Clint Murchison Jr.
Clint Murchison Jr. was the ideal owner for the expansion Cowboys when they entered the league in 1960.
What he lacked in height at 5’7” he made up for in smarts. Earning a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University and a master’s degree in Mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology following marine corps graduation.
I like to call him The Professor for obvious reasons.
And while Clint certainly could have make a decent living on an average electrical engineer salary, it paled in comparison to the money he made through his investments.
Unlike most current NFL team owners, the wealthy Texan didn’t rely on his NFL franchise for his primary source of income.
Instead, Murchison believed in diversification with interests in oil, real estate, hotels, and wall street to name a few.
In fact, Murchison was so well diversified that he once asked for reservations at one of his own hotels.
I’m pretty sure they were able to find Clint accommodations for the night.
The owner of the Dallas Cowboys had a simple philosophy when it came to personnel…
Hire the right people for the job, give them the resources needed to succeed, then get out of their way.
Two perfect examples of Murchison’s management style was his handling of general manager Tex Schramm and Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.
While Schramm was lapping up all of the media attention and praise off the field and Landry the same on the field—athough Tom never cared for the limelight—Murchison was more than happy to lay low in the background.
Clint rarely (if ever) showed up to the NFL owners meetings, choosing instead to delegate this duty to his general manager.
Clint used his marine corps background to bring levity to a situation when discussions became heated between two or more parties inside the organization.
The World War II veteran had a unique ability to get two sides to come to an agreement no matter how far apart they were in their views.
Likewise, by displaying complete confidence in the men he hired to run the franchise, Murchison inspired them to achieve what they believed impossible. It’s part of the reason the Dallas Cowboys became the most popular NFL team in the league.
The first real test of Murchison’s personnel philosophy came in the form of harsh criticism directed toward his head coach.
A vote of confidence for Landry
Entering the 1964 season the Cowboys had a grand total of thirteen wins over four long losing seasons. Dallas area fans were thrilled to finally have an NFL franchise, but they were anxious for a winner.
Public opinion had turned against Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry and many were calling for him to be replaced.
But that wasn’t Clint’s style.
Murchison believed Landry was the right man for the job and “double-downed” as they say in Vegas, by signing Landry to a new ten-year contract. At the time, it was known to be the longest contract in professional sports.
Many in the media and other NFL executives thought the MIT mathematician had forgotten how to do simple arithmetic. How else could one explain an owner extending the contract of a head coach with a .269 winning percentage?
In the end, Clint Murchison Jr. was praised for his forward-thinking in securing the services of one of the all-time great National Football League head coaches.
Never one to shy away from spending money, Murchison approved radical (and expensive) ideas like holding training camp in southern California and utilizing computers to evaluate players.
Back in those days, computers were so expensive that even a rich Texas oilman like Clint Murchison Jr. had to split the cost with several other NFL teams.
Murchison’s first NFL Championship
After twelve long years of losing seasons and falling just short of a championship, the Cowboys finally got over the hump in Super Bowl 5 in a victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Receiving the Vince Lombardi trophy from NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was the crowning achievement for the Cowboys owner.
In addition to the franchise’s 1st Super Bowl win, the 1971 season brought about an address change for the young franchise—moving out of the cramped confines of Cotton Bowl stadium and into newly the constructed Texas Stadium in nearby Irving, Texas.
The stadium was a unique blend of modern style and functionality with its luxury suites and of course the hole-in-the-roof. Linebacker D.D. Lewis famously quipped that “Texas Stadium has a hole in its roof so God can watch His favorite team play.”
Oh boy… more fuel added to the fire for Cowboy haters.
Not only do the Cowboys have all of America on their side as Americas Team, but now they have God on their side too?!?
Clint Murchison’s Cowboys would win one more Super Bowl before the end of the 1970s to go along with two crushing losses to Pittsburgh.
Those Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl wins at the expense of the Cowboys still hurt some thirty-plus years later!
The Murchison Brothers
By the mid-1960s, Clint Murchison Jr. and his brother John owned over one-hundred companies worth an estimated $1.25 billion. John was the conservative and responsible investor, but Clint had a gambler’s mentality that drove him toward increasingly risky investments.
