When Jerry Jones stormed into Dallas like an Arkansas Razorback on crack, he shook the city to its core. The firing of Tom Landry was a monumental moment in DFW and Cowboys’ history. Jones may as well have dynamited George Washington’s face off of Mount Rushmore, burned the Alamo to the ground, or cut the lone star out of the state flag. He was messing with history as much as he was making it.
While many inside the media and out felt it was time for a change at head coach, no one who wasn’t named Bum Bright (boy, did his Momma or whomever get that nickname right) wanted Landry to actually be humiliated and fired.
Not Tom Landry, the greatest sports legend in local history.
But that is just what Jones did. He flew to Austin where Landry was golfing and fired him right there at the country club. Just like he was a caddie and not one of the greatest coaches in NFL history, one of the truly iconic figures of the league, and a favorite son of Dallas/Fort Worth. (It is 25 years later and I still get angry thinking about that redneck jerk with more money than sense doing that to a man whose piss pot he isn’t worthy to carry, but that is beside the point.)
One week after he was axed by the Hillbilly from Podunk Holler, Pete Axthelm of People magazine wrote:
His smartly tailored clothes could be designed by Pierre of Iceland. His trademark fedora might be asbestos. Anyone who has ever watched a Dallas Cowboys game knows that coach Tom Landry—the hickory stick on the sideline—is fireproof, bulletproof, emotion-proof.
But last week, Tom Landry cried.
After 29 years as the only coach the Cowboys ever had, Landry was fired. A Texas oil baron named H.R. “Bum” Bright, after suffering too many dry wells and a dismal 3-13 performance by the Cowboys last season, decided to sell the franchise that had once been called America’s Team. Jerry Jones, an Arkansas oilman, snapped it up for an estimated $140 million and descended on Dallas with his personal choice for coach—his old college teammate Jimmy Johnson, who bailed out from his head coaching job at the University of Miami so quickly that it was unclear whether he’d had time to pack his famous industrial-strength hair spray.
In the Cowboys locker room before the opening of their winter minicamp, Landry bade farewell to his players—that is, until tears streaked down his cheeks and he had to stop. “I have to feel down about the way it was handled,” Landry said of his abrupt dismissal. “But I’ll still root for the Cowboys to make all the good things happen again. I’ll just be sorry that I’m not a part of it.”
If many Cowboys were stunned to see Old Stone Face quiver (“Time stood still, believe me,” said quarterback Danny White), those who know Landry and his vivacious wife, Alicia, were not.
“Alicia is the one who blurts out all the wild ideas and opinions,” says Ann Lilly, wife of former all-pro defensive tackle Bob Lilly. “But Tom is really a lot like her. He just hides it under all that self-control.
“People say he’s cold,” adds retired safetyman Cliff Harris. “But maybe he should have been colder. I had many differences of opinion with him. I also got to five Super Bowls because of him. But near the end, maybe he got too sentimental about cutting people. He may have protected guys who had been loyal to him, and then he found out how much loyalty means.”
Let’s face it. In Texas, we are not fond of Pontius Pilate, Lee Harvey Oswald, or anyone who summarily dismisses 28 years of legendary greatness with a smarmy Donald Trumpish, “You’re fired.” (Actually pronounced “youh foiyed” by the man who wears the pelt of a red fox on his head and calls it hair, but why bring that up?)
Jerry, acutely aware of the hit his popularity—which was zero at the time and hovers just above that now—took, recently said he wished he could take the firing back and do it differently.
Duh! So does Pilate, as he burns in everlasting torment. There are no Mulligans given to the man with the bloody knife clutched in his fist. (Unless his name is OJ, but why bring that up?)
Back to that “regret.” Plenty have written about it. Here is a sample from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
With the 25-year anniversary of the day he bought the Cowboys coming up on Tuesday, owner Jerry Jones spent a little time Sunday reminiscing aboutthe days leading up to the purchase of the some of the decisions he made.
Jones’ biggest regret was the rushed decision to fire legendary coach Tom Landry and replace him with Jimmy Johnson. Jones doesn’t regret the move, just the circumstances that forced him to act so quickly and thus come off as disrespectful to Landry.
He said if he had to do it all over again, he would have waited a year before making the change.
“If I had a chance to do it over again I would’ve waited a year and just got my feet on the ground a little bit more and probably just gone with the staff that we had and then later made the ultimate change that I made,” Jones said.Read more here: http://sportsblogs.star-telegram.com/cowboys/2014/02/jerry-jones-regrets-the-rushed-decision-to-fire-tom-landry-said-he-should-have-waited-a-year.html#storylink=cpy
All that said, when you fire a legend, you can expect to have your work compared to his. Now that Jerry Jones has been with the Cowboys almost as long as Tom Landry was, it is time to compare notes and see who gets the last laugh.
What if we took Landry’s first 25 years and compared them with Jones’ 25? It seems fair. Jones got a franchise that was in decline, having gone 3-13 the year before he bought it. Landry took the helm of a brand new franchise that did not even have the benefit of participating in the NFL draft its first year. Each, as you would expect, got off to a rough start. Landry’s fledgling Cowboys were 0-11-1 in year one and Jones’ ‘Boys were 1-16. Each of them enjoyed success fairly quickly, too, turning the beleaguered team he inherited into a contender.
So, let’s lay them side-by-side and see who wins:
|Super Bowl record||2-3||3-0|
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Please remember, I only counted Landry’s first 25 years, to make it fair. But that, in some ways, makes it unfair, because the last three years of his tenure were not great. Still, the comparison of the two makes it clear. Landry was consistently more successful than Jones has been. Twenty straight winning seasons remains an NFL record. Jones is now 17 years and counting since the Cowboys won a Super Bowl. His success was early and completely tied to the next head coach he ran out of town. Jimmy Johnson.
So, yeah. Regrets? He should have plenty.
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