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ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
The Tom Landry coaching tree is documented in the chart below, followed by a feature on Landry and short biographies on his many disciples.
The Tom Landry you knew wore a fedora on the sideline and won more National Football League games than every other coach except Don Shula and George Halas.
The Landry you knew had 20 consecutive winning seasons, spanning three decades, and led his team to five Super Bowls, winning two. He was the architect who took over an expansion team and transformed it into America's Team.
He was the man whose coaching tree contains Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves, men who combined for five Super Bowl appearances, among others.
Landry crammed quite a bit of living into his 75 years before leukemia took his life. As you would expect, he fought bravely before finally succumbing to the disease in 2000.
Landry played many roles in his life.
He was a Christian. A husband. A father. A son. A pilot. And, as we know, one of the best football coaches who ever lived.
You hear quite a bit about the man who won 250 regular-season games and an NFL-record 20 playoff games.
Many of us were so busy celebrating Landry's genius as a coach and the innovator who created the 4-3 defense, which is now as much a part of football as the national anthem, that we forgot about many of other innovations. Don't forget that he also created the flex defense, revived the shotgun and brought up-down motion to the offensive line, making it more difficult for the defense to see motion and react before the snap.
We know so much about Landry, the football coach. At the same time, we don't nearly know as much about Landry, the man.
Maybe, it's because he lived and coached in an era before the Internet, Facebook and Twitter took over our lives and made everyone a public figure.
We remember the stoic man who roamed the Cowboys' sidelines for 29 years -- arms folded, a laminated play sheet in his right hand.
Landry, though, could deliver one-liners with the best of them, and his comedic timing was as good as his game plans.
Consider the time future Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, then a rookie, arrived at a game against the Eagles after pregame warm-ups. When he walked into the locker room, he saw a note taped to his locker stall telling him to see Landry.
Dorsett didn't start, his punishment for being tardy, but he wound up with a career-high 206 rushing yards, including an 84-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that clinched the win. During Monday's film session, Landry told Dorsett, "Maybe, you should be late more often."
All the stunned Dorsett could do was laugh.
Then there was the time play-by-play voice Brad Sham, who also hosted Landry's weekly TV show, stormed into Landry's office steamed that a local media critic had made a derogatory remark about the coach's show in the newspaper.
Sham told Landry what the critic had written and waited for Landry to match his anger, but the coach's response stunned him.
"He threw his head back and laughed. He laughed louder and longer than I'd ever heard him laugh," Sham said. "There was a twinkle in his eye, when he finally stopped giggling and said, 'You haven't learned yet not to pay attention to what these people write.'"
As Sham left the office and closed the door, he could still hear the muffled sound of Landry's laughter.
Most days, Landry didn't have time for laughs and giggles, because he was too busy putting the offensive and defensive game plans together. And it wasn't uncommon for him to tear one or the other up on Saturday and create a new one.
That's because he was obsessed with the process of winning. The details mattered to him. He viewed them as the difference, ultimately, between winning and losing.
An industrial engineering major at the University of Texas, Landry's analytical mind helped make him a quality defensive back for the New York Giants for seven years.
Landry spent his last two seasons with the Giants as a player-coach, because his understanding of the game made him wise beyond his years. As the Giants' defensive coordinator -- Vince Lombardi was the offensive coordinator -- Landry created the 4-3 defense.
In those days, teams typically played a 5-3-3, which placed a lineman over the center. Landry moved Sam Huff back two yards and stood him up, creating many more options for zone and man-to-man coverages.
Landry is also credited with revolutionizing the use of keys on defense, a way to determine what's going to occur on a play based on the movements of one or two offensive players.
It was Landry's thorough knowledge of defense that made him such a good offensive play-caller. Landry believed he could influence the defense to do certain things based on formation, motion or a lineman pulling.
"One time I asked Coach Landry, 'What happens if the defensive tackle doesn't follow the guard?'" Dorsett said. "Then it's going to be little ol' me and big ol' him.
"Coach Landry looked at me and said, 'I'll bet my check [the defensive tackle does indeed follow the guard].' On game day, he did exactly what Coach Landry said he was going to do, and I had a big run on the play."
Of course, that's also the reason Landry would become frustrated if his players didn't carry out their assignments exactly as he instructed them to do it.
