December 19, 1977 12:00 PM

The most important factor in building an excellent football strength and conditioning program is WILL POWER!!!!! Intellect tires, the will never. The brain needs sleep, the will none. The whole body is nothing but objectified will…

That, in part, is a manifesto painted in red block letters on a blue wall at the practice field of the Dallas Cowboys football team. Its author is identified, somewhat coyly, by the initials “T.L.” Those who stop to read the message may puzzle over its meaning, but no one who lives within the sound of Howard Cosell’s voice would ever ask “T.L. who?”

Tom Landry, the 53-year-old Dallas head coach, is celebrated among professional football fans for two things. One is his behavior during a game. Some coaches rant and gallop up the sidelines. Landry rarely moves; he is stoic, dapper, expressionless. His chiseled features give no hint whether the Cowboys are four touchdowns ahead or getting murdered. That brings up the second point about Tom Landry: his teams are almost never getting murdered.

As the one and only field director of the Cowboys in their 17 years, Landry started with an expansion club of castoffs from other pro teams and built it into an incredible power in the National Football League. The Cowboys have made the playoffs in 10 of the past 11 years. They have gone to the Super Bowl three times, winning once (in 1972 over the Miami Dolphins, 24-3). As the regularly scheduled games of the current season dwindle down to a precious few, Dallas is riding high in its now customary spot at the top of the division, poised for another rush at the championship.

In brief, these are exciting times for Landry. Then why isn’t he excited? His forbearance during even the most heart-stopping moments of a game has long been a subject of speculation among sports reporters and TV viewers alike. (The demeanor does not change at the stadium gate: close friends say a tiny smile from the coach is roughly equivalent to a somersault from others.)

Landry explains that he is so absorbed in strategy during a game he has no time to react. “If you see me showing emotion, then I’m not doing my job.” Under the Landry system, that job is to call every Cowboy play, sending them into the huddle with substitutes. Like a chess master, his mind is racing so far ahead of the action that Landry is barely aware of what’s happening on the field at any given moment.

“I may glance at the point of attack, but as soon as I see what I need, then I’m not even conscious of whether we break for eight yards, six yards, zero, or if someone makes a great catch,” he explains. “I’m concentrating on the next sequence of plays. You have to stay ahead of the game. Once you start to worry about what the score is, whether you made a good play or a bad play, you’re lost.”

After every game, Landry admits, he goes home in a state of near collapse. But, he says, it’s from the strain of total concentration—not nerves.

Tom Landry has been described as intense, impersonal, analytical, methodical, pious, relentless, unfeeling. Whatever their choice of adjective, admirers and detractors agree: When it comes to football, he is a bona fide genius.

He seemed destined for the sport almost from the day he was born in the Rio Grande valley town of Mission, Texas, where his father, a mechanic, served as fire chief for 40 years. “As far back as I can remember,” says Landry, the third of four children, “everything I did revolved around football. In a small Texas town, football is everything. We played in sandlots, everywhere. Accomplishing something in life to me meant being the greatest football player ever.”

In 1942 Mission’s star junior high and high school halfback won a football scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin. But the next year Landry had to take a long time out from football to go to war with his Army Air Corps reserve unit. As a bomber co-pilot Lieutenant Landry flew 30 missions over Germany, endured flak barrages and survived a dead-stick landing in France that sheared both wings off his B-17. He came back from the war without a scratch.

Once he had returned to the Texas football field, some of Landry’s luck deserted him. As a reserve quarterback he broke the thumb on his right hand (and still can’t extend the thumb fully). Ever practical, he figured the prospects of a bent-fingered passer were not good. He crossed over to the other side of the scrimmage line and blossomed as a defensive back.

Landry graduated in 1949 with a degree in business administration and a contract with the New York football Yankees of the short-lived All-America Conference. When the AAC merged with the National Football League the next year, Landry went to the New York Giants where he performed with distinction for six seasons, two of them as defensive player and coach. He took over full-time defensive coaching duties in 1956.

“Tom is the father of the four-three defense,” says ex-Giant teammate and now ABC-TV sportscaster Frank Gif-ford. (For nonfootball fans, “four-three” refers to the way the defensive linemen and linebackers position themselves.) “He wasn’t that big or fast, so he used his head,” Gifford adds. “He broke the offense down and learned to pick up certain keys so he could anticipate what they would do in a given situation. It was something that hadn’t been done before Landry.”

