The ‘Moneyball’ Men Of The Dallas Cowboys
Long before "Moneyball", the movie about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, there were the Dallas Cowboys under Tom Landry, Tex Schramm, and Gil Brandt. Moneyball, or data analytics, is about putting the best on the field to beat teams with bigger payrolls through playing percentages and focusing on the critical, not the conventional. For almost three decades beginning in 1960, Landry, Schramm and Brandt formed one of the most innovative and successful management teams in professional sports. In effect, they were the Moneyball of their era.
Schramm, the first General Manager for Dallas, hired Landry as coach and Brandt as personnel manager. In Moneyball, computers are deployed to field players with high on-base percentages rather than high numbers of home runs. For the Cowboys, this meant putting the best on the field even if they never played football before, had not played that position, or would not be able to join the team for several years. Schramm was the first GM to use computers to scout for talent among multiple athletic disciplines.
Dallas recognized that character with preparation, discipline, fortitude and skills were more important than football experience at a position. Bob Hayes ran track in college and Cornell Greene played basketball. Lineman George Andrie played at Marquette, which disbanded the football team his junior year. Each went on to greatness with the Cowboys: Green as a defensive back, Hayes as a receiver, and Andrie as a defensive end.
Drafting "the best athlete available" was another hallmark. In Moneyball, this meant playing a catcher at first base. For the Cowboys, this meant taking the player with the best package of character and skills, then teaching him to play a position. There was no such thing as a "third down edge rusher from the weak side" or a "blocking back with long arms but small hands" for Dallas. A lineman played every position. Running backs knew both positions and could run, catch, and block from either. In 1965, Mel Renfro was all-pro at safety. The next season he opened up at halfback. After injury, he then shifted back to defense, making the Hall of Fame.
Here is the huge difference between data analytics and Dallas. In a series of interviews with former Cowboys, linebackers reported that Landry gave them the greenlight to blitz. Punter Danny White stated that he could run a fake whenever he wanted. Data analytics seeks to control players, down to what pitch to throw. It’s tough to master being a pitcher in ‘The Show’ when someone is telling you what to throw!
In addition to this latitude, players were drafted that couldn't join the team for years. This is the essence of Moneyball: getting maximum value for minimal outlay. Through this, Dallas acquired future stars Roger Staubach (10th round), Herschel Walker (5th round) and Chad Hennings (11th round). The Cowboys had to wait for Staubach and Hennings to finish military service and for the USFL to fold for Walker.
All excelled for Dallas. Staubach, who won the Heisman and was MVP of Super Bowl VI, was declared by Landry to be "possibly the best combination of a passer, an athlete and a leader to ever play in the NFL”. It is not a mere coincidence that the Cowboys were willing to wait for both Staubach and Hennings as each went to a service academy. At Annapolis, from where Staubach graduated, and the Air Force Academy for Hennings, there is an emphasis on discipline, fortitude, and preparation before any task, no matter how minor, as it could literally be the difference between life or death in combat.
On the flip side of getting young players cheap, Dallas was able to extract maximum value from others for veterans. Hall of Famer Ed "Too Tall" Jones and all-star quarterback Danny White were obtained from the Houston Oilers for Todd Smith and Billy Parks, neither of whom made the Pro Bowl. Backup quarterback Craig Morton was sent to the New York Giants for the pick that became Randy White, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle. And in the mothership of all one-sided trades, the Cowboys dynasty of the '90s was built sending Walker to the Vikings for picks resulting in Emmet Smith, Russel Maryland, Alvin Harper, Erik Williams, and Darren Woodson.
Using data analytics, the Oakland Athletics made the playoffs. Under Brandt, Landry and Schramm, Dallas won two Super Bowls, five NFC crowns, 13 divisional titles, and posted a winning record for 20 consecutive seasons (1966-1985). Moneyball made the Oakland Athletics the story for a movie, but Landry, Brandt and Schramm led the Cowboys into the mantle of being "America's Team."
Jonathan Yates is host of “The Culture of Sports”. He has written numerous articles in outlets such as Newsweek and the Washington Post and held interviews at NPR and CNBC. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: politicsports13
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