- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

For once, the Great Stone Face showed his feelings when Jerry Jones and Tex Schramm brought him the news at his villa near Austin, Texas. As Sports Illustrated reported it, he flinched, his eyes went glassy and all he could manage were seven words of disbelief: “You’ve taken my team away from me.”

The date was Feb. 25, 1989, 19 years ago today, and Tom Landry was out after nearly three decades as coach of the Dallas Cowboys … just like that.

Jones, an oil and gas millionaire from Arkansas, had just bought “America’s Team” for $140 million and wanted his former Razorbacks teammate, Jimmy Johnson, as coach. So Landry had to go despite a career record of 270-178-6 (including postseason play), 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966 to 1985), two Super Bowl championships, five NFC titles and 13 divisional crowns.

Over the previous three seasons, however, the Cowboys had gone 17-30, causing speculation the game had passed Landry by. Nonetheless, his abrupt dismissal at age 64 was a shock to the community, Cowboys fans everywhere and the NFL.

“It was a very difficult meeting,” longtime Cowboys president Schramm said tearfully afterward. “Tom was emotional. It’s tough when you break a relationship you’ve had for 29 years. That’s an awfully long time.”

Landry did not comment at the time, maintaining his usual public stoicism. Wearing a suit, fedora and poker face during games, Landry always stood with his arms folded on the sideline showing no reaction as his teams crushed most opponents.

The Redskins and Cowboys were archrivals for much of his tenure, making Landry a reviled figure in the nation’s capital. Once in the late 1970s, a Washington reporter spotted him after a game bareheaded and laughing in the locker room. The sight was startling.

Tom Landry without a hat and laughing! Impossible!”

Landry was a relentless disciplinarian, and many of his players undoubtedly resented his inflexible approach.

“I never saw him smile,” running back Walt Garrison once said. “But then again I was only there nine years.”

Landry, a devout Christian, later denied he was cold and unfeeling.

“People based their judgments on what they saw on the sideline,” he told the Dallas Morning News weeks later. “[That was] the way I trained myself to concentrate. I blanked everything out. … The image never bothered me too much. My friends know me.”

Landry was an All-Pro defensive back and later an assistant coach for the New York Giants before being hired as the expansion Cowboys’ first coach in 1960. The team was 0-11-1 its first season and 13-38-3 after four seasons, but owner Clint Murchison showed his faith in Landry by giving him a 10-year extension. Three seasons later, the Cowboys were in the NFL title game.

Since 1989, Jones’ Cowboys have had six — count ‘em, six — coaches: Johnson, Barry Switzer, Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells and Wade Phillips, with none staying longer than five years.

Somewhere Tom Landry must be — yes! — smiling.

After abruptly canning Landry, Jones sobbed more than his share of crocodile tears.

“This man is like Bear Bryant to me, like Vince Lombardi to me,” he said. “If you love competitors, Tom Landry is an angel. … Jimmy Johnson would be the first to tell you he couldn’t carry Tom Landry’s water bucket. Tom Landry is the Cowboys.”

So why the pink slip?

“I wouldn’t have bought the Dallas Cowboys if Jimmy Johnson couldn’t be my coach.”

Pete Rozelle, then NFL commissioner, stated his feelings much more honestly, saying of Landry’s departure, “This is like Vince Lombardi’s death [while coach of the Redskins in September 1970]. There are relatively few coaches whose careers compare with Tom’s. … He’s been a tremendous role model for kids and fans. He has contributed a tremendous amount to the league.”

Landry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990. And when he died of leukemia at 75 on Feb. 12, 2000, Jerry Jones (or his PR man) was at it again: “We will never be able to measure the complete significance of Coach Landry’s contributions to the Dallas Cowboys. Simply stated, he is the most important figure in the history of this franchise.”

Hypocrisy, anyone?

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