February 25th, 1989 is a day that will live in infamy. Well, at least with some die-hard Dallas Cowboys fans. This is the day when new team owner Jerry Jones fired legendary head coach Tom Landry in favor of his old University of Arkansas teammate Jimmy Johnson.
I remember it pretty well, not being a Cowboys fan. One of my brothers was a Cowboys fan, and man was he pissed. Lots of people were. Tom Landry, even after suffering back-to-back-to-back losing seasons, including the worst record his last year, was a legend. Lots of assistants were brought in which weren’t his selection, and that may have been a factor in their poor performance as the coaching staff didn’t have the cohesion necessary for the championship caliber performance Landry’s Cowboys were famous for. So it was a big blow to the fans of the man who revolutionized the game with the 4-3 defense, among other contributions.
Landry is ranked 3rd all-time in wins (I’m not sure where he ranked overall at the time of his firing). He holds records which will likely stand forever with 29 consecutive seasons with the same team and 20 consecutive winning seasons with the same team. Bill Belichick may be the only man who can catch that, but I don’t think Tom Brady can make it another five years to help that along. His success is what led the Cowboys to be called America’s Team – so I guess that makes him America’s Coach.
So, what about my brother? Did he remain a fan? Yes, he did. At least for a while. He was loyal to the Cowboys. And even though Jimmy Johnson came from coaching the University of Miami – one of his most-hated college teams – he gave him a chance. It turns out Jones was right in the short run. Johnson took the Cowboys to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in a few short years. His successor then won again two seasons later with Johnson’s team. Sometimes unpopular decisions are the right ones to make; and bringing in Johnson was the right thing to do.
But the wrong thing to do as an NFL owner is to let your ego run your product. Jerry Jones’ Cowboys have suffered a fair amount under his meddling – thinking he can coach or run personnel like the real professionals do. This past season’s success may continue for a few seasons, but Jones will find a way to disrupt the rhythm, he always does. And that is why my brother is no longer a Dallas Cowboys fan. Jones is the owner and can do what he wants with the team. But, as his unceremonious dismissal of Landry 26 years ago proves, it won’t have the same success as the consistency of Landry’s 29 years building America’s Team.