Greatest NFL coaches: No. 8 Tom Landry

June, 4, 2013
6/04/13
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Jason Garrett is entering his third full season as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and many are convinced that if he doesn't make the playoffs, it will also be his last. So let's pause today to discuss a man who held Garrett's job for 29 years. Our countdown of the top 20 coaches in NFL history makes its stop today at No. 8, where we find Tom Landry.

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Landry was the Cowboys' first coach and lasted from 1960 to 1989. During that time, he went to five Super Bowls, won two of them and posted an incredible streak of 20 straight winning seasons. (Herein lies the critical difference from my first sentence, as Garrett has yet to have one). He was a winner, but also an innovator who's credited with the invention of the 4-3 defense, the "flex" defense (in which two of the four down linemen would move off the line pre-snap depending on the offense's formation) and the shotgun offense. He actually invented the 4-3 (removing one of the five down linemen and adding the middle linebacker position) while defensive coordinator of the New York Giants.

Landry was famous for his stone-faced personality and his trademark fedora, and former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett recounted for Jean-Jacques Taylor a story about a time he (Dorsett) was late for a game his parents had come to see and Landry told him he wasn't going to start:
I was scared to death. I thought he might fine me, but I was scared he might cut me. So I get in there and I'm pleading my case, but it's not working. Finally, Coach Landry says, "You're not going to start and you're probably not going to play. OK." When Coach Landry says OK, that means the conversation is over.

At first, I'm staring daggers at him 'cause I don't even want to think about my mom and dad being at the game and I'm not playing. Then I feel some big ol' tears start welling up in my eyes, so I just got up and left. I didn't start, but when I finally got in the game, I didn't want to give him a reason to take me out. I had a big game and scored a long touchdown. The next day during our film session, Coach Landry says, '"Maybe, you need to be late more often."

We're probably in the midst of a generation that knows Landry as "the guy with the hat" and doesn't fully understand the depth of what he meant to the Cowboys franchise or the league itself. That is, of course, one reason why this whole exercise is so great. It gives us a chance to bring some significant NFL historical figures to life for people who might not appreciate what they missed.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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