A prolific sportswriter submits a meaty biography of one of the NFL’s legendary coaches.
Except for his World War II service and 10 years spent in New York, most notably as a player, then as defensive coach for the Giants, Tom Landry (1924–2000) was all Texas. Born, raised and educated in the Lone Star State, Landry returned in 1960 to coach the expansion Dallas Cowboys for a record 29 years. After a rocky start, the stoic Landry, among the game’s most influential innovators, turned the franchise into a consistent winner and a huge source of pride for a football-obsessed state and an up-and-coming city looking to live down the shame of the JFK assassination. Although he was revered by fans and the media until new owner Jerry Jones unceremoniously fired him, Landry’s buttoned-up life poses difficulties for any biographer. Ribowsky (Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports, 2011, etc.) solves most of them by coming at the coach from all angles: thoroughly exploring the Texas connection; interviewing his widow for personal and family stories that open a window on the interior life of the closemouthed coach; examining his complex relationships with some of his greatest stars—Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes—who vainly sought his approval; delineating his role in the Cowboy organization that featured swashbuckling owner Clint Murchison, shrewd president Tex Schramm and super scout Gil Brandt; explaining the complex schemes behind Landry’s exciting brand of football; teasing out his tortured handling of troubled players like Hollywood Henderson and Duane Thomas; measuring the family man and devout Christian against the seemingly bloodless coach who appeared to prize his system over people, who turned a blind eye to the decidedly heathen lifestyle of so many of his players. If Ribowsky never quite penetrates to Landry’s core, he still provides as complete a picture of “God’s Coach” as we’re likely to get.
A must-read for fans of “America’s Team” and, given Landry’s impact on the game, for Cowboy haters too.