"He had such sincerity in his convictions," said linebacker Chuck Howley, the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team. "They were unchallengeable in that sense.
"He knew exactly what the other team was going to do on offense and defense, and if we did exactly what he told us to do, we could stop it."
Landry loved football, but he kept his players at arm's length. It was a defense mechanism that allowed him to make tough choices when it came to releasing players who could no longer compete at the highest level.
It also prevented players from thinking they could give anything less than their best effort simply because they had a good relationship with the coach.
Landry's approach is the reason Duane Thomas once called him a plastic man, and it's the reason so many players liked and respected Landry much more after their careers ended.
But he wasn't an uncaring, unfeeling, unemotional man. Ask Mitch and Craig Glieber.
Landry comforted them after their father, Frank, a prominent national sports broadcaster died of a heart attack in 1985.
"Landry stood in the Glieber kitchen with his arms spread wide," Sham said. "In the crook of one arm was Craig sobbing uncontrollably. In the crook of the other arm, Mitch was sobbing uncontrollably.
"Landry was cooing like a mother hen trying to comfort those boys. It's an image I'll never get out of my mind. It's an image I never want to forget."
-- Jean-Jacques Taylor
Nolan coached the San Francisco 49ers for eight years, taking them to the playoffs three times. Tom Landry was both mentor and nemesis to Nolan.
Nolan, a defensive back, played at Maryland and was taken by the New York Giants in the 1954 draft. He played for nine seasons, finishing his career with the Dallas Cowboys. Landry was Nolan's defensive coordinator or head coach for all but one of season of his playing career.
Nolan also worked as an assistant to Landry in Dallas for six seasons. The 49ers, who hadn't been to the playoffs in a decade, hired him as head coach in 1968.
His best year was 1970, when the 49ers went 10-3-1 in the regular season before falling to Landry's Cowboys in the NFC title game. The '71 and '72 teams also lost in the playoffs to Landry's Cowboys. After three consecutive losing seasons, San Francisco fired Nolan in 1975.
He was hired as head coach of the Saints in 1978 but was fired when the 1980 team began the season 0-12. He later worked as defensive coordinator for the Houston Oilers.
Mike Nolan, his son, coached the 49ers from 2005-08, making them one of the NFL's few father-son head-coaching combinations. The Nolans were assistants together with the Denver Broncos under Dan Reeves in 1991.
-- Shawna Seed
Reeves coached the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, taking each franchise to the playoffs. He coached Denver in three Super Bowls and Atlanta in one.
Reeves, a quarterback at South Carolina, played eight seasons for the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry, mostly at running back. He played in two Super Bowls, winning one, and served as a player/coach for three seasons (1970-72). After a year in private business, Reeves returned to work seven more seasons with Landry (1974-80) in various roles, including offensive coordinator, as the Cowboys made three more Super Bowl trips, winning one.
The Denver Broncos named him head coach in 1981. In 12 seasons, Reeves took the Broncos to the playoffs six times, and the 1986, '87 and '89 teams -- with John Elway at quarterback -- made the Super Bowl. In 1984, Reeves gave Mike Shanahan his first NFL coaching job. Shanahan would work on Reeves' staff for six-plus seasons in Denver.
When the 1992 team finished 8-8, Reeves was fired and replaced by Wade Phillips, who had been the Broncos' defensive coordinator.
Reeves coached the Giants from 1993-96, taking the team to the playoffs once. Atlanta hired him as head coach in 1997, and in 1998 -- despite undergoing heart surgery during the season – Reeves led the Falcons to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Elway, Shanahan and the Broncos.
Atlanta made the playoffs once more under Reeves before he stepped down late in the 2003 season. Phillips replaced him again, this time in an interim role.
-- Shawna Seed
Mike Shanahan won championships with the 1997 and '98 Denver Broncos, making him one of only six coaches to win Super Bowls in consecutive seasons.
He joined the Broncos to coach receivers under Dan Reeves in 1984 and became offensive coordinator the next season, working closely with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. In 1988, he left to become head coach of the Raiders.
He returned to Denver during the 1989 season, again as an assistant, having been fired by Raiders owner Al Davis four games into the season. His next stop was San Francisco, where he was offensive coordinator for three seasons under George Seifert and won a Super Bowl.
