IRVING, Texas — Though this past February 25th marks the 25th anniversary of Jerry Jones’ purchase of the Dallas Cowboys, another important piece of history that transpired was Tom Landry’s departure. The legendary coach, who had been with the team 29 seasons, was terminated in a “classless” manner, according to many fans.
According to legend, Jerry Jones announced at a press conference Tom Landry was out as the head coach and never met face to face with the Cowboys’ only coach. However, Tom Landry’s firing went a lot differently.
One thing worth mentioning is that the previous Cowboys owner, H.R. “Bum” Bright, was not going to sell the Dallas Cowboys to anyone who had intentions of retaining Tom Landry as head coach. Don Carter, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks at that time, intended to purchase the Cowboys. But Bright wasn’t going to relinquish the team to anyone who respected Landry, for Bright wanted the old coach with whom he had disagreements to get what he deserved.
Jerry Jones was foolhardy enough to fall into Bright’s trap. Having intentions to replace Landry with ex-college teammate and University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, Jones had no problem getting rid of Landry. In fact, Jones said that he would take care of it himself, especially after the recommendation of still-general manger Tex Schramm.
On Friday, February 24th, 1989, Tex Schramm told Tom Landry to stay close by in case Jones or Bright wanted to bring him into Valley Ranch. Not wanting to stick around for his dismissal, Landry took off in his Cessna 210 to his Lakeway, Texas winter getaway with his children. He played golf on the Hidden Hills course, avoiding all contact from the Cowboys front office.
In the end, Schramm and Jones found him.
Jerry didn’t wait to speak to Landry in the clubhouse. Instead, the new owner walked out to the very hole Landry was on and had that infamous discussion.
The 40-minute meeting got off pleasantly when the old coach stated, “If you’re just coming down here for a publicity stunt, you need not have bothered.”
Publicity stunt? Hardly. Truth be told, Jerry Jones consulted with at least two public relations firms when it came to the difficult task of firing the Dallas Cowboys’ only head coach. Jerry was just trying to do it the right way, and even Landry’s boss, Tex Schramm, said this was the right way.
Jones said that he was trying to do something that was very hard to do: fire a legend. At the press conference, Jones stated he wanted to keep Tom Landry, who had one more year remaining on his contract worth $1 million, around the organization. The old coach wasn’t having any of it.
The historically comical part about Tom Landry’s firing is how the fans and media ragged the man in 1988. Fans called into Dallas sports radio stations expressing emphatically that Landry had to go. Dallas Morning News beat writer Skip Bayless referred to Landry as “Mount Senility.” Yet, when Landry was finally fired as so many people clamored for, it was the “Saturday Night Massacre” and people quickly huddled together to throw a “Tom Landry Day” on April 22nd, 1989.
Twenty-five years and three Super Bowl wins later, Cowboys fans are still upset that Jerry Jones fired Tom Landry. Never mind that Jones struggled for five years to put the legendary coach into the Ring of Honor. Never mind that a statue of Landry stood outside Texas Stadium and now AT&T Stadium, a venue with which Landry had nothing to do. Never mind after the coach’s untimely death at age 75 thanks to leukemia, the 2000 Cowboys wore a fedora patch all season in tribute to a coach none of them had ever played for. Never mind that Jerry Jones came out and stated he would have waited a year to fire Landry. No, instead, Jerry Jones is an infidel to this day for firing a coach that even Tex Schramm was trying to nudge out the door going as far back as 1987.
Despite muckrakers’ attempts to paint Landry as always holding a grudge for his dismissal or pestering his poor widow into saying something disparaging about Jerry Jones a hundred years later, Landry forgave Jones and moved on when the owner inducted the coach into the Ring of Honor.
Though untimely, and perhaps not the way even Jones would have liked it, Tom Landry departed. He left a great legacy with the Dallas Cowboys. Even after being fired coming off of three consecutive losing seasons, the “man in the funny hat” set a precedent for Dallas coaches that stands even to this day.