The two brothers were following in the footsteps of their father Clint Murchison Sr., who had rode the wave of the Texas oil boom to form Murchison Oil & Gas, Inc.
During the 1920s when most oil companies in Texas counted on luck to make a strike, Murchison put his faith in science and technology in hitting strike after strike in the Texas oil fields.
Following his death, Clint Sr. passed on a number of well-known companies like the Daisy Manufacturing Company, well-known for their BB guns; Field and Stream magazine; Delhi Oil, and publisher Henry Holt and Company, among others.
In the early 1970s, Clint Murchison Jr. began investing heavily in California real estate, building apartment and residential complexes.
Every one of those investments were a bust.
After losing millions in his California deal, an Australian developer convinced Clint that a 46-acre estate near Washington D.C. was a worthwhile investment, even though the purchase price was $4.5 million more than the appraisal.
It too was a loser.
In 1973, Clint Murchison Jr. was swindled once again after investing in ten different real estate projects with all but two losing money. Clint believed the properties were a sound investment because real estate always values went up.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case any longer.
But arguably Clint’s biggest failure came when he invested $10 million in a process to transform cow manure to natural gas. Ironically, the company had been named Calorific Reclamation Anaerobic Process, or C.R.A.P.
It proved to be a fitting name.
And if dealing in cow poop wasn’t messy enough, Clint Murchison Jr. spent millions developing a ski resort in Iran.
Old Clint never knew a risk he didn’t like.
By the mid-1970s, Clint could no longer hide his wild borrowing habits from his business partner. John gave his younger brother strict orders to consult him before any more debt was taken on, but Clint completely ignored the warning and kept on spending.
As if Clint’s wild spending wasn’t enough, he also had a taste for young women.
The quiet and unassuming Clint Murchison Jr. was a swinger, loved to party, and enjoyed stepping out during his marriage to his wife Jane. Murchison went so far as to purchase a penthouse in Manhattan to quench his unending thirst for young female conquests.
To bring even more beautiful women into Clint’s Dallas social circle, he and Tex Schramm formed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and outfitted them with suggestive outfits to perform sexy dance moves to woo the male fans.
Clint often romanced young women from the squad until the cheerleaders became so famous in the late-1970s that he was forced to stop his shenanigans or risk public backlash.
No longer a young man with endless amounts of enegry, Murchison began using cocaine in an effort to keep up with all the young women he was chasing.
When Clint began seeing his head scout’s wife Anne Brandt, the Cowboys organization was stunned. Stunned, escalated to shock when Gil Brandt’s wife divorced him and announced she and Clint were getting married.
It was Anne’s fourth marriage, so maybe Gil was better off in the end. Still, it had to be an awkward situation whenever the two men crossed paths.
Clint’s financial woes
June 14, 1979, would prove to be the beginning of the end for the “Original Four” as I like to call them: Clint Murchison Jr., Tex Schramm, Tom Landry, and Gil Brandt.
Only a few people inside the organization knew that Clint’s brother John Murchison was actually co-owner of the Dallas Cowboys.
The elder Murchison had no interest in football and was happy to remain a silent partner.
But when John died of a sudden heart attack, Clint no longer had his big brother there to control his wild spending.
No constraints equaled even riskier ventures by Clint Murchison Jr.
Things went from bad to worse when John Murchison’s son Dabney discovered Clint was borrowing against his $30 million trust.
A Texas business lawsuit quickly ensued demanding that the Murchison Brothers partnership be disolved.
But Clint was able to convince his brother’s widow Lupe that the business’ financial problems were the result of Dabney’s interference, and Lupe sued Dabney to remove his as co-executor of his father’s estate.
At the trial, Lupe’s attorneys were successful in vilifying Dabney as a “vicious and ungrateful son.” Worried that he might lose everything, he agreed to step down as co-executor in exchange for a $3 million loan from his mother.
Clint Murchison Jr. had won the first round, but Dabney had no intention of giving up the fight.
With the money he was awarded in the settlement, Dabney Murchison sued his Uncle Clint and his four children in February, 1981 for $30 million; demanding that his trust money be segregated from the family business before Clint ran the company into the ground.
