FRISCO, Texas -- Pro Football Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys' first vice president of player personnel from 1960-1988 who helped transform the team from an expansion franchise in 1960 to one of the NFL's iconic brands, died Thursday at 91 years old. In tandem with head coach Tom Landry and general manager Tex Schramm, Brandt's run included five Super Bowl appearances, two championships and 20 winning seasons in a row from 1966 to 1985. The two titles came via a Super Bowl VI victory over the Miami Dolphins (24-3) and a Super Bowl XII win over the Denver Broncos (27-10).
Brandt helped revolutionize the NFL's scouting industry by implementing computers and algorithms into the player evaluation process. He presided over the draft selection of Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach (the 129th pick in the 1964 NFL Draft, 10th round) and the undrafted free agency signings of Hall of Fame wide receiver Drew Pearson, defensive back Cliff Harris (1970), and the 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Everson Walls.
Walls credits much of Dallas' success to Brandt being one of the first NFL talent evaluators to take historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) seriously as NFL pipelines. Walls (Grambling State), and Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Bob Hayes (Florida A&M) were two of his biggest finds from his HBCU scouting. Brandt's influence also led to the Cowboys making defensive lineman Ed "Too Tall" Jones the first No. 1 overall draft pick from an HBCU, Tennessee State, in the 1974 NFL Draft.
"The HBCUs were major for the Cowboys," Walls said Thursday. "The great Bob Hayes, these are the kinds of guys that Gil Brandt was out there looking [scouting], he wasn't just standing around, just picking things out of the air. He did a good job of scouting, and he understood what we brought to the table. I don't know if he knew I was going to make the team, but he signed me. That's a feather in his cap."
The relationship between Brandt and his players was one that improved in the later years once he and many of his finds were retired and out of the game.
"I told him he was trying to get to heaven in his old age, but he always liked that joke," Walls said of his more friendly relationship with Brandt later in life. "He did a good job in doing those last days and last years of really elevating HBCUs just as he did in those early years when he recruited us for his team."
Brandt's time with the Cowboys unceremoniously ended after Jerry Jones bought the Silver and Blue in 1989, but Jones did honor Brandt while he was still alive, inducting him into the team's Ring of Honor in 2018. Brandt was then inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame one year later in 2019.
"I'm so glad that Jerry was able to do that for him and for his family because that transition from the old school versus the new school, meaning the Tex Schramm days versus the Jerry Jones days, that transition was kind of tough for everyone," Walls said. "The fact that he was kind of embraced in that manner, I think that did a lot for him during his last days."
Jones released a statement about Brandt and his life after the news of his passing broke Thursday morning:
"We are so deeply saddened by the passing of Gil Brandt -- a true icon and pioneer of our sport. Gil was at the very core of the early success of the Dallas Cowboys and continued to serve as a great ambassador for the organization for decades beyond that. His contributions cemented his spot in the Ring of Honor. He was my friend and a mentor not only to me, but to countless executives, coaches, players and broadcasters across the National Football League, which rightfully earned him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame where his legacy will be celebrated forever.
He was an innovator and set the standard for excellence in player acquisition. From the creation of the NFL Combine to revolutionizing the NFL Draft, Gil finished his over six-decade NFL career with an eye towards the future of the league and teaching fans about the sport he loved as a radio broadcaster. Gil was as good a storyteller as it gets, with a memory as sharp as a tack. His dedication to, and passion for, this game left a lasting impact on generations of Hall of Fame players and coaches. There are very few people that have been able to have the kind of generational impact that he did. Gil was as dedicated to growing this league and sport as anyone ever was, and we are all grateful and better for it.
Our hearts go out to Gil's wife, Sara, his son Hunter and all of Gil's family and friends."