When I was a young boy my father got shipped off to Vietnam. My mother worked as an emergency room nurse. It was a very demanding job and I was a hand full back then. As a result, she sent me to spend some time with my Grand Parents in Texas. The year was 1966 and I was entering the 1st grade in school. Little did I know, but my whole life was about to change. My grandfather was true blue through and through. He lived and breathed the Dallas Cowboys. I hadn’t been exposed to much football. My father was a baseball fanatic.
Papahs 1st order of business was getting me acquainted with the Dallas Cowboys. He took me in to a small room in the basement. The walls were adorned with all kinds of pictures of the team. He had shelves with all types of Cowboys memorabilia on them. Autographed footballs, helmets, you name it. In the center of the middle shelf was an autographed picture of Tom Landry. Papah had it in an oak frame he made himself. I remember asking who he was and he filled me in on every aspect of Tom Landry’s career. It was then that it happened. He asked the magic question: How would you like to meet him?
By this time Papah already had me a fan. I was ecstatic! Here I was 6 years old and getting to meet this iconic figure my grandfather had just spent the entire evening telling me all about. I was going to meet him. I couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her. Better yet, I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends back home that my Papah was taking me to meet Tom Landry. This was a big deal to me. I had never met anyone famous before. Little did I know at the time, but the Cowboys were going to their 1st NFL championship that same year, and I was going to be there to see it happen. My entire life changed that night in Papahs basement.
It turned out that my grandfather had gone to school with Tom Landry and they had remained friends all those years. When training camp started Papah had VIP passes and he took me. Yes me! I don’t think I slept a wink the night before. I had seen football players on television, but my God, they were huge, like giants in person. As we watched practice I remember thinking, this man is mean. He never smiles and he’s yelling at everyone. Papah assured me that Mr. Landry wasn’t mean. He said football was all about discipline and he had to be tough on the players. It was that day I decided I wanted to play football. It was the inspiration of Tom Landry that led to me becoming a coach.
Finally practice ended and Mr Landry came over to talk to Papah. He shook my hand and gave me a football. Since that time I have added a large number of Cowboys’ signatures to it, and to this day it’s my prize posession. I never forgot the words Mr Landry said to me that day when I told him I wanted to one day play football for the Dallas Cowboys. He said:
"Today, you have 100% of your life left. Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan."
I have kept football a part of my life for all of these years. I love coaching and mentoring these players. I can only hope that I have had the same impact on at least one player, that Mr Landry did on my life.
When My daughter asked me to share my thoughts on Tom Landry I was honored to do so. I have to say that my life took a serious turn for the better that day in Texas when I met Mr Landry. The impact he had on me set the tone for my entire future in football. In life for that matter. Words can not describe what he has meant to me all these years. I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time with him several other times over the course of my life. He will always be my childhood hero.
I spent hundreds of hours studying Cowboys’ game tape trying to learn the nuts and bolts of his very complex offensive and defensive systems. I still incorporate things that were exclusive to Tom Landry in my system now.
In closing, as a coach, I can say without hesitation, that Tom Landry was the greatest coach in NFL history. At times when I am at a Cowboys game, I think I see him on the sidelines. My mind playing tricks on me? Or is he still keeping a watchful eye over his 1st love, The Dallas Cowboys?
Tom Landry: My Coach
Growing up a kid in Dallas in the 70’s was as good as it gets when you are a football fan. I remember going to the old Cowboys offices on North Central Expressway with my father to pick out our seats at the new Texas Stadium and how excited I was that I would have an opportunity to see my team play in person every week.
My first memories of the games were not so much about the players but the man that coached them. I would always talk my father into going to the games early so I could see the team warming up, but also just to watch Coach Landry stand among the squad as they prepared to get ready to battle the Redskins, Steelers and Vikings. Our seats were at field level so you could hear the coaches barking instructions to the players, but there was Coach Landry standing there with his arms crossed as Roger Staubach was delivering passes to Drew Pearson and Golden Richards. On the other end of the field there was Bob Lilly and Lee Roy Jordan going through drills with defenisve line coach Ernie Stautner and linebackers coach Jerry Tubbs. It was such an education.
Coach looked so calm before those games while my stomach was turning inside worrying if we could block Mean Joe Greene, Alan Page or Jim Marshall. It always appeared that he had a great plan for those big games. There was always a new wrinkle of a half back pass or reverse to Thomas Henderson on a kickoff return against the Cardinals, something creative that turned a tight game around. Coach Landry always seemed a step ahead of everyone that we played. He was like the Beatles, in that he was way before his time.
I have to say when Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989 that I wasn’t surprised that he moved on from Coach. It was his team and he had a different vision in the direction that he wanted to go. There still was a side of me that was sad to see him go because he was such a huge part of my life. I remember going to downtown Dallas when the city leaders proclaimed it “Hats Off To Tom Landry Day” and standing there among the 100,000 or so folks that came to in some small way try and honor a man that gave us all so much to be proud of. A few short years after that day, I went to work with the Packers and would spend countless hours in our archives studying everything that we had on Tom Landry against Vince Lombardi. These men led teams in games that shaped the history of the National Football League as we know it today.
It’s easy to say that there will never be another Tom Landry, but that is the truth. He is one of the pillars of this game that we all love. His passion and determination for life is something we can all draw from. The greatest compliment you can pay a person is how you remember what they did with their life. To me, Tom Landry never wasted a day.
Click on the last page to read a tribute from Michael Valentino who learned to respect and admire Tom Landry despite growing up in a football home in Chicago.