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Thomas Wade "Tom" Landry (September 11, 1924 – February 12, 2000) was an American football player and coach. He is legendary for his successes as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys. He is ranked as one of the greatest and most innovative coaches in NFL history. He created 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 tenure with the Dallas Cowboys.

Landry won 2 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 record for coaching the Dallas Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985), an NFL record that remains unbroken and unchallenged. It remains one of the longest winning streaks in all of professional sports history.

Early life, World War II

Born to Ray (an auto mechanic and volunteer fireman) and Ruth Landry in Mission, Texasmarker, Landry was the second of four children (Robert, Tommy, Ruthie and Jack).St. John, Bob (September 20, 2000). - "At Mission High, A Star is Unleashed". - The Dallas Morning News. 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), he attended the University of Texasmarker in Austinmarker as an industrial engineering major, but interrupted his education after a semester to serve in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. Landry earned his wings and a commission as a Second Lieutenant at Lubbock Army Air Fieldmarker, and was assigned to the 493d Bombardment Group at RAF Debachmarker, Englandmarker, as a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber co-pilot in the 860th Bomb Squadron. From November 1944 to April 1945, he completed a combat tour of 30 missions, and survived a crash landing in Belgiummarker after his bomber ran out of fuel.

Following the war, he returned to the university and 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. Landry also earned a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from the University of Houstonmarker in 1952.

NFL playing career

Landry became a cornerback in the AAFC in 1949 for the New York Yankees, then moved in 1950 across town to the New York Giants. 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. Landry ended his playing career with 32 interceptions in only 80 games.

NFL coaching career

For the 1956 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 got off to a rough start, recording an 0-11-1 record during their first season and 5 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. 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

Tom Landry invented the now-popular "4-3 Defense", while serving as Giants defensive coordinator. 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

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 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 235-pound guards and 250-pound tackles, he was busy stockpiling size for the next generation of linemen.

Tackles Rayfield Wright stood 6-7, and Ralph Neely weighed 265. Center Dave Manders weighed 250. 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 6-7 George Andrie and 6-6 Jethro Pugh in the 1960s and later 6-9 Ed Jones in the 1970s. Long strides cover more ground in the pass rush. A quarter of a century later, all NFL teams covet pass rushers who resemble 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 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 with the Bears, Dan Reeves with the Broncos, John Mackovic with the Chiefs, Gene Stallings with the Cardinals and Raymond Berry with the Patriots).

Beyond the NFL

Landry was known as a quiet, religious man, unfazed by the hype that surrounded the Cowboys, then being billed as "America's Team". 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's departure came shortly after the Cowboys were sold to Jerry Jones before the 1989 season. Jones hired Jimmy Johnson, his former teammate at the University of Arkansasmarker, from a position coaching the University of Miami football team. When Landry met with his players two days later, to tell them how much he would miss them, he began to cry. The players responded with a standing ovation. Landry's unceremonious dismissal by Jones was denounced by football fans and media as totally lacking in class and respect. In the years since, while most fans retain their support for the team, there persists significant levels of derision towards Jones over the perceived mistreatment of Landry.

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

Landry died February 12, 2000 from leukemia. Landry's funeral service was held at Highland Park United Methodist Church, where he was an active and committed member for 43 years. He was interred in the Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park Cemetery in Dallasmarker. 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 Stadiummarker, and now stands in front of Cowboys Stadiummarker since the Cowboys relocated in 2009. The section of Interstate 30 between Dallas and Fort Worthmarker was named the Tom Landry Highway by the Texas Legislature in 2001. The football stadium in Landry's hometown of Mission, Texasmarker was named Tom Landry Stadium to honor one of the city's most famous former residents. Similarly, Trinity Christian Academy's stadium in Addison, TX is named "Tom Landry Stadium" in honor of Landry's extensive involvement and support of the school.

A cenotaphmarker dedicated to Landry, complete with a depiction of his fedora was placed in the official Texas State Cemeterymarker in Austinmarker at the family's request.

In popular culture

  • In 1959, while he was defensive coach of the Giants, he pretended to be a Catholic missionary priest on the TV panel show "To Tell The Truth" (on the program that included balloonist Commander Malcolm Roth).

  • 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 friends 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.

  • 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 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.

  • In a Chunky Soup commercial, the game takes place in mythical Reginald H. White Memorial Park, on the corner of Landry Road and Halas Drive.


  • "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 getting someone to do what they don't want to do, to achieve what they want to achieve."


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