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TWO VIEWS OF A FAMED DALLAS COACH
Ron Fimrite
September 03, 1990
Tom Landry takes it on the chin in one book but sets forth his side in another
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September 03, 1990

Two Views Of A Famed Dallas Coach

Tom Landry takes it on the chin in one book but sets forth his side in another

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Sinners abound in God's Coach ( Simon and Schuster, $19.95), Dallas Times Herald sports columnist Skip Bayless's unforgiving account of Tom Landry's 29 years with the Dallas Cowboys. And anyone who says you can't tell a book by its cover need only examine the bold subtitle of this one—The Hymns, Hype and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry's Cowboys—to see the error of his ways. Bayless proclaims himself a born-again Christian on page 48, but the reader has learned 33 pages earlier, from prose as overwrought as any frothing evangelist's, that the subject of God's Coach will be exposed to high-minded scrutiny: "Perhaps coach Tom Landry's spiritual life was 'founded upon a rock' (Matthew 7:25) but his 'business,' as he called the Cowboys, was built on prairie dust. On Texas-sized egos. On greed. Excess. Sex appeal. Adultery. Lies. Oil. Alcohol. Arrogance. Gusher luck. On a towering media-made facade known as Cowboys mystique...." And so on.

Bayless sees Landry, Cowboy president Tex Schramm and personnel director Gil Brandt—all of whom left the organization last year when the team was sold to Arkansas businessman Jerry Jones—as an "unholy trinity." Schramm, who built the franchise from scratch, is dismissed as a bibulous blowhard whose steadfast promotion of the Cowboys as America's Team served primarily as a motivational tool for opponents enraged by such presumption. As wide receiver Drew Pearson told Bayless, "This ' America's Team' [stuff] is killing us." Another Schramm creation, the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, became nothing more, writes Bayless, than a shameful pandering to the lecherous patrons of Schramm's Million Dollar Saloons (luxury boxes) in Texas Stadium.

Brandt, widely credited with introducing computer technology to scouting, is, in Bayless's hard-eyed view, a phony who knows virtually nothing about either football or technology. Bayless suggests that Brandt lasted 29 years in the game only by calling in markers from college coaches he had treated to favors. And team owner Clint Murchison was, for Bayless, an incorrigible philanderer who sank so low as to steal the wife of one of his employees-Brandt's, as it turned out.

But these rogues never professed to be anything other than what they were. Landry, on the other hand, was for Bayless "a force for the Lord." And when he, too, turned out to have feet of clay, Bayless was apparently moved to rage. How, he asked himself, could a man who inspired countless thousands at Billy Graham's crusades and Fellowship of Christian Athletes conventions coexist with the degenerate likes of his closest colleagues? How could such a man, a born-again Christian like Bayless, coach a team that at one point or another seemed to be peopled by an uncommon assemblage of drunkards, deviates, racists and drug addicts? Where was the fabled Landry influence on such wayward souls as Hollywood Henderson, Lance Rentzel, Rafael Septien, Bob Hayes, Duane Thomas and Larry Bethea? And in his later years at the helm, Landry wasn't even much of a coach. In one of his newspaper columns cited in this book, Bayless even suggested that the once-revered stone face had grown senile. At his best, says Bayless, Landry wouldn't have won the "big ones" without quarterback Roger Staubach countermanding his orders and calling his own plays.

There is throughout this debunking book an irritating strain of the holier-than-thou. "I often asked, 'Use me for Your good,' " Bayless writes. The response from on high is unrecorded, but it would seem that the author was instructed to wield a terrible swift sword.

Landry gives himself a chance to answer this dogged critic in Tom Landry: An Autobiography ( Harper Collins/Zondervan, $18.95), written with Gregg Lewis, which hit the bookstores almost simultaneously with God's Coach. But Landry is neither as interesting nor as sanctimonious as his literary assailant. In fact, he is at his best recounting the roisterous and brutal days of pro football in the early 1950s, when he was a standout defensive back for the New York Giants and a Bobby Layne could party all night and throw touchdown passes all the next day. Landry explains a fact of athletic life that Bayless should have understood: A good coach never gets too emotionally attached to his players. Landry also seems to think that his associates, the infamous Murchison, Schramm and Brandt, were pretty damn good at their jobs, just as he himself was. The evidence—20 straight winning seasons, 18 playoffs, five Super Bowl appearances, two Super Bowl championships-would seem to substantiate this uncritical view.

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