Since its founding in 1960, the Dallas Cowboys have had only nine head coaches in its franchise’s history. To compare, the Jacksonville Jaguars have hired six different head coaches since its founding in 1995.
Dallas’ stability for most of its 60+ years in existence makes sense, as the franchise is one of the most successful in the NFL with five Super Bowl titles. But who are the best coaches in the team’s illustrious history? Here are the top five:
5. Jason Garrett
Garrett is a polarizing figure in Cowboys history. But with such a small group to choose from, Garrett’s longevity gives him the nod over Bill Parcells, Dave Campo, Chan Gailey and current head coach Mike McCarthy.
Garrett’s tenure with the Cowboys is best known for periods of mediocrity with glimmers of hope sprinkled in between. He went 8-8 in his first three full seasons as Dallas’ head coach, missing the postseason in each of those years. Dallas made the playoffs in 2014, his fourth year, winning one game before falling in the Divisional Round.
Garrett went 2-3 in the postseason and failed to advance past the Divisional Round. He probably got too long of a leash, but his lengthy tenure makes him worthy of this list.
4. Wade Phillips
When we take their entire body of work, Bill Parcells was clearly a better head coach than Wade Phillips. But it was Phillips who actually had the better tenure with the Cowboys.
Dallas went 34-22 and won two NFC East titles in 2007 and 2009 with Phillips at the helm. Both of those seasons ended in playoff heartbreak, with Dallas falling in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. To compare, Parcells went 34-30 with two losses in the Wild Card round.
Phillips might’ve been unfairly fired after an 0-3 start to the 2010 season. And it’s fascinating that Jerry Jones gave Garrett a much longer leash than Phillips. But the Cowboys finished above .500 in all three of his full seasons at the helm. While it wasn’t an iconic era in Cowboys history, Phillips’ years in Dallas should be reflected on somewhat fondly.
3. Barry Switzer
There’s an enormous gap between Switzer and the men ranked beneath him. Switzer had big shoes to fill after replacing Jimmy Johnson (more on him later), and he delivered. For starters, Switzer led the Cowboys to their most recent championship, beating the Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX.
In Switzer’s brisk four-year tenure, Dallas went 40-24 with three division titles. Dallas fell in the 1995 NFC Championship Game before winning it all in Switzer’s second season.
The Switzer era ended rather suddenly, as he resigned from the team following an underwhelming 6-10 campaign in 1997. His departure marked the end of the 90s Cowboys dynasty.
2. Jimmy Johnson
Johnson is one of the most iconic coaches in NFL history, let alone Cowboys history. He helped revive a franchise that reached rock bottom only a few years earlier. Dallas went from 1-15 in Johnson’s first season in 1989 to 11-5 in 1991.
You could argue Johnson was the architect behind the best teams in Cowboys history, led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. The Cowboys won Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII and went 44-36 during Johnson’s five seasons.
Unfortunately, Johnson’s relationship with Jerry Jones deteriorated, leading to the Hall of Fame head coach leaving the team following its second championship.
1. Tom Landry
The first head coach in Cowboys history lasted nearly three decades with the team. And while his coaching tenure was book-ended with playoff droughts, Landry is a Cowboys legend.
Landry went 0-11-1 in the franchise’s first season. He didn’t make the playoffs or finish above .500 in any of his first six seasons at the helm. But from then on, Dallas was one of the best franchises in the NFL, making the playoffs in all but one season from 1966 to 1983. Mixed in between that run are two Super Bowl titles led by quarterback Roger Staubach.
Ultimately, Landry went 250-162-6 with 18 postseason berths, five NFC championships and two Super Bowl wins. Landry played a pivotal role in making the Cowboys one of the league’s flagship franchises, and his lasting legacy makes him the top coach in franchise history.