By that time his own family could be diagrammed as a “two-three.” Besides Tom and his wife, Alicia, whom he met on a blind date and married before finishing college, there were three children. In the off-season the Landrys lived first in Houston, where the coach earned an industrial engineering degree at the University of Houston and worked for a metals fabricating company. They moved later to Dallas, and he sold insurance and real estate.

In 1960 Dallas got its long-coveted NFL franchise, and Landry was signed to a five-year contract as the new field boss who, it was expected, would grow with the team. No one expected an expansion club to perform miracles in its first several years—no one, that is, except the impatient Dallas fans who soon were howling for Landry’s head.

Yet, in what has become a Cowboy tradition, team owner Clint Murchison Jr. and general manager (now president) Tex Schramm stuck by their original game plan. “We felt that Tom had all the tools to be a successful coach,” Schramm recalls. “He’s extremely intelligent, with an engineering type of mind that enjoys manipulating the details of defense and offense. He’s not afraid to make decisions.” As Landry’s first contract neared its end, Murchison and Schramm proffered a new 10-year pact—an unprecedented vote of confidence in a profession that has never been famous for job security.

It’s a little after 6 a.m., and Tom Landry is already heading for the practice field. To keep his 6’1″ frame at a hard, lean 200 pounds, he jogs two miles and works out with weights—before he gets down to the job of preparing for the next game.

The process starts on Monday. Game films from the day before are shown, and each player’s performance evaluated and graded. That done, Landry turns to computer printouts—bound into a book the size of the Manhattan phone directory—for a minute analysis of the next opponent. The computer reveals what plays they used under what conditions and how often. As the week progresses Landry and his coaching staff absorb the mass of data, design countermoves and settle on a game plan for both offense and defense. The offense is rarely changed. “You don’t spend three days working up a game plan and getting all the players ready, only to change it during a 10-minute halftime,” Landry says. “You just go out there and execute it better than they can execute a defense against it.” Such intensive preparation motivates the team, he adds, far more successfully than locker room histrionics. “Confidence comes from knowing what you’re doing,” says Landry. “If you are prepared for something, you usually do it. If not, you usually fall flat on your face.”

Not all those who now play or have played for Landry admire his push-button approach. “I knew him as a coach, but I never knew the man,” says tight end Jean Fugett, four years a Cowboy before donning the uniform of the archrival Washington Redskins. “I didn’t agree with his philosophy,” Fugett continues. “Football is a cruel game, and it’s more cruel when it becomes impersonal. After a loss he would say, ‘I gave you a perfect game plan and you blew it.’ He keeps bringing in new talent. You lived with the knowledge that you could always be replaced.” Fugett notes the basic philosophical difference between the Redskin and Dallas coaches: “George Allen believes that if the players are happy, they will win. Landry believes that if the players win, they can be happy.”

Landry’s behavior sometimes confounds even close friends. Frank Gifford chuckles about an incident when the two of them played for the Giants: “I intercepted a pass, lateraled it to him and, as I recall, he took it in for a touchdown. He was player-coach then and all the next week he would run the game movie and show me that I was out of position.”

Landry has learned to value old times and teammates since he has known the loneliness of command. “As head coach,” he says, “it’s different. You don’t have close relationships—and you miss them. The players are not going to let you see any weaknesses they may have if they can help it.” Tom and Alicia Landry live in a rambling house on more than an acre of land, but during the season the only unpressured time they have together at home is a few hours each Saturday. Two of their three children are grown and on their own: Tom Jr., 27, is a lawyer in Houston and Kitty, 25, lives in Austin with her husband, ex-Texas quarterback Eddie Phillips, who is a banker now. The youngest Landry, Lisa, 20, will be heading for the Austin campus next fall.

For years, Landry concedes, he confused football with life itself. Then in 1958 a friend persuaded him to attend Bible study classes and, Tom says, he became a devout Christian (he was born a Methodist but had not thought deeply about religion before). “My whole life has changed since that time. Now there’s purpose and meaning. I know that life is really finding the right relationship between yourself and God,” he declares—unselfconsciously.

“There are coaches to whom winning or losing means something close to life or death,” says Landry. “If they lose, then their life has somehow been diminished. I’m not that way, and it keeps me steady. I’m at peace with myself.”

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