Bears can thank Dallas for 'Da Coach'

"We felt that we had a really good team, but we didn't have any leadership and there was no one, absolutely no one, who worked harder than Mike," Brandt said. "We knew all of the background, that he once got into a fight with Adolph Rupp when he was a basketball player for Pitt, but we got him and I think he saw what Tom stood for and how he accomplished things.

"Consequently, I saw Mike Ditka turn from a guy who was constantly looking for trouble, so to speak, who would fight at the drop of a hat, to a guy who all of a sudden controlled his emotions."

Ditka said he became a "team player" in Dallas. "All Coach Landry did was for the good of the team," he said. "He didn't tolerate anything [else]."

And their relationship was clearly the key in rejuvenating Ditka's career and overall attitude.

"The thing about Halas, who was a great coach and a huge reason why this league is what it is today, is that he was not as attuned [to players] but more to X's and O's, and believed players should know how to play," Brandt said. "Whereas with Tom, they were all like second sons to him.

"I think Mike learned so much from Tom. Things like the [Fellowship of Christian Athletes], Mike would have never thought of doing. He was a hero worshipper of Coach Landry."

Ditka did not disagree.

"My whole life and focus changed when I met Tom," he said. "One thing he made me understand was that every individual was a part of a puzzle. It actually made me a better person."

A week after retiring following the 1972 season, Ditka got another unexpected call from Landry.

"He asked if I'd consider coaching special teams and working with the tight ends," recalled Ditka, who had been a part-owner of a sports bar in Dallas and envisioned eventually opening more and making a career of it. "I would make half as much as a coach ($22,000) than I had as a player, but I told him I'd love to have the opportunity. It was a great life and very prestigious. I'm glad my mind worked rationally at that time."

Dan Reeves, Ditka's roommate with the Cowboys and then a player-coach, said he had also been caught off-guard when Landry asked him to join his staff.

"Coach Landry saw something in both Mike and I that we didn't see in ourselves," said Reeves, who went on to participate in a record nine Super Bowls as a player or coach and become one of Ditka's closest friends.

"People don't understand how extremely smart Mike is, just as far as his IQ. But his thought process coaching was [equally impressive]. Mike was the one who brought up the shotgun because we were so bad the year before on third-down conversions. ... Coach Landry had some experience with it and said he'd think about it, that we had to work on our pass protection because the first thing people would do is blitz us. But we used the shotgun a long time before anyone else did. ... Roger Staubach was awesome in the shotgun and that was something Mike brought up first."

During the 1981 season, while still coaching special teams in Dallas, Ditka had written Halas a letter expressing a desire to renew their friendship and asking his former coach to someday consider him for the head coaching position. But Ditka said he was surprised when Landry called him into his office following the season.

"He said, 'Listen, I think Coach Halas is going to offer you the Bears' coaching job,' " Ditka recalled. "I asked him, 'Are you sure?' and he said, 'Yeah, he called me.'

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