ESPN celebrates the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth with the "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" series, saluting the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines. Follow along as we reveal our list of the top 20 coaches of all time and document the lineage of the league's most influential coaching trees.
Tom Landry was the head coach when the Dallas Cowboys played their first game in 1960 and held the job for 29 seasons. During his tenure, the team won two Super Bowls and played in three others. Landry was known both for his unflappable personality and his on-field innovations.
As head coach of the Cowboys, Landry perfected the flex defense and the shotgun offense. His teams had 20 consecutive winning seasons, a stretch that included 13 division titles, 18 playoff berths and victories in Super Bowls VI and XII. The Cowboys also played in Super Bowls V, X and XIII.
Landry served in World War II before finishing his collegiate career at Texas. He had a seven-season professional career as a defensive back, one season for the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference and six with the New York Giants. Although Landry was still an active player, head coach Jim Lee Howell made him a coach in charge of the Giants' defense in 1954. Landry implemented changes in the alignment, going from a 5-2 front to a 4-3 and creating the middle linebacker position.
His playing career ended a year later, and he remained on the coaching staff. The Giants' offensive coordinator at the time was another future coaching legend, Vince Lombardi. The two would match wits against one another in the 1966 and '67 postseasons, when Lombardi's Packers denied Landry's Cowboys spots in the first two Super Bowls.
The Cowboys had three straight losing seasons in the mid-1980s, and Jerry Jones fired Landry when he bought the team in 1989. By then, Landry's credentials as an all-time great had long been solidified. Only George Halas and Don Shula have more career victories than Landry, and nobody tops his mark of 20 playoff wins. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.
Super Bowl head coaches Dan Reeves and Mike Ditka began their coaching careers on Landry's staff in Dallas.
-- Shawna Seed
LANDRY THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER: TONY DORSETT
It was my rookie year, and my mom and dad had come to town to watch me play. They were always my inspiration, and I loved playing in front of them. There was an electrical storm during the night, and it knocked out my electricity, so I woke up late for the game. On the way to the game, I took the wrong route, so now I'm really late. I parked on the wrong side of the stadium, so I had to run across this bridge just to get into the stadium. I'm running through the stands and fans are shouting stuff at me and wishing me luck, but all I could think about was getting into the locker room because they were already through warming up.
Once I got in the locker room, I saw a note taped to my locker that said go see Coach Landry. I was scared to death. I thought he might fine me, but I was scared he might cut me. So I get in there and I'm pleading my case, but it's not working. Finally, Coach Landry says, "You're not going to start, and you're probably not going to play. OK." When Coach Landry says OK, that means the conversation is over.
At first, I'm staring daggers at him 'cause I don't even want to think about my mom and dad being at the game and I'm not playing. Then I feel some big ol' tears start welling up in my eyes, so I just got up and left. I didn't start, but when I finally got in the game, I didn't want to give him a reason to take me out. I had a big game and scored a long touchdown. The next day during our film session, Coach Landry says, "Maybe, you need to be late more often."
-- Former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, as told to Jean-Jacques Taylor
ESPN "Greatest Coaches in NFL History" voting panel: Chris Berman, Jeffri Chadiha, John Clayton, Colin Cowherd, Mike Ditka, Gregg Easterbrook, Herm Edwards, David Fleming, Ashley Fox, Greg Garber, Mike Golic, Suzy Kolber, Eric Mangini, Chris Mortensen, Sal Paolantonio, Bill Polian, Rick Reilly, Mike Sando, Adam Schefter, Ed Werder, Seth Wickersham, Trey Wingo.