February 26, 2014

#AmericasTeam — 25 years after the #TomLandry firing

Tom Landry didn't hate Jerry Jones forever./Dallas Morning News
Yep, it's now 25 years since Jerry Jones was spotted at Mia's in Dallas with Jimmy Johnson. That, of course, was followed by the rumor explosion that led to what everybody expected: the canning of Tom Landry. The needed canning of Tom Landry, from where I sit, even if many Cowboys from that era still hold deep grudges against Jethro Jones.

So, right up front, I'm calling bullshit on Cowboys fans and former Cowboys players from that era who still nurse grudges against Jethro Jones. On the fan side, we know that many of you back then wanted him gone. I don't know about the players, but it's possible there, too.

So, don't weep too much for The Fedora. Previous owner Bum Bright and long-term GM Tex Schramm, who left the team soon after the sale, had already been looking at doing the dirty pre-sale, as people who were old enough to be around back then and of double-digit age know. It was a lot easier dropping that mess in Jerry's lap, though, especially when he volunteered, which shows that, GM skills aside,  he is a mensch in some ways.

Tom Landry Jr. claims his dad was ready to rebuild that team again, and could have done so. Junior notes that Landry had already drafted Michael Irvin in 1988 (thus showing he was willing to accept someone with "character issues") and planned on taking Troy Aikman in 1989 as the team actually did.

Fair enough, but ...

Would Landry (and Schramm) have agreed on the Herschel Walker trade, though? Aikman helped, certainly. But, without the additional picks, and the players, the Cowboys, in pre-salary cap days, probably don't create the dynasty they did. 

Let's refresh just who all was in the trade theft. Counting top players only, we have Emmitt Smith after a trade of the one draft pick from Minnesota Alvin Harper by draft, Russell Maryland by further draft trade pick, Darren Woodson by draft, Dixon Edwards by draft and Jesse Solomon by trade. None of the draft picks Dallas sent back ever panned out for the Vikings. 

In short, the Cowboys' defense of the 1990s, which allowed Aikman to be, yes, somewhat of a "game manager," especially when combined with Emmitt, simply wouldn't have existed.

And, I doubt that Landry and Schramm would have explored that trade, or pushed for that big of a swap if they did. Johnson, especially, given that Dallas had had three consecutive losing seasons under Landry, knew a rebuild was in order.

Also, Junior claims dad would just have coached a couple more years, to clean up that 3-13 1988, then retired. 

Not so, says Everson Walls. Via ESPN, he says that when Texas first broached "graceful retirement" to Tom, pre-sale, he said he would coach "well into the 90s":
From what I heard, Coach Landry chose the press conference [after 1988 season] and said, 'I think I'm going to coach well into the '90s.' 
There you go, Junior.

Also, per a story related to the above photo, about Landry's 1993 enshrinement in the Ring of Honor, there's this:
“The thing that hurts me the most is when people say I am unforgiving for Jerry and everything,’ Mr. Landry said. “I was really looking to get out of football. The move out of football didn’t bother me too much. I guess Jerry and I would agree they could have done it a little differently on a different occasion.  
Whether to save face, or because he forgot what he said after the 1988 season, somebody seems to be telling a white lie here, and it ain't Jerry Jones.

I will give Jethro a kudo for apologizing in the past. There's no need now to talk of regret about not having kept him another year.

But, he needed to go, and people knew it. If he was stubborn enough to resist after a 29-year career, I understand not wanting the black mark on his record, but ...

Per the ESPN link above, a great oral history piece about the jarring change:
"That 3-13 team in 1988 was still the worst Cowboys team I've ever seen. I was taking calls on 'Sports Central' every night about, 'When is Landry going to retire? He's got to go! The game has passed him by!' Every night. Until he got fired, then the same people were calling saying, 'How could they fire Tom Landry?'"
So, in other words, there's a lot of hypocritical Cowboys fans out there. Probably a few hypocritical Cowboys players among those holding grudges against Jethro Jones.

As Tim Cowlishaw notes, Irvin drafting aside, the Cowboys had posted three straight losing records. There's no need to mourn his being let go, other than details of how it went down.

If anything, Landry Junior should thank Jethro for making his dad a martyred saint. Imagine a fourth losing season in 1989, possibly almost as bad as the actual 1-15. Imagine them, say, only at 5-11, or even 6-10, instead of the actual 7-9, in 1990. And the future not looking so much better. That's five straight losing seasons, and, without the Walker trade, probably no better than 8-8 for Landry in 1991, instead of the team's first playoff appearance in six years.

Instead of laughing at calling the Cowboys "America's Team" today, that phrase would have died out by 2000. The team wouldn't have been good enough, and, all of his greed and gaucherie aside, nobody would have been marketing the Cowboys like Jerry Jones did.

You can read all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Jethro at this reminiscence piece.

That said, Cowlishaw rightly notes that Jones is in danger of being the league's new Al Davis. While he should be cut slack for 1989, he shouldn't for today.

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