Shanahan came back to the Broncos as the head coach in 1995 and led them to the playoffs seven times in 14 seasons, winning Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII along the way. The Broncos fired him after the 2008 season, when they failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
The Washington Redskins hired Shanahan as head coach in 2010 and made the playoffs in his third season there behind rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Shanahan played quarterback at Eastern Illinois, but his collegiate career was cut short due to a ruptured kidney. After taking a hit to the chest during a scrimmage his junior year, his heart stopped beating, and a priest administered last rites at the emergency room. He was revived and underwent successful surgery, but he was told his playing days were over. Nevertheless, he petitioned the school – albeit unsuccessfully -- to keep playing.
After graduating from Eastern Illinois, Shanahan worked for a year as an entry-level assistant under Barry Switzer at Oklahoma. He then made stops at Northern Arizona, back to Eastern Illinois – where as offensive coordinator he helped turn a 1-10 team into Division II champions in one year – Minnesota and Florida.
-- Shawna Seed
Gailey's long, eclectic résumé includes college, WLAF and NFL head-coaching jobs. His teams had consistent success while he was an offensive assistant, but he had mixed results as a head coach.
The Cowboys made the postseason in both seasons under Gailey (1998-99), but he was fired after failing to win a playoff game. He had less success with the Bills, going 16-32 in three seasons (2010-12).
Gailey started coaching as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Florida, in 1974 and already had been a head coach at Troy State before making the jump to the NFL with Dan Reeves' Denver Broncos in 1985. Gailey held a variety of assistant roles in six seasons with Denver, and the Broncos went to three Super Bowls and finished under .500 just once in that time.
Gailey was on Bill Cowher's staff in Pittsburgh for four seasons (1994-97), and the Steelers went to the playoffs each year and reached one Super Bowl. Later, the Miami Dolphins went to the postseason both years that Gailey was their offensive coordinator under Dave Wannstedt (2000-01). Including his two seasons in Dallas, that made eight consecutive playoff trips for Gailey.
His most significant non-NFL job was six seasons (2002-07) as Georgia Tech's head coach.
-- Kevin Stone
Nolan was head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 2005-08, the same franchise his father, Dick, coached from 1968-75.
Nolan, a defensive back at Oregon, began his coaching career at the collegiate level with stops at Stanford, Rice and LSU. Nolan's NFL career began in 1987 on Dan Reeves' staff in Denver, where he coached special teams and linebackers for six seasons. In 1991, his father joined him on the Broncos' staff for a season as defensive line coach.
In 1993, Nolan followed Reeves to the New York Giants for his first job as defensive coordinator, a position he would later hold with the Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens.
San Francisco hired Nolan as head coach in 2005. The 49ers didn't have a winning season under Nolan and fired him when the 2008 team started 2-5.
He later worked as defensive coordinator for the Broncos, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.
-- Shawna Seed
Kubiak produced the first winning season in the history of the Houston Texans and led them to the playoffs twice in his first seven seasons as head coach.
A native of Houston, Kubiak played quarterback at Texas A&M and was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 1983. He played nine years in the NFL backing up Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.
Kubiak returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach and then was hired as quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers under head coach George Seifert and offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan in 1994. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young had his most productive year and the 49ers won the Super Bowl during Kubiak's lone season in San Francisco.
When Shanahan became head coach of the Broncos in 1995, Kubiak followed to serve as offensive coordinator, remaining there for 11 seasons and winning two Super Bowls. The Texans hired Kubiak as head coach in 2006.
-- Shawna Seed
Meyer was head coach for parts of nine NFL seasons with the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts. His teams made two playoff trips, both of which ended with first-round losses.
His first NFL job was as a scout for Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys (1971-72). That was followed by nine seasons as a college head coach at UNLV (1973-75) and SMU (1976-81). SMU improved each season under Meyer, capped by a 10-1 mark in 1981 with the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
Meyer became the Patriots' head coach in 1982 and led the team to 5-4 mark and a playoff berth in that strike-shortened season. New England went 8-8 in 1983 and fired Meyer after a 5-3 start in 1984. The Patriots would win the AFC championship in 1985 under Raymond Berry, Meyer's successor.
After the Colts started 0-13 in 1986, they fired Rod Dowhower and hired Meyer. Meyer led them to victories in their final three games of 1986 and nine wins in each of the next two seasons. But the team's fortunes declined the following three seasons, and Meyer was fired after an 0-5 start in 1991. He later coached briefly in the CFL and XFL.
