tom Landry

Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson

Paul: I know you had your good days and bad days with Coach Landry. Can you tell me a little about your time or a special moment with Coach Landry?

Thomas: I showed up at training camp as a rookie, and I just did what I was told. One of the earliest memories I have of him is that we used to run this mountain in Thousand Oaks. And here he comes. Running like Chester from

Thomas destroying the Orange Crush offense in the 1978 Super Bowl. Courtesy Thomas Henderson and our interview with him

Gunsmoke. He had this funny gait. And he runs past me and he says, ‘You’re not going to let me beat you, are you?’ He does his Chester, Marshall Dillon run on me. And that was the first thing he said to me.

I didn’t take his flex defense to heart until I got into my third season. I finally realized that I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. But once I learned the flex, Pro Bowl and all conference and my own personal honors came.

So, the incident that got me fired from the Cowboys, well Paul, people don’t know the story, so I’m gonna tell you for the first time.

The story was, Preston Pearson had a rally towel (he was selling). He had played for the Steelers, and so he was trying to promote a rally towel during the Redskins game, so he gave me a towel. I’m gonna make sure they know about the towel, too. I’m on the sideline and Jerry Tubbs runs up to me, gets in my face, says, “You know, you can’t do that when we’re losing. Why are you over there mugging for the camera?” I didn’t expect Preston to come to my defense, but I sort of told Jerry Tubbs where to go.

Nobody knows to this day that I was doing a favor for a teammate. Nobody came to my defense, not even Preston. Landry called me into his office the next day and that meeting went awful. Oh, wow, I cursed at him I told him to ‘Go f himself.’ To this day, I don’t think he was gonna fire me, but my attitude gave him the rope to hang me with. And that’s why I left Dallas.

So let’s go to 1993 when I was over 10 years sober. I invited Coach Landry to my 10-year celebration (in NA/AA). He did not confirm. He wouldn’t answer my emails. Wouldn’t answer my calls. But he showed up. And so Tom Landry helped me celebrate my first 10 years in recovery. When he got to the podium—my college coach and my college position coach had already spoken—and the first thing (Landry) said into the microphone was, “Boy, if I’d have known that, (he laughs) I never would have drafted him!” ‘Cause they were telling funny stories. He learned later that I had drug problems. Being the man that he is, it’s easy to know him that day. He would have helped me rather than kick me out. You get that? Oh yeah, that’s saying a lot for him, isn’t it?

(courtesy my phone interview with Thomas Henderson, All Pro Linebacker Dallas Cowboys)

=========================================================================

My Opinion

And finally my opinion, my take on what I’ve dug up. Just as I expected, I found Landry wasn’t a saint, but he certainly wasn’t the devil. He was different things to different people. He was hard to get a read on for most and never really hit it off in a big way with any of the staff, players, or owners that he worked for during his years on the field.

I cannot imagine working for someone and hearing this, “Landry treated me like s**t” (owner Bum Bright). Or getting in a plane and leaving instead of staying to talk to Jerry Jones after GM Tex Schramm gave him the bad news that he had been fired in that film room at Valley Ranch. I wonder what would have happened if he had made a stand and demanded that he stay. Instead, he made Jerry Jones chase him down on a golf course two hundred miles away. It also makes me wonder if he was ready to leave the NFL at that time.

Without a doubt, the game had passed him by. He was no longer relatable to the game or to the new age of players. It had been time to go for several years. We heard that from too many of the folks above. I remember all the sports pages in the mid-to-later ‘80s saying the same thing.

And in a strange turn of events, with all the talk about loyalty, the week before Landry was fired, Landry fired his best friend left on the coaching staff, Ernie Stautner, who had been with him for 22 years. Loyalty… a two-edged sword.

On the other hand, Landry brought us 2 NFL championships and about a decade-and-a-half of excellent football. On the field, he was revered as a good man by many who played for him, put up with by others, very few with negative things to say about the man. But to a man, no one was able to get to know Landry himself during his Cowboy years. It must have been lonely for Coach Landry.

I suspect that a lot of the good will toward Landry comes from his later years, post football, when he was so involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was a solid speaker and his belief was stout. I feel like he really opened up to nearly everyone after he left the game. Leaving the game was probably the best thing that could have happened to him.

1984, Tom with wife Alicia and daughter Kitty. Courtesy Texas Monthly

————-

As far as this story goes, I think this quote from the great Dallas Sportswriter Brad Sham is the best way to wrap it up:

There is no right way to fire Tom Landry. Yet it was what everybody wanted done, and what everybody agreed had to happen. They just wanted him to step away gracefully, but he didn’t want to. The great irony to me is that is what he did with his players. He intentionally did not have close personal relationships with most of his players while he was playing because he knew there would be a day when he would have to cut them. And all of his players, 85-90%, didn’t like him when they played for him. But they looked back after they played for him, and said “Wow.” He cared about them deeply, but felt, this is the way I have to run this business. Then it happened to him, and he didn’t like it.”

(Courtesy Brad Sham on a Peter King podcast.)


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