THERE HE SITS, THE UNLaNDRY, IN THE SAME CHAIR BEHIND THE same desk in the same Valley Ranch office once occupied by Thomas Wade Landry Himself. Barry Switzer is answering questions the way he lives, quickly and emotionally. Questions about Jerry Jones, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, the San Francisco 49ers, and why he was about ready to get the hell back to Norman, Oklahoma after his Cowboys lost their first game last season. Talking fast and hot, tapping his right toe twice a second as he races back through one of the wildest years of a unique life.
“I’m quick, like Jerry,” says Switzer. Quick to anger, to laugh, to cry, to hug. Genuinely, unpredictably quick.
There I sat across from Switzer, in the same chair I’ve occupied for hours and hours interviewing the first two Cowboys coaches, Landry and Johnson. In 1989 I wrote a book called God’s Coach…the Hymns, Hype and Hypocrisy of Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, and my 1993 book The Boys detailed Johnson’s egomaniacal rage to win and his deteriorating relationship with Jones. I covered Landry for 10 years, Johnson for five, but I know and understand Switzer even better than I did Landry and Johnson. I first met Switzer in 1969, and several of my friends played for him at Oklahoma. I know the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses, and I’m thinking, “Have I lost all objectivity? I really like this guy.”
Maybe I have. Be your own judge.
But consider this: Many of Landry’s players questioned whether he had a heart. Many who played or worked for Johnson called his heart cold and sometimes cruel. Anyone who knows Switzer will tell you he’s all heart. “As compassionate and sensitive a man as you’ll find,” says Jones.
Yet many of my media colleagues don’t care for or have much respect for Switzer. Many of my talk-show callers don’t trust the guy, especially if they root for the University of Texas. Their lasting impressions of Switzer were formed during the 16 years he coached the University of Oklahoma-indelible impressions stained by the bad blood of the annual Texas-OU border wars in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl: Switzer’s teams being put on NCAA probation for recruiting violations… Switzer’s staff being accused by the Longhorns’ version of Landry, Darrell Royal, of spying on a Texas practice…Switzer’s strutting, bandanna-wearing, wishbone-running, Texas-whomping Sooner tearns…Switzer’s widely publicized affair with the wife of his old friend and OU defensive coordinator Larry Lacewell…Switzers Anima] House of a jock dorm, which in a short 1989 period was rocked by a shooting, a rape, and a quarterback (Charles Thompson) sent to prison for selling cocaine…Switzer’s forced resignation…Switzer’s press-conference tirades littered with unLandrylike hells and damns…Switzer’s authorized biography with the like-it-or-not title, Bootlegger’s Boy.
The unLandry is the son of a hard-drinking, womanizing father who sold moonshine on the outskirts of Crossett, Ark. Like father, like son? Ask just about any Texas ex or Landry worshiper how Switzer did in his rookie year as Cowboys coach, and you’ll probably get some variation on this theme: “That scoundrel screwed up a team that could have won three straight Super Bowls. He let the Cowboys run wild and (All-Pro tackle) Erik Williams wound up nearly killing himself in a car wreck. If Jerry hadn’t let his ego get the best of him and fired Jimmy, the Cowboys would have made history.”
Then again, if you know football and the Cowboys-know how mentally and physically battered this salary-cap-racked team was-you know Switzer perhaps took the Cowboys farther than Johnson would have. After all, after sporting San Francisco a 21-0 lead in the NFC Championship Game, the Cowboys could have cut the Niners’ lead to 38-35 had a referee called what should have been blatant pass interference by Deion Sanders.
Switzer s reaction to the incident is telling. Tom Landry would have turned the other cheek, refusing to speculate about the blown call. Jimmy Johnson would have taken the heat off his Cowboys (and himself) by blasting the refs after the game. But when I recently asked Switzer about the incident, his response was straight from the heart- and will no doubt be plastered on the 49ers’ locker room bulletin board: “If we’d cut it to three? With all our momentum? I’m telling you, they would have choked.”
So his Cowboys won the NFC East, dominated Green Bay in the first playoff game-and Switzer was branded a failure by some critics. That’s Switzer: He polarizes. If you know him or have spent some time in his force field, you accept his negatives because there are so many positives. If you critique him from a distance, you probably don’t like him. You question his lifestyle and his dedication to coaching.
