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The Coaching Legacy of Tom Landry
The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team,” have been successful on and off the field for more than 30 years. They are fan favorites in the state of Texas, across the US and internationally. It is the play on and off the field, and the individuals who contribute to that play, that are at the heart of the Cowboys’ great success.
Throughout the history of their franchise, the Dallas Cowboys have had a number of All-Stars whose skills and accomplishments have created legends and contributed to the history of the Dallas Cowboys. Endless players donned a star and the blue and white jerseys of the Dallas Cowboys and took to the Texas sports field. In doing so, some of them, such as Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach and Tony Dorsett, became legends.
The Dallas Cowboys are one of the most successful teams in the history of the National Football League and have held numerous league records over the years thanks to these players and others. However, it’s not just the players who have contributed to the Cowboys’ success, there are also those who are on the sidelines at every practice and game. Tom Landry was one such person. Indeed, he went on to serve as coach of the Dallas Cowboys for twenty-nine amazing years.
During Landry’s tenure as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys from the franchise’s inception in 1960 until his departure in 1989, the team achieved a number of records. One such record is the most consecutive winning seasons – a total of 20 – from 1966 to 1985. Additionally, during Landry’s reign, the Cowboys were two Super Bowl champions. The list of team records, part of Dallas Cowboys history established during Landry’s tenure, continues.
A native of Texas, Tom Landry attended the University of Texas before interrupting his studies in the US Army during World War II. After returning from the war, he returned to college, where he played for the Texas Longhorns in 1948 and 1949. From 1949 to 1955, Landry played defensive back in the NFL, where he was drafted in 1954. as a professional. In his last two years as a player, he also took on the position of assistant coach. In a total of 80 games, Landry had 32 interceptions. At the start of the 1956 season, Landry moved into a full-time coaching position as defensive coordinator with the New York Giants (his last team as a player). The offensive coordinator for the team was none other than Vince Lombardi. Under the leadership of these two men, the Giants made three NFL championship appearances from 1956 to 1959.
In 1960, Landry became the first head coach of the newly formed Dallas Cowboys franchise – a job he held for 29 seasons (1960-88). The first few years were rough for the Cowboys, but Landry’s hard work and determination slowly paid off as they posted a 10-win 1966 season and reached the NFL championship game. Dallas lost the game, but it was the start of what would become their 20-game winning season.
During Tom Landry’s tenure, the Dallas Cowboys won two Super Bowls (1972, 1978), won 5 NFC titles, 13 division titles, and Landry compiled the 3rd all-time winningest record for an NFL coach with a record of 270-178-6. . . His 20 playoff wins are the most by any coach in NFL history. One of the most impressive accomplishments is the coach’s record of 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985), an NFL record and one of the longest winning streaks in professional sports.
Landry brought many new innovations to the game during his coaching days in the NFL. During his time as the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, Tom Landry revolutionized the defensive game by introducing the more popular 4-3 defense. It featured four down linemen (two ends and two defensive tackles on either side of the center of the offense) and three linebackers – middle, left and right. Landry’s innovation was a mid-range pass where he would stand up and move two yards back. Landry also invented and popularized the use of keys (analyzing offensive trends) to determine what an offense might do.
Vince Lombardi, the coach of the Green Packers at the time, hired Landry because the coach of the Dallas Cowboys had implemented the idea of ”Running the Day”, where instead of a specific designated hole, the running back went into open space. Landry decided the way to stop it was to take the daylights out, so he revamped his 4-3 defense, creating the “Flex Defense” – a defense that uses its coordination to counter what can do, changed. The Flex Defense was also innovative in that it was a zone defense against the run, as each defender was responsible for a given open zone and had to stay in that zone so they knew where the play was going.
After inventing the Flex Defense, Landry invented an offense to hit when he revived the man in motion and shotgun formation. Landry’s biggest contribution in this area was the use of the “pre-pass,” in which the offense moves from one formation to another before snapping the ball. Although this tactic was not new, it had been around since the early 20th century, Landry was the first coach to use this approach systematically, the idea of breaking down the keys of the defense to determine what the offense could do.
Known as a quiet and religious man, Landry took everything in stride and was indifferent to all the rumors surrounding the Cowboys and America’s football team. Landry’s twenty-nine years with the team ended shortly before the 1989 season when the Cowboys were sold to Jerry Jones. Landry was replaced by Jimmy Johnson, a former teammate of Jerry Jones at the University of Arkansas. Landry’s unceremonious firing is still seen as a classless and disrespectful act by Jones. Landry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame less than two years after his last game. In 1993, Landry was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium.
Tom Landry died of leukemia on February 12, 2000 in Dallas at the age of 75. The Dallas Cowboys wore a patch depicting Landry’s trademark fedora on their uniforms during the 2000 season to honor this landmark in Dallas Cowboys history. Tom Landry’s vision and ideas turned many Cowboys stars into legends. He left a great legacy with the Dallas Cowboys and the National Football League.
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