The Book of the Week is “Tom Landry, An Autobiography” by Tom Landry with Gregg Lewis, published in 1990.
Landry was born in September 1924 in the small town of Mission, Texas. He enjoyed a boyhood typical for his time and place– bicycle riding, fishing in the Rio Grande, and watching movies at the local theater every Saturday afternoon. Every Saturday night, Methodist and Baptist families mingled at a block party in the neighborhood. Kids in those days organized themselves in their own pick-up football games at the local sandlot.
Although Landry received a full scholarship from the University of Texas, beginning in 1944, he flew thirty missions for the Army Air Corps in the war. When he returned to school in 1947, he played the position of fullback, but suffered various injuries. By the time he graduated in 1949, he had become a rusher, and gotten signed by the football Yankees of the All-American Football Conference. Some of his fellow players were already in their mid-thirties, after having completed their military service and educations.
In 1954, Landry’s leadership talent was recognized. He served as an assistant coach, punter and played defense for the New York Giants football team in the NFL. At that time, they played in Yankee Stadium. On the day of the Championship game in December 1956, the field was frozen. The Giants’ management provided the team with basketball sneakers so they wouldn’t slip and slide on the ice.
Landry remarked that his and Vince Lombardi’s coaching styles were both successful, although they were starkly different. Lombardi’s team, the Green Bay Packers, played well because if they didn’t, they would receive the coach’s wrath. They emotionally bonded like soldiers (whom they had been) so that they wanted to win for their teammates more than themselves. Landry didn’t make his players fear him, but armed them with knowledge and confidence.
In their generations, Landry and Lombardi experienced an extremely serious: financial crisis, and war. These forced them to adopt a team-oriented mentality in order to survive. Their children’s and grandchildren’s generations– who came of age in the 1960’s– prompted a tumultuous shift in American culture that resulted in the recognition of the value of the individual. Unfortunately, that mindset has been taken to the extreme with the current younger generation. The technology of the Internet allows everyone on earth to express themselves with few filters– making for a very cluttered global communications environment.
Landry opined that Lombardi gave the impression that he was hellbent on winning, but– he still cared about people. These days, the kinds of people who garner the most attention on social media tend to be sociopathic (of course there are exceptions). Landry characterized them thusly: “If winning is the only thing that matters… You’d cheat. You’d sacrifice your marriage or your family to win. Relationships wouldn’t matter.” The god-fearing Methodist Landry believed that his religion led people to behave better, but now he’d roll over in his grave.
Anyway, the summer of 1960 saw Landry talent-spotting and recruiting 193 potential members of the Dallas Cowboys– an expansion team that was later drastically winnowed down to a few tens of players at their training camp in Oregon. In their first season, the Cowboys tied the Giants in the second-to-last game, else they would have lost all of their then-twelve games. Nonetheless, the Cowboys’ owner knew that nurturing a winning football team takes time, and had faith in Landry’s abilities as a coach. In 1964, he awarded Landry a ten-year contract as head coach. Landry took that as a religious sign that coaching a professional football team was what he should continue to do with his life.
Landry contracted with IBM to use a computer program to analyze potential players’ talents in the NFL draft in order to reap the cream of the crop for his Cowboys. After the 1963 season and thereafter, he reviewed films of his existing players in actual games to identify their strengths and weaknesses. In 1965, he hired an industrial psychologist, who helped his players set team and individual goals. Preparing Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the 1967 season, Lombardi installed an underground heating system, which cost $80,000. On playoff day, December 31, the temperature hovered around negative 16 degrees Fahrenheit.
Read the book to learn about the Cowboys’ star quarterback of the 1970’s, the team’s amazing comebacks, and much more about Landry’s trials, tribulations and triumphs in coaching and in life.