They are chipping away at Mount Landry. They have brought out the chisels, and in the still Dallas air you can hear the clink, clink as they take pieces out of the monument that most people thought would stand for all time.
The fact is, it has been so long since the Cowboys were losers that they don't quite know how to handle it around Dallas. In places like Atlanta, they know all about it: Give the coach a lame vote of confidence, fire him, promise the fans things will turn around, go to dinner and call it a day. That's how the experienced losers manage it. But Dallas went 21 years, from 1965 through '85, without a losing season, and Tom Landry was the calm, guiding force that kept the engine running. He was the master architect of both offense and defense, the man who guided Dallas to five Super Bowls, a revered symbol of quiet excellence.
Two losing seasons in a row have changed things. Last month Tex Schramm, president, general manager and ally of Landry for all 28 years of the Cowboys' existence, began dismantling the Landry legend. "There's an old saying, "If the teacher doesn't teach, the student doesn't learn,' " Schramm said on his radio show. That was the day after the Cowboys' 27-17 loss to Detroit, a team that had come into the game tied with Kansas City, the Giants and the Rams for the worst record in the NFL.
Two Sundays ago it was the turn of Bum Bright, the majority owner of the Cowboys. He spoke up after an 11-point loss to Atlanta—by then another team tied for the league's worst record. Bright said the Cowboys' play-calling "horrified" him. "It doesn't seem like we've got anybody in charge who knows what he's doing, other than Tex," he added.
Bright also allowed as how he thought that the top draft pick, defensive tackle Danny Noonan, and running back Herschel Walker weren't being used enough, considering all the money they get paid. Bright is in banking, mortgaging and oil. When you pay for a high-priced oil rig it gets put to use. Now.
O.K., maybe Bright's outburst was understandable. Postgame heat. Typical owner's tirade. But how about Schramm? His remarks came after he had more than 24 hours to think things over. And that "teacher doesn't teach" line didn't come out of the blue. It was set up with the following: "Some of the things we're doing are frankly mystifying. It's very seldom I put myself in a position of giving the players a reason for losing, but I'm not sure it's all on the players. When things aren't working and you continue to see the same things, it shakes your confidence."
In those words and the similar ones from Bright four weeks later, some observers see a pattern—a plan—to first undermine and then unload the 63-year-old Landry, who signed a three-year contract last summer. "The owner says what Tex tells him to," says Lee Roy Jordan, the Cowboys' All-Pro middle linebacker and defensive leader for 14 seasons.
"The Cowboys are Tex's baby: the club newsletter, the radio show, the cheerleaders, the souvenirs. It's all football according to Tex. And now there's a division on the team. Tex brought in the new offensive coach [Paul Hackett] last year, and this year he was behind the hiring of the new offensive line coach [Jim Erkenbeck] and special teams coach [Mike Solari]. I think it's a total division of the team.
"I'd say that over the last year and a half the management has worked on the idea of promoting the image that Tom can't coach anymore. It's not us, it's Tom's fault."
In his office in the Cowboy training complex, where visitors are greeted by three TV sets constantly playing tapes of past triumphs, Schramm stares out the window and murmurs, almost pensively, "I'd like to go back to the days when we were called arrogant."