As interest rates soared near 20%, Clint Murchison Jr. was paying out $80 million annually just to service the interest on his debt, and he was falling behind on his payments.
Bank owned real estate that was once a large part of Murchison’s portfolio was becoming the norm.
In October, Dabney’s attorneys were successful in untangling his assets from a junk computer company investment and threatened to reveal Clint’s financial ‘dirty laundry’ for the whole world to see.
By April of 1983, the stubborn owner was out of aces to play and reluctantly gave into his nephew’s demands.
Now fully aware of their father’s financial woes, Clint Murchison’s five children forced their father to give up control of their trust funds before Murchison Brothers went completely belly-up.
As details of Murchison’s finances began to circulate throughout the banking community, pressure for payment began to mount. To add insult to injury, Clint had been diagnosed with a rare degenerative nerve disorder with no known cure.
The decline of the oil market had wiped out nearly one-third of Murchison’s wealth and creditors were calling in their loans.
Backed into a corner, Clint Murchison Jr. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was forced to sell most of his assets to pay back the estimated $500 million he owed under the guidelines of Chapter 11 bankruptcy law.
At one time, Clint had been the proud owner of the Del Mar and Santa Anita thoroughbred racetracks in California. Now the troubled multi-millionaire was more concerned with California bankruptcy laws than race horses.
Cowboys for sale
In the spring of 1983, Murchison asked Schramm to pay him a visit to his north Dallas home. Tex knew the Cowboys owner’s health was deteriorating but he never asked about the details.
During their meeting, Clint Murchison Jr. revealed the nature of his health situation and explained his need to sell the Cowboys.
Despite his mounting financial problems, Murchison made sure that his most trusted employees with the Cowboys were taken care of.
He gave Schramm a $2.5 million bonus and increased his salary to $400,000. Landry received a $2 million bonus and had his salary bumped to $650,000, while Gil Brandt salary was raised to $225,000.
Schramm immediately began to look for prospective buyers who were strong financially and would allow the club to operate as it always had.
George Barbar, a developer from Boca Raton, Florida provided the first serious bid for the Cowboys. However, Schramm was concerned the wealthy Floridian would be too far-removed from team decisions and ended talks.
On the advice of a close associate, Schramm contacted Murchison’s old friend H.R.“Bum” Bright.
After a thorough investigation of the Cowboys’ finances, Bright decided against becoming majority owner due to the $30 million investment it would require to acquire 51 percent of the team per NFL policy.
Shortly thereafter, Dallas businessmen Vance Miller and W.O. Bankston became the front runners to buy the club. In the early 1980s, Miller and Murchison had been involved in a business deal that netted Clint $8 million without investing a single dime. Needless to say the two were close friends.
Miller and Bankston had made an offer of $90 million to buy the club, but Tex wanted a guarantee that he would have a job after ownership changed hands.
With the two men unwilling to grant Schramm with guaranteed employment, he hinted to Murchison that he should consider talking with Bright a second time.
Schramm still hadn’t completely given up on the idea of a Bum Bright ownership and decided to approach commissioner Rozelle in an effort to gain approval for a limited partnership.
The commissioner agreed with the proposal, on the condition that Tex Schramm became the team’s operations manager and held voting rights for all NFL matters.
Tex contacted Bright with the idea of a limited partnership and the wealthy oilman agreed to purchase the Dallas Cowboys for $63 million and Texas Stadium for another $20 million.
Two months after the sale was finalized, lawsuits filed by Murchison’s creditors totaled $75.7 million. Clint was now confined to a wheelchair and lawsuits were coming in droves.
By 1985, the gravely ill Murchison had demands totaling $560 million and had no choice but to file for bankruptcy.
In mid-March 1987, Clint Murchison Jr. came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized for several weeks before succumbing to the disease on March 29.
At Murchison’s funeral, Tom Landry gave one of the eulogies and Tex Schramm paid tribute to the founder of the Dallas Cowboys by stating Clint was the glue that held the organization together.
Clint Murchison Jr. doesn’t have a spot in the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and is rarely mentioned when the Cowboys’ greatest contributors are discussed. But there’s no question the support and confidence he gave to the organization allowed his people to perform to the best of their abilities.