Dallas dean Landry dies

He coached Cowboys for team's 1st 29 years

was NFL innovator

Dead of leukemia at 75

Stoic in suit and hat

`epitome of integrity'

February 13, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Hall of Fame defensive tackle Bob Lilly still has vivid memories of the first team meeting Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry conducted when he was a rookie in 1961.

"He said he put God first, family second and football third," Lilly once said. "Afterward I said, `We'll never win because he has his priorities backward.' Now I believe he had them right."

Landry, who had his priorities right on and off the field, was the Cowboys' only coach for their first 29 years, posting 20 straight winning seasons and taking them to five Super Bowls. He died last night at age 75, after having undergone treatment since May for acute myelogenous leukemia.

The Baylor University Medical Center in Irving, Texas, issued a statement.

"Coach Tom Landry passed away today at 6 p.m. He went peacefully surrounded by his loving family. He will also be missed by many of his friends and fans, and he will never be forgotten by all of us whose lives he has touched so deeply."

Landry was not only a Hall of Fame football coach, but he also was a symbol of the best and brightest of a different generation.

Tom Brokaw, the NBC anchorman, has labeled the generation that grew up in the depths of the Depression and fought in World War II as the "Greatest Generation" that literally saved the world as we know it.

When the NFL players went on strike in 1982, team president Tex Schramm, who hired Landry to coach the expansion Cowboys in 1960, came up with the memorable line that only Hitler and Ed Garvey (then the union head) could keep Landry away from football. But he was much more than a football coach.

He came out of a small Texas town and flew 30 missions in a B-17 over Germany. He left the University of Texas after just one semester to go off to war. His older brother, Robert, died flying a B-17.

He crash-landed once in Belgium and walked away. Not that he ever talked about it much.

It was Landry the person, not the celebrated coach, who'll be remembered by his players.

Roger Staubach, the quarterback of his two Super Bowl-winning teams, said, "There was somewhat of a shyness about him, but he was always there when you needed him. I don't know anyone who didn't have respect for him as a person."

Added former Cowboy and Super Bowl coach Mike Ditka: "He was always the epitome of fairness, honesty and integrity."

In addition to his business suit and felt hat, Landry was noted for his stoneface demeanor on the sideline.

Former running back Walt Garrison summed it up best when he was asked if he ever saw Landry smile. "No," Garrison said, "but I was only there nine years."

But his teams were filled with personalties and became known as America's Team. "I think the whole Cowboys' image came from him," Staubach said.

A tough defensive back with the New York Giants in the 1950s, Landry became an assistant coach and helped design the 4-3 defense to stop Jim Brown. He also created the "Flex" defense that placed one tackle a half-yard behind the other and he used gadget plays on offense, notably the quarterback throwback and the halfback pass.

When the Dallas Cowboys were formed in 1960, Schramm hired him as head coach at age 35. It was a chance to return to Texas. Landry didn't think of it as a career at first. He figured an expansion coach usually gets fired.

When his record stood at 18-46-4 after the 1964 season, a lot of Dallas fans wanted him fired.

Clint Murchinson, the owner, decided to end that talk by giving him a 10-year contract. Landry made the playoffs in 1966 to start a string of 20 straight winning seasons.

His 29-year tenure ended when he was fired by Jerry Jones, the day Jones bought the team on Feb. 25, 1989, after Landry experienced three straight losing seasons. Jones flew to Austin, Texas, to fire him at a golf club the day he concluded the sale.

Landry never lashed out at Jones, though. It wasn't his style, although he privately said that Jones took his team away from him.

"There's no reason why people shouldn't back the Cowboys," he said the following Monday when he had a meeting with the team.

The city of Dallas then had a parade for Landry, but Landry still faced tougher days.

His youngest daughter, Lisa, was diagnosed with cancer in 1991. She was pregnant and was advised to abort the baby so she could begin chemotherapy treatments immediately. She decided to delay the treatment and continued the pregnancy.

Ten days after she had the baby, she underwent a liver transplant. She lost her fight with cancer in 1995.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Landry's record

Year ........Team ...............W ............L ...........T ..........Pct. ....Div.

1960.........Dallas ..............0 ...........11 ...........1........ .041 ......7th

1961 ........Dallas ..............4 .............9 ...........1........ .321 .......6th

1962 ........Dallas ..............5 .............8 ...........1........ .393 .......5th

1963 ........Dallas ..............4 ...........10 ...........0........ .286 .......5th

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