The name Tom Landry is synonymous with Dallas Cowboys football. Heralded as one of the best coaches in the history of the sport, Tom Landry revolutionized the sport during the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. During his 29 seasons as head coach for the Cowboys, he secured 2 Super Bowls, 5 NFC Titles, and 13 Division Titles while maintaining a 20-season consecutive winning streak.
He achieved this by rewriting how the sport was played through new strategies, formations, and defensive approaches. As a visionary, he ensured that all fans were engaged every season, from those who attended the game to those who would channel their excitement into Cowboy fan clubs.
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Life Before Professional Career
Landry was born in Mission, Texas, in September 1924. His football talent manifested when he was young, and had an incredibly successful high school career. Unsurprisingly, he played football while at the University of Texas. However, after his brother went missing in action during the Second World War, he decided to defer his enrollment and enlist in the US Air Force. While deployed on the Western Front, he completed over 30 missions for the USAF.
After his successful combat tour, he returned to the University of Texas. He graduated from UT in 1949 and decided to pursue a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering at the University of Houston, which he received in 1952.
Professional Career in the Field
Landry spent his professional playing career in New York⎯, starting with the NY Yankees in 1949 and then being picked up by the NY Giants and playing for them from 1950−1955. While he was a strong defensive player, his real passion was coaching, and he acted as “player–assistant coach” for his last two years at the NY Giants, serving as their defensive coordinator.
Professional Career on the Coaching Sideline
After staying a few more seasons with the NY Giants franchise, Landry became the first head coach for the Dallas Cowboys, prompting the prodigal son’s return to his beloved Texas.
While there were some bumps in the road at the beginning, he quickly rejiggered the strategy by embracing plays such as the “4−3 defense” and “flex defense”⎯this began the ascent into one of the golden eras for Cowboys Football, which would last twenty years.
Another niche element of his coaching was his ability to find talent using untraditional means, such as recruiting athletes from other sports, including soccer and track and field. He realized that these athletes, with little experience as football players, possessed skillsets that he needed to make the Cowboys successful⎯, including speed and foot-eye coordination.
Arguably, his coaching prowess is best demonstrated by his ability to secure two Super Bowl Championships for the Cowboys in 1971 and 1977.
Tom Landry’s legacy has lived on in many fashions, from the notable names on his assistant coach roaster⎯like Mike Ditka, who would take the 1986 Chicago Bears to Super Bowl victory⎯to his 20-season consecutive winning streak. He is genuinely one of the greatest legends in NFL History.
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