-- Kevin Stone
Ditka took the Chicago Bears to the playoffs seven times in his 11 seasons as head coach and led the 1985 team to a championship. He also coached the New Orleans Saints for three seasons.
Ditka, a tight end out of the University of Pittsburgh, had a 12-year NFL playing career for the Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. He was the 1961 Rookie of the Year and scored the last touchdown in Dallas' win over the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
After retiring as a player, Ditka joined Tom Landry's Cowboys staff in 1973. He remained with Dallas working with special teams, tight ends and receivers until 1982, when he was hired as head coach of the Bears. The Bears made the playoffs five straight seasons under Ditka from 1984-88. The 1985 team went 15-1 in the regular season and dominated the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.
After the Bears fell to 5-11 in 1992, Ditka was fired. He was hired as head coach of the Saints in 1997 but did not post a winning record in three seasons there. In the 1999 draft, Ditka traded all of the Saints' picks for that year and their first-rounder in 2000 to the Redskins for the No. 5 pick, which he used on Texas running back Ricky Williams. The gamble didn't work out, and the Saints fired Ditka after they went 3-13 that season.
Ditka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1988.
-- Shawna Seed
Tobin coached the Arizona Cardinals for four-plus seasons and led them to their first playoff victory in more than 50 years.
Tobin, a defensive back at Missouri, coached at the collegiate level and in the CFL and USFL before beginning his NFL career in 1986, when he joined Mike Ditka's staff with the Chicago Bears as defensive coordinator. He replaced Buddy Ryan, the coordinator behind the legendary 1985 Bears defense.
Tobin was fired along with Ditka after the 1992 season. He was defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts from 1994-95 before again replacing Ryan, this time as the Cardinals' head coach.
In 1998, the Cardinals went 9-7 and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Their victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the wild-card round was the franchise's first in the postseason since the Chicago Cardinals won the 1947 NFL Championship Game. It also turned out to be the last time the Cardinals would see the playoffs until 2008.
Arizona reverted to its losing ways and fired Tobin after a 2-5 start in 2000.
-- Shawna Seed
McGinnis, who built his NFL reputation as a defensive assistant, was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals for three-plus seasons.
McGinnis, who played at TCU, coached at the collegiate level for more than a decade, beginning with two years at his alma mater (and a return in 1982) and continuing with stints with Missouri, Indiana State and Kansas State. His first NFL job was on Mike Ditka's staff as the Chicago Bears' linebackers coach in 1986. He held that position for 10 seasons.
In 1996, the Cardinals hired McGinnis as defensive coordinator under Vince Tobin, who had been the Bears' defensive coordinator for the first seven seasons McGinnis was in Chicago. McGinnis was promoted to head coach when Tobin was fired midway through the 2000 season.
The Cardinals did not have a winning season under McGinnis, and he was fired after going 4-12 in 2003. He later worked under Jeff Fisher for the Tennessee Titans and St. Louis Rams.
-- Shawna Seed
Del Rio was a longtime NFL player who played 11 seasons with the Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys and Vikings. He lasted eight-plus seasons as Jacksonville's head coach without winning a division title. The Jaguars finished .500 or better five times and went to the playoffs twice during Del Rio's tenure.
Del Rio was a two-sport star at USC. He was an All-American linebacker and was also drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school. He played catcher at USC, where he was teammates with Mark McGwire and Randy Johnson.
He got into coaching in New Orleans under Mike Ditka (1997-98) before becoming linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens under Brian Billick and defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis (1999-2001). In 2000, the Ravens set NFL records for fewest rushing yards and points allowed in a 16-game season on their way to winning Super Bowl XXXV.
Del Rio worked as Carolina's defensive coordinator under John Fox in 2002, when the Panthers had the NFL's second-ranked defense, before becoming the Jaguars' head coach in 2003. The Jaguars fired Del Rio during the 2011 season, and in 2012 he rejoined Fox as Denver's defensive coordinator.
-- Kevin Stone
Singletary coached the San Francisco 49ers for three seasons, but he is best known as a fearsome Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
Chicago selected Singletary out of Baylor in the second round of the 1981 draft. He played 12 seasons for the Bears, winning one Super Bowl ring and making the Pro Bowl 10 times. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
His coaching career began in 2003, when he joined the Baltimore Ravens as linebackers coach. In 2005, he joined Mike Nolan's staff in San Francisco. Singletary was named interim head coach when Nolan was fired during the 2008 season and kept the job by going 5-4 down the stretch.