From a distance, you’re perhaps surprised and confused when you read this from Larry Lacewell, who improbably has come full circle to he Switzer’s right-hand man again as Cowboys scouting director: “Barry Switzer will take a lot of things to his grave, a lot of ’em good and some of ’em bad. But nobody who knows football has ever accused him of being a bad football coach. His teams always have been well prepared and well coached, and they’ve always played hard for him. ” You’re perhaps surprised and confused when you read the forward to Baotlegger’s Boy, written by Landrylike Penn State coach Joe Paterno: “Why am I doing this for Barry Switzer? Because Barry has many qualities I admire: loyalty, lack of hypocrisy, a warmth for young people and friends, a deep honest concern for poor black athletes, a zest for life, a devotion to his children, and an unswerving appreciation and respect for their mother. As a coach, I admire his competence, his hard work, and his competitive fire.”
You’re perhaps surprised and confused by the jarring contradictions that are Switzer: He says he’s a loner. Yet he’s a gregarious loner. His unbridled sense of humor, storytelling repertoire, and unpretentious ability to strike up conversations and even friendships with unimportant strangers make his charisma overpowering in crowded bars or restaurants. This loner is Will Rogers with an edge, an attitude. Scooter Yates, the 34-year-old managing director of the Melrose Hotel, introduced himself to Jimmy Johnson “about 13 times” over the years when Johnson stayed at the hotel. But the first time Yates met Switzer they started talking bass fishing and wound up fishing buddies. Yates says, “He’s one of the most caring and gracious people I’ve ever seen, especially when he’s asked tor his autograph.”
Switzer, a 57-year-old confirmed bachelor, is cut from the John Wayne mold with Sean Connery-style sex appeal. Yet he spends as much time with and money on his three kids (Greg, 26; Kathy, 25; Doug, 22) as perhaps any family man you know, and he remains generous with ex-wife Kay. He’ll sometimes give a down-on-his-luck stranger a $100 bill, yet he has been known to hurt those who love him the most. He’s bullishly headstrong and cocky; he can get painfully self-critical and insecure. A friend calls him “the luckiest guy I’ve ever known,” yet be has made and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in high-risk investments.
Even the players and assistant coaches who thought Switzer was a little off-center at the start have been won over by him-though doubts may linger in the mind of Troy Aikman, the quarterback who once signed with OU’s Switzer over Oklahoma State’s Jimmy Johnson. Aikman’s only reservation has been that Switzer didn’t crack enough of a whip during some loosey-goosey practices. That will change, Switzer says, anger rising.
This is the Switzer who Jones says “will be the coach of the Cowboys for a long, long time”-perhaps even beyond the 10 years of his original rollover contract that will pay him an average of $1 million per year.
In fart, says Jones, he nearly hired Switzer to replace Landry in 1989. Contrary In early media exaggerations, Jones and Johnson were never close; they roomed together at Arkansas because of alphabetical order, not friendship. Now, Switzer has become the good buddy to Jones that Johnson refused to be, sharing pizza and inside info with hisowner-GM, who views Switzer as something of an idol. In many ways Switzer is the man Jones would want to be: A man’s man, a ladies’ man, a powerfully built leading man who at 57 looks 47 and acts 27. A players’ coach highly regarded for his X’s-and-O’s feel. Switzer has been known to end bar fights with one punch. A Cowboys insider says, “Jimmy was all bluster and putting on macho shows for the media by running off asthmatic kickers and back-up running backs. But if it came down to a fight between Jimmy and Barry, Jimmy wouldn’t last long.”
Jones: “Barry is the guy you want with you in the dark alley. “
No hymns, hype, or hypocrisy to Barry Switzer. He is what he is, like it or not.
THE UNHOLY LUCK OF BARRY SWITZER-AND THE ROAD TO Dallas-began a long time ago with the intertwined stories of Barry, Larry, and Jerry, and reads like outrageous Texas fiction from Switzer’s friend, novelist Dan Jenkins. Lacewell grew up about 70 miles from Switzer in Fordyce, Arkansas, which also produced probably the most respected coach ever, Bear Bryant, who gave Lacewell his first coaching job, at Alabama. Switzer and Lacewell competed against each other in all sports. Switzer, says Lacewell, went on to play football in “the big city,” in Fayetteville at the University of Arkansas. But Switzer couldn’t stay away from his roots, sometimes hitchhiking three hours to Monticello to hang around with Lacewell, a star halfback at Arkansas State.
The paths crossed, the ties bound. At Arkansas, Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson were coached by Switzer. Later, while Jones went off to make his first million, Johnson began his coaching career as a high school assistant in Picayune, Mississippi. Meanwhile, Lacewell had become defensive coordinator at Wichita State and needed an assistant. Switzer recommended Johnson, who worked under Lacewell at Wichita State, then followed him to Iowa State (where Johnson was best man in Lacewell’s wedding) and on to Oklahoma, where Lacewell was defensive coordinator to Switzer’s offensive coordinator. When head coach Chuck Fairbanks left for New England and the NFL, he recommended Switzer over Johnson as his successor.
