Tom Landry, or known by many as “the man in the hat”, patrolled the sidelines for the Cowboys from their inception in 1960 for 29 seasons until 1988, which was the second longest tenure for a coach with one team behind George Halas who coached the Chicago Bears for 40 years. During his tenure the Cowboys had many successes and some disappointments, but Coach Landry was always the face of the organization and the stabilizing force to their success.
At the start of his coaching career it did not go so well. It took him until 1966 for the team to have their first winning season and they won the NFL’s Eastern Conference Championship. The remarkable stat about Landry and his coaching was that the team did not have a below .500 record again until 1986, and during that stretch Landry had 20 straight winning seasons (a record that still stands and is a standard and in all sports), 13 Divisional Championships, 5 NFC titles and winner of Super Bowls VI and XII, and lost in Super Bowls V, X and XIII. During his career he posted a total record of 270-178-6 and his total for wins was only surpassed by George Halas and Don Shula, although his 20 post-season victories were the most in NFL history and that was before the Wild Card game.
Landry was an innovator in the NFL and introduced the 4-3 defense, “flex defense”, situational substitution and restructured the shotgun and implied a spread offense in the 1980’s. When Landry introduced the 4-3 defense his innovation was the introduction of the middle linebacker. When Landry was coaching the defense for the Giants he used to defense to huge success thanks to having the legendary Sam Huff as his middle linebacker.
Sam Huff said this about Landry and his 4-3 defense; “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.”
Then when Landry became the head coach of the Cowboys he refined the 4-3 into the “Flex Defense” which helped create his “Doomsday Defense”. The reason for the refinement was that he was concerned with Vince Lombardi and his “Run to Daylight” scheme where the running back went to an open space instead of a designated gap. Landry believed that the best counter attack to that offense was a defense that flowed to daylight and blotted it out. So Landry moved 2 of his 4 linemen off the line of scrimmage one yard, and would change which linemen would flex based on which way the defense anticipated the offense would run. There were thus 3 different types of Flex Defense: Strong, Weak and Tackle (in this formation both defensive tackles were off the line of scrimmage). The base of the defense then had gaps that each defender needed to fill, even before they knew where the play was going.
Landry the innovator was not done as now that he created a monster or “Doomsday Defense” he needed to create an offense that could score on it. Landry went to a man-in-motion offense and also implied the shotgun formation, but the biggest offensive contribution was in the use of “pre-shifting”, where the offense would shift from one formation to another before the snap of the ball. Landry took this from Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg who invented this around the turn of the 20th century, but Landry was the first one to use this on a regular basis. Landry would then have his offensive linemen stand up and then resume their hands down stance, all the while the backs were in the process of shifting their positions. The purpose of the offensive linemen standing and getting back into their stances was done to make it more difficult for the defense to see where the backs were shifting and gave the offense an advantage. While shifting was done by many teams few of them employed the “up and down” technique as much as Landry.
The end of Landry’s coaching career came after the 1988 season in which the Cowboys finished 3-13, and it was the 4th time in 5 years that they missed the playoffs and their 3rd straight losing season. Landry was determined to turn the team around and coach into the 1990’s as he said “unless I get fired”, all the while he was letting his coaching staff go. Landry had one year remaining on his contract which him $1 Million a season. Then H.R. “Bum” Bright sold the team to Jerry Jones due to his major loses he suffered during the Savings and Loan scandal. With the team now under the control of Jerry Jones, for less than 2 weeks, decided it was best to move on and dismissed Landry as head coach on February 26th, 1989. Jones then hired his former teammate at the University of Arkansas, Jimmie Johnson, who was coaching at the University of Miami. Tex Schramm, a long time friend of Landry and GM for the Cowboys, was in tears at the press conference which announced the coaching change and shortly afterwards he was also forced out. The two had been together for 29 years since the inception of the Cowboys in 1960. When Landry met with his players 2 days later to tell them how much he would miss them, he began to cry, and the players responded with a standing ovation for the “Man in the Hat”.