Singletary's fiery head coaching style didn't translate to success on the field. The 49ers went 8-8 in 2009 and started 5-10 in 2010 before firing Singletary with one game remaining. In 2011, he joined the Minnesota Vikings as a linebackers/assistant head coach.
-- Shawna Seed
The son of a college coach and half of the NFL's first pair of head-coaching brothers, the fiery Harbaugh has been successful in every aspect of his football career.
Harbaugh was third in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior quarterback at Michigan and a first-round pick by Chicago in 1987. He played six seasons under Mike Ditka with the Bears and also played for the Colts, Ravens and Chargers during a 14-year pro career. He was a Pro Bowler and comeback player of the year in 1995, when he led Indianapolis to the AFC Championship Game.
Harbaugh worked for his father, Jack, as an offensive consultant for Western Kentucky (1994-2001) while still playing in the NFL. He joined Oakland's staff as quarterbacks coach under Bill Callahan and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, helping Rich Gannon win the MVP award and the Raiders win the AFC championship in 2002.
Harbaugh left Oakland in 2004 to become head coach at the University of San Diego and went 29-6 in three seasons. Stanford, which went 1-11 in 2006, hired Harbaugh in 2007 and saw its fortunes rise each year until going 12-1 with a No. 4 final national ranking in 2010.
San Francisco became an instant contender after hiring Harbaugh as head coach in 2011. The 49ers had gone 6-10 in 2010 but went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game in Harbaugh's first season. The next year they made it to Super Bowl XLVII after a midseason quarterback change but lost to the Ravens, who were coached by Harbaugh's brother, John.
-- Kevin Stone
Mackovic was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs for four seasons, taking the team to the playoffs in his fourth and final season.
Mackovic, who played at Wake Forest, first coached at the collegiate level. Among his jobs were a season as the freshman coach at Army while Bill Parcells, Ran Handley and Al Groh were assistants there and the head coaching position at Wake from 1978 to 1980. His first NFL job came in 1981 as quarterbacks coach on Tom Landry's staff with the Dallas Cowboys.
In 1983, the Chiefs hired Mackovic as head coach. The 1986 Chiefs went 10-6 and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, but that wasn't enough to save Mackovic's job.
He returned to the collegiate ranks, holding head coaching jobs at Illinois, Texas and Arizona.
-- Shawna Seed
Williamson had a brief, unsuccessful run as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' head coach before becoming a fixture as the Carolina Panthers' wide receivers coach.
Williamson was a receiver at Alabama in the early 1960s, playing for Bear Bryant and catching passes from Joe Namath. After several college assistant jobs, he got his first NFL gig as the Kansas City Chiefs' receivers coach under John Mackovic in 1983.
He moved to Tampa Bay in the same role in 1987 and became the Bucs' head coach when Ray Perkins was fired with three games left in the 1990 season. Williamson retained the job in 1991 but was let go after the Bucs went 3-13.
He then spent three seasons as the Bengals' receivers coach before joining the Panthers for their inaugural season in 1995. He outlasted Carolina's first two head coaches, Dom Capers and
George Seifert, before retiring after the 2009 season. He served as receivers coach for 12 of his 14 seasons in Carolina. He was offensive coordinator for Seifert in 2000-01.
-- Kevin Stone
Stallings coached the Cardinals for four seasons, leading the team during its transition from St. Louis to Phoenix.
Stallings played for Bear Bryant at Texas A&M and was one of the legendary "Junction Boys," along with another future NFL head coach, Jack Pardee. Stallings began his coaching career at the collegiate level, working for Bryant at Alabama before being named head coach at A&M.
In 1972, he began his NFL career as defensive backs coach under Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys, a role he held for 14 seasons.
The Cardinals hired him as head coach in 1986. The team did not have a winning record under Stallings, and when he announced his intention to retire at the end of the '89 season, he was replaced with five games remaining on the schedule.
Stallings later coached at Alabama for seven seasons, leading the 1992 Crimson Tide to a national championship.
-- Shawna Seed
Special thanks to the Elias Sports Bureau for research assistance in compiling this project.