Gil Brandt, who helped build Cowboys into 'America's Team,' dies

Cowboys legend Gil Brandt dies at 91 (1:09)

Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon reflect on the career of Gil Brandt, who died at the age of 91. (1:09)

Pro Football Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, one of the architects who helped turn the Dallas Cowboys from an expansion franchise into "America's Team," died Thursday. He was 91.

He was the Cowboys' vice president of player personnel for 28 years, from 1960 when the team entered the NFL as an expansion franchise until May 1989, when he was fired by new owner and general manager Jerry Jones.

Under the leadership of Brandt, coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm, the Cowboys posted 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1966 until 1985 and made five Super Bowl appearances, earning two championships. The Cowboys won those titles by defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI and the Denver Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII.

Landry was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990 and Schramm in 1991, but Brandt had to wait to join them until 2019, when he was inducted as a contributor. He is also in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, added in 2018.

"We are so deeply saddened by the passing of Gil Brandt -- a true icon and pioneer of our sport. Gil was at the very core of the early success of the Dallas Cowboys and continued to serve as a great ambassador for the organization for decades beyond that. His contributions cemented his spot in the Ring of Honor," Jones said in a statement. "He was my friend and a mentor not only to me, but to countless executives, coaches, players and broadcasters across the National Football League, which rightfully earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame where his legacy will be celebrated forever."

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced that the Hall of Fame flag in Canton, Ohio, was lowered to half-staff Thursday in honor of Brandt.

Brandt is credited with being the first in the NFL to use computers to enter number grades for prospects at each position in evaluation for the NFL draft and the first to test prospects' mental makeup under pressure through psychological testing.

Using that computer system as a guide, he oversaw the drafting of or signed nine players who went on to be inducted into the Hall of Fame: defensive lineman Bob Lilly, his first selection in 1960; defensive back Mel Renfro (1964); wide receiver Bob Hayes (1965); Roger Staubach (1964); offensive tackle Rayfield Wright (1967); defensive back Cliff Harris (signed as undrafted free agent in 1970); defensive tackle Randy White (1975); running back Tony Dorsett (1977); and wide receiver Michael Irvin (1988).

Brandt said the Cowboys had a system in place that, "if we would follow the computer, we'd do all right."

"You can't tell the story about the success of the Dallas Cowboys and their two-decade run of winning seasons from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s without mentioning Gil Brandt," Jim Porter, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said in a statement Thursday.

Brandt also helped Jones with his first NFL draft in 1989, when the Cowboys selected eventual Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman with the first overall pick. Jones fired Brandt after that draft, but the two men remained friends, and Brandt selected Jones to present him at his Hall of Fame induction in 2019.

"Gil Brandt set the standard for all scouts and personnel executives to follow, and aspire to, in the NFL,'' Jones said when he accepted the offer to present Brandt at his induction. "Gil changed the NFL in the draft room and is more than worthy of this recognition.''

Brandt is credited, along with Schramm, with spurring the creation of the NFL scouting combine. The two men proposed to the NFL's competition committee that the scouting process should be centralized, which led to the creation of the National Invitational Camp in Tampa, Florida. Two other such camps also were held in other parts of the country, and in 1985, the three camps merged into one and became known as the NFL scouting combine.

"Gil Brandt was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday. "As the personnel architect of the Cowboys for nearly three decades, he transformed the way teams scouted talent by building a player evaluation system using computers. He was the first to scout players from outside the U.S. and from different sports. The NFL today would not be the same without Gil Brandt."

Brandt was born on March 4, 1933, in Milwaukee and attended the University of Wisconsin. His first job after college was as a baby photographer.

He got his start in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams as a part-time scout in the 1950s, when Schramm was the team's general manager.

Brandt also wrote for NFL.com as a player analyst and historian and was a regular contributor for SiriusXM NFL Radio.

"Gil was as good a storyteller as it gets, with a memory as sharp as a tack. His dedication to, and passion for, this game left a lasting impact on generations of Hall of Fame players and coaches. There are very few people that have been able to have the kind of generational impact that he did. Gil was as dedicated to growing this league and sport as anyone ever was, and we are all grateful and better for it," Jones said in his statement Thursday.

"Our hearts go out to Gil's wife, Sara, his son Hunter and all of Gil's family and friends."