FanPost

KITTI'S KORNER: Tom Landry 1960-1989

Born September 11, 1924 in Mission, Texas; Tom Landry was the second son of Ray and Ruth Landry. Along with his older brother Robert, he had an excellent local reputation as a ballplayer. During his senior year at Mission High School, Landry quarterbacked the Eagles to an undefeated 12-0 season. Even at that early age he was deeply committed to his religious faith, and so young Tom gave serious consideration to attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but in the end travel considerations won out and he enrolled at the University of Texas. This allowed his parents and siblings more opportunities to watch the young man on the football field. Shortly after his collegiate experience began, it was interrupted be World War II. His older brother, Robert had enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor. Flying a mission to ferry B-17’s to England, Robert’s plane went down over the Atlantic, and Tom enlisted in the Air Corps to honor his brother’s memory. Like the older Landry, Tom became a B-17 copilot and after earning his wings, he found himself assigned to the Eighth Air Force flying bombing missions deep into the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. Shortly before the end of the war, he rotated back to the United States having completed the required 30 combat missions, including one where he survived a crash landing in Belgium. He would soon resume his studies in Austin. As a Longhorn, Landry was a two way player. Although he played both halfback and defensive back, it was as a defender that he made his major impact. Tom was a key figure in the back to back New Years Day bowl victories in 1948 and 1949. He was so successful that after the 1946 season the New York Giants has risked a “Futures” pick on him even though the earliest he would be available to them was 1949. Landry; however, would not begin his professional career as a Giant. The New York Football Yankees had also invested a All American Football Conference futures pick on the young DB, and as Landry walked off the field after his final game as a Horn, he was approached by Jack White of the Yankees coaching staff. Contract in hand, he offered the young prospect a $6000 a year salary and a $500 signing bonus. With plans to get married, Landry signed the deal and shortly after he began 51 years of marriage to the former Alicia Wiggs. He used the signing bonus to pay for the wedding and set up the Landry’s first household. Landry made his professional debut against the powerful Cleveland Browns, the team that dominated the AAFC throughout its short lifespan. His first appearance was a disaster, not only were the Yankees thrashed by the Browns, but Landry allowed Mac Speedie to set an AAFC record for yards in a game. As fate would have it, during the game Mrs. Landry had a few struggles of her own. Thomas Wade Landry, Jr. chose to make his first appearance that day as well. Landry only played the one season for the Yankees; the AAFC folded after the season. Landry then joined the Giants, the team where he would first make his professional mark. Under the guidance of the head coach, Steve Owen, Landry got his first taste of coaching. Shortly after his arrival on the team, he was tasked with teaching the 6-1-4 defensive scheme that Owen favored to his teammates. His time as Owens “unofficial” assistant was brief, as the coach was fired after a dismal 1953 season. The following season Landry came into his own as a defender. That year Tom earned All-Pro status. He played only one more year before being named as the full time defensive coordinator for Jim Lee Howell’s Giants. During a career of only 80 games Landry recorded 32 interceptions which he returned for a total of just over 400 yards and three touchdowns. He added 10 fumble recoveries for another two touchdowns. As the defensive coordinator Landry was paired with Vince Lombardi, the offensive coordinator. Together they lead the Giants to 3 NFL Championships in four seasons together. With the Giants, Tom Landry devised the 4-3 defense that we now take for granted. At that time most teams played a 5-2 package, but Landry found himself with a very athletic Sam Huff as his man lined up over the center. In an effort to take advantage of Huff’s playmaking ability, Landry moved Huff three yards off of the line of scrimmage. In doing so not only did he invent the 4-3, he also created the middle linebacker position. He also became the first defensive coach to teach reading “keys” to his players. This is another aspect of the game that we take for granted. The success Landry experienced lead to his being named the new head coach of an expansion franchise named the “Dallas Steers”. By the time the first training camp began, Landry’s Steers had become the Dallas Cowboys and he would begin a few years of frustrating work building a team. Starting in 1965, the team had begun to see some success, finishing the season 7-7. The next season, they shocked the NFL world by winning 10 games, and making their first appearance in the NFL Championship game. It was just a glimpse of what lay ahead. Working with his base 4-3 defense, Landry devised a scheme designed to counter Lombardi’s “run to daylight” offensive theory. He started by pulling two of his defensive linemen a yard off of the line to allow them a better angle to make plays. The two linemen who played off the line varied based on the reads made by the middle linebacker who ran the defense. This became known as the “Flex” defense. Having created the ultimate defense, Landry then set his mind to devising a offense to defeat it. Landry brought back a lot of motion and shifts. These concepts had not been seen in the NF for many years. To mask the movement and keep opposing defenses in the dark as long as possible, Landry taught his offensive linemen to stand up out of their pre-set position in unison so that his taller players would mask the movement. Once the backfield had settled the linemen then took their set positions, once again moving in unison. Landry’s innovations were not limited to formations and schemes. He sought out a different kind of athlete. In a league dominated by short and stocky football players, Landry sought out taller leaner athletes. He looked at non traditional sources for his team. For skill position players, he scoured the world of track and field. He also heavily scouted basketball players, especially the guys who were good rebounders. They made excellent Landry style tight ends. He also went to the Latin American soccer ranks for kickers. On the field personnel were keys to getting the job done, of course, but Landry also was an innovator in the coach’s office. He was one of the first to use extended film sessions, both to scout the other team, but he also used it to evaluate his own players. He added the first quality control coach, Ermal Allen. The extra set of eyes, ones devoted to analysis of upcoming opponents, gave Landry an edge in preparation for the upcoming game. One last thing that Landry did to stack the deck in the Cowboys favor was to add one of the first strength and conditioning programs by bringing in weightlifters and track coaches to work with the team. All the effort resulted in tremendous success for Landry’s teams. His career record stands at 270-178-6. He has the third most wins of any NFL coach and a record of 20 consecutive winning seasons. Along the way, Landry won two Super Bowls, 5 NFC Championships, 13 division titles, and was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1966 and NFC Coach of the Year in 1975. He is a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tom Landry was also inducted into the Washington Redskins Hall of Fame as their “Greatest Rival”. Landry had a career record of 41-11 in December, and the team frequently used that momentum to make deep runs into the playoffs. Despite his extended run of success, Landry’s final seasons were more on par with his first few. Players aged and were not replaced with the same level of talent. The league also caught up with him. After Bum Bright purchased the team from the Murchison family heirs, things went down hill. Starting in 1985 the team has consecutive years of decreasing success. Bright became disillusioned with the team and sold the franchise to Arkansas oil tycoon Jerry Jones. This was partly due to frustration, but mostly due to Bright’s involvement in the Savings and Loan scandal that rocked the nation in the late 1980’s. Shortly after buying the team Jones fired the legendary coach, shocking and even angering the football world, even outside the Cowboy faithful. Bum Bright later claimed that he had wanted to fire Landry himself, and that he had made it a condition of his selling the team. Bright also stated he was stopped from firing Landry by Tex Schramm, who informed Bright that there were not yet enough “Schramm coaches” in place. What is known for certain is Tex had started hiring coaches that Landry did not want, and he had a tendency to hire ones that couldn’t get along with each other. Landry spent as much time shuffling and firing coaches as he did dealing with on the field preparation. Speculation is that Bright and Schramm conspired to undermine Landry and place the team in disarray so that they could justify his termination. This has never been proven, and Jerry Jones is still viewed as the man who fired Landry. That is true, and he did it without giving the great coach any forewarning, but the process appears to have begun as soon as Clint Murchison and family were out of the picture. In any case Tom Landry left the Cowboys in February of 1989. It may be the darkest day in team history.

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