Will The Dallas Cowboys Ever Have Another Coach Like Tom Landry?


A generation or more ago, it wasn’t unusual to see true longevity among NFL head coaches. Legendary former Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry still holds the record for serving the most consecutive years with one team, with 29 years at the helm. Today, this is almost unthinkable, with a disposable mindset when it comes to coaching staff.

In 1964, Landry was awarded with a ten-year contract from then-Cowboys-owner Clint Murchison. The confidence shown in Landry in his early career doesn’t fit with today’s win or you’re fired climate. Coaches are now sometimes dismissed despite making the playoffs in the prior year. Sometimes, they’re even ousted mid-season.

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Only one current head coach has been with his team even half as long as Landry was with the Cowboys. The longest-standing coach now, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, has been with that team for 15 years. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine any coach today matching Landry’s tenure.

In the 27 years since Landry served as head coach, the Cowboys have had six different men in that position, including Jimmy Johnson, Barry Switzer, and current head coach Jason Garrett. Only Garrett has garnered comparisons to Landry, partly because of his focus on mindset and the development of a team culture that seems to be working. Landry was disciplined and measured, and Garrett seems to fit that mold.

During his tenure, Landry worked with and mentored six men who later became head coaches themselves, including Mike Ditka, Dan Reeves, and Gene Stallings.

The climate in professional football has changed rather dramatically in the past couple of decades. Expectations are high, sometimes unrealistically so. Every move is heavily scrutinized and studied on dedicated sports TV networks, talk radio shows, newspapers, blogs, and more.

Salary caps for players, which represent one of the bigger challenges for today’s coaches and team owners, didn’t even exist in the NFL until 1994.

The media is hungry to create and exploit any potential controversy. The news cycle and the sheer number of news outlets demands this. Consequently, coaches today are more likely to have a career span that mimics those of the players.

Only 10% of NFL head coaches (50 of 497 total) have lasted ten years or more. Granted, with an average salary of nearly $5 million for head coaches in 2014, a few years of employment at that level can go a long way. For comparison purposes, the average player in the NFL makes about $2 million.

I’ve seen discussions about whether or not any current quarterbacks could ever break Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s touchdown pass record, which currently stands at 530. In the same vein, I wonder if any current head coach could ever match the achievements that Landry had with the Cowboys.

Landry had 20 winning seasons. Before you run to Google it, Belichick still needs five more winning seasons to match Landry’s milestone. That is interesting food for thought.

Landry’s coaching record also included 250 wins, an astounding 18 seasons with playoff appearances, 10 NFC Championship appearances, five Super Bowl appearances, and two Lombardi Trophies. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame less than two years after his last game, and rightfully so.

Most coaches today don’t have the freedom that Landry did, nor do most command the same level of respect. He was stoic on the sidelines and, frankly, a little mysterious. Despite my better judgment, I have been known on occasion to discuss football with rabid fans of other, less exciting teams. I know that many fans and former players who hated the Cowboys still liked and respected Mr. Landry.

He was an icon, most certainly in the same league as coaches Vince Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, and George Halas.

He was also an innovator, inventing the still-popular 4-3 defense and its flex variants. He single-handedly resurrected and refined the shotgun formation in 1975, in order to better protect quarterback Roger Staubach as his young and inexperienced offense jelled. The Cowboys were the only team using the formation that year, and many assumed Landry had created the unique offensive formation himself.

While those of us who watch a lot of football will occasionally see glimpses of brilliance from coaches, I don’t remember the last time I saw something truly unique on the field.

Since I was still in kindergarten on that fateful day when Staubach first dropped back into the shotgun position to take a snap, I don’t know or remember what the reaction was on that day. If I had to guess, it probably upset a lot of fans who wondered if it was even legal. It was, of course.

That’s one additional place where Landry and his legacy can be best understood. He actually made tangible changes to the game as it was and is played. How many men could make this claim in today’s crop of NFL coaches?

Landry remains one of my all-time favorite sports figures, and it’s unlikely that we will ever see another like him. He was a man of deep faith, and a loyal husband of 51 years. He is still deeply loved, both in Dallas and any place where true Cowboys reside.

For many of us, he still lives in a place of honor in our hearts. There was a bronze statue of Landry, complete with his signature fedora, that was unveiled outside Texas Stadium in 2001. It was moved to the new venue when they relocated in 2009.

There’s also a highway in the Dallas area named after him. There’s a Tom Landry Elementary School in Irving, and Tom Landry Street is in his home town of Mission, Texas. Unsurprisingly, there are countless children named after him.

And at least one great website.

You are truly missed, sir.

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