The Early Years
Born Thomas Wade Landry on September 11, 1924 in Mission, Texas, he was the son Ron Landry, an auto mechanic. As a child, he shared an attic bedroom with his two older siblings and was nearly killed when he was struck in a car accident. Somewhat shy, he was an A student, class president and football standout in high school. During Landry's senior year his team went undefeated and he was offered a football scholarship to the University of Texas. After just one semester, Landry left to serve in the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 30 missions as a B-17 pilot and surviving a crash landing in the French countryside.
As an All-Pro halfback for the New York Giants, Landry was an extremely emotional player. In 1954, Landry intercepted three passes against Philadelphia and was voted All-Pro for the first time. The following year
he went to the Pro-Bowl. It was 1956, when Landry became a defensive assistant, after two years as a player-coach for the Giants. His coaching career had officially started and Landry wasted no time bringing his ideas to the table. In addition to creating the 4-3 defense, he was the first coach to call defensive audibles with signals from the sidelines. Although Landry always insisted he had no interest in coaching after his playing career was over, his knowledge of the game and innovative ideas would keep him at the helm for years to come. The head coach of the Giants, Jim Lee Howell, called Landry "the greatest football coach in the game today."
It was an offer from the expansion Dallas football franchise, awarded in 1960, that convinced Landry to continue his coaching career. A native Texan, who ran an insurance business in Dallas during the off-season, Landry accepted the offer to become the team's first head coach. Although the expansion Cowboys didn't win a game in their inaugural season and didn't show much improvement during the following two seasons, Cowboys owner Clint Murchison Jr. signed Landry to a ten year contract as a show of support. Landry's original plan, to coach for a few seasons and then go into business full-time, had changed once and for all.
While Landry enjoyed the respect and admiration of his players and colleagues later in his career, during the first six years in Dallas he lacked patience and his players lacked faith. Players privately referred to him as Pope Landry I or Ol' Stone Face. It wasn't until 1966 that the Dallas Cowboys had their first winning season. Few could have predicted that it would be twenty more seasons before the Dallas Cowboys would have another losing season.