Jones buys Cowboys, fires Landry Feb. 25, 1989
Rozelle: 'This is like Lombardi's death'
By GARY MYERS / The Dallas Morning News Editors' note: The following appeared in the final Feb. 26, 1989 edition of The Dallas Morning News. • • • Tex Schramm's eyes filled with tears. Then his voice cracked and he cried. It was almost too much to comprehend: Tom Landry is no longer the only coach the Cowboys have ever had. Landry was fired Saturday by the Cowboys' new owner, Jerry Jones, who named University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson to succeed him.
Schramm and Jones flew from Dallas to Landry's vacation home near Austin on Saturday afternoon and Jones broke the news to Landry that he was out. Then, at a news conference at Valley Ranch team headquarters that began shortly after 8 p.m., Schramm broke down. "It was a very difficult meeting," Schramm said. "It's very, very sad. It's tough when you break a relationship you've had for 29 years. That's an awful long time."
Landry was not available for comment. "For Tom, he was emotional," said Schramm, who stood red-eyed and solemnly to the side during most of the news conference.
Jones said he told Landry, "I'm here and so is Jimmy." He said their meeting was "very awkward, and I was basically just trying to say something you just can't say." Those were the two words that Landry thought he would never hear: You're fired. It is the most dramatic and emotional story in the history of Dallas sports. "This is like Lombardi's death," National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle said from his home in Harrison, N.Y. "There are relatively few coaches whose careers compare with Tom. No question he's a Hall of Famer in my opinion. He's not only been an outstanding coach but a tremendous role model for kids and our fans. He has contributed a tremendous amount to the league."
Landry, in his own way meant as much to the Cowboys as Vince Lombardi did to the great Green Bay Packers teams of the '60s. When you look to the Cowboys sidelines from now on, Landry and his familiar fedora won't be there. Instead, it will be Johnson and his well-coiffed hair. It will take some getting used to. Jones indicated that he would like for Landry, who has one year left on a contract that pays him $1 million, to remain in the organization. Landry did not give him an answer.
Jones continually praised Landry's accomplishments, acknowledged that it will be tough to live with the title of "The man who fired Tom Landry," but said he was intent on hiring Johnson, his longtime friend from the University of Arkansas. Jones said he "did not give consideration" to retaining Landry, even for one season. He said he would not have been interested in buying the Cowboys unless he could hire Johnson. "Tom Landry is the finest coach to ever coach in professional football," said Roger Staubach, former Cowboys quarterback. "I think he'll be looked at as far as the history of the Cowboys and not last year's 3-13. It's just sad that he had to go out in this type of situation."
Landry, 64, ends his Cowboys coaching career as the third-winningest coach in NFL history, behind George Halas and Don Shula, with a record of 270-178-6. He took the Cowboys to a record five Super Bowls with two victories.
Landry, who said two weeks ago that he wanted to coach into the 1990s "unless I get fired," was left hanging for the last two days after news broke Thursday night that Jones was going to buy the team and hire Johnson. He conducted his usual staff meetings on Friday then, despite a bad cold, traveled to his home in the exclusive section of Lakeway near Austin on Saturday. He played a round of golf at the Hidden Hills Golf Course before meeting with Schramm and Jones.
Schramm and Landry have been together since the Cowboys' inception in 1960. At the recommendation of New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, a close friend of Landry's during his playing and coaching days in New York, Schramm hired Landry as the Cowboys' first coach. After surviving the early expansion years, Landry guided the Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons, a streak that ended in 1986.
The Cowboys missed the playoffs in four of the last five years and in 1988, finished 3-13 and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft with the worst record in the NFL after their third consecutive losing season. Still, the thought of Landry ever being fired was incomprehensible.
"I just met him today," Jones said. "He was magnificent to me for what he had been though. He's special."
To an extent, Landry was the victim of the sagging Texas economy. H.R. "Bum' Bright, who has suffered major losses in his banking, real estate and oil businesses in the last three years, was forced to sell the club for financial reasons. During a more solid economic climate, Bright could have held on. And so could have Landry.
Bright, who stayed behind the scenes from the time he purchased the Cowboys in March 1984, until he criticized Landry's play-calling after a loss to Atlanta in 1987, was almost cold in discussing Landry's departure.
"This is a new generation of coaches and ownership," Bright said with emphasis. "This must evolve. It happens in every business."
The Cowboys offices have been inundated the last few days with calls in defense of Landry. But during the last three losing seasons, there have been almost as many calls criticizing Landry.
And now it will be Johnson who will have to deal with the pressures of not only coaching the NFL's most visible team, but following a legend. Johnson won one national championship at Miami and came close on another two. Jones said he expects to win this season, but considering the Cowboys talent level, that might be tough.
There's no question, however, that he feels he can get it done with Johnson quicker than he could have with Landry.
"I have so much respect for Jimmy Johnson," Jones said. "Coaching is so lucky to have Jimmy Johnson."
Jones said he decided Saturday morning that it would be inappropriate for Johnson to attend the news conference. He will be introduced in Dallas early next week. He already knows Landry, having sat in the Cowboys luxury box at the recent Super Bowl in Miami. Now, he begins the job of replacing the only coach the Cowboys ever had.
"Tom Landry is the Cowboys," Jones said.
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