Johnson’s first head-coaching job was at Oklahoma State, where he didn’t have the talent to beat Switzer’s OU in five tries. But after Johnson took the University of Miami job in 1984, he was 3 -0 against Switzer. Meanwhile, Switzer and Lacewell had a falling out, and Lacewell eventually became head coach at Arkansas State, then defensive coordinator at Tennessee. Jones, running up the score and the millions in oil and gas, kept in touch with Johnson and Switzer, who after he was fired in 1989 became something of an entrepreneur himself, investing in some 80 companies.
When he cleaned out his desk at OU, Switzer didn’t figure he would coach again. After the OU scandal was splashed across Sports Illustrated’s cover, what college president could risk hiring him? But his luck was unsinkable. Little did Switzer know that Jones considered shocking the world and hiring him to replace Landry when Jones bought the Cowboys in ’89.
Jones’ high opinion of Switzer was heavily influenced by former Arkansas coach and current athletic director Frank Broyles, a father figure to Jones, Switzer, and Johnson. According to Jones, Broyles calls Switzer “the greatest motivator he’s ever seen. ” Broyles also gave Switzer a perfect score in the one category that concerned Jones about Johnson-loyalty. Jones: “Coach Broyles said Barry’s greatest quality is his loyalty to the people around him. He’s loyal to a fault, so much so that he has compromised himself financially and reputation-wise.” Furthermore, says Jones, “From a perspective of career winning, Barry had a more distinguished record than Jimmy, who had more success on a contemporary basis.”
So why did Jones hire Johnson to follow Tom Landry? Mainly because of Johnson s Port Arthur, Texas, roots, he says. ” I just thought Jimmy would be more palatable to Cowboys fans. ” Jones took as much heat-including death threats-for replacing Landry as perhaps any executive has ever taken for any move in sports history. Imagine the outrage if he had replaced Landry with Barry Switzer, Public Enemy No. 1 in the hearts of so many heart-of-Texas football fans.
But right away Johnson was irritated by media stories portraying him and Jones as good buddies. As for Jones, he didn’t want to coach the Cowboys, but he wanted the coach to treat him as one of the boys. After all, Jones had been a starter on a national championship team at Arkansas. But the more success the Cowboys had, the more Johnson and Jones clashed and the more Johnson quietly ridiculed Jones’ contributions as general manager. “My girlfriend knows more football than Jerry does,” Johnson told me when I was writing The Boys. Johnson wanted complete credit for and control of a team that won back-to-back Super Bowls.
So it was at the ’94 league meetings in Orlando that Johnson snubbed Jones when he proposed a toast to a table of Cowboys people, including ex-assistants Dave Wannstedt and Norv Turner. Jones stormed back to his hotel where, fueled by a nightcap or two in the bar, he remarked to some reporters that he should have fired Johnson two years earlier and hired Barry Switzer.
Hire Switzer, who had no NFL experience and had been out of coaching for five years? When Jones’ remark made front-page news in Oklahoma, it was also news to Switzer, “My children started getting excited,” Switzer says. “I told them it would be nice to do something like that, but that it wasn’t that important. I didn’t want them to be disappointed if he didn’t call.”
The following Monday morning, as the buzz about the JJs built across the nation, Switzer kept his appointment for a rectal exam from the doctor he calls his rear admiral. Still groggy, he returned home about noon and fell across his bed. Naturally, that was the state in which Switzer answered the phone call that changed his life. It was Jones, who got right to the point: “Do you want to coach again? ” Hell, yes, Switzer said. Jones said he’d be back in touch shortly, that he needed to have further conversations with Johnson.
Switzer ended the short call with a typically blunt observation: Someday, he told Jones, chuckling, Jerry would have to explain how he and Jimmy screwed up such a successful working relationship.
By then, says Jones, he was leaning toward firing Johnson. “I can’t function well with a short-term plan regarding the coach,” Jones told me recently. “Jimmy was going to be a short-term deal. I’m going to spend my life with the Dallas Cowboys, and I can’t get excited about writing checks for millions of dollars of bonuses unless I have a coach I trust will be with me.”
Two days later Jones fired Johnson and immediately called Switzer and asked him to bring his attorney to Dallas to negotiate with Jones. So it was about to be Jerry and Barry-and Larry Lacewell, hired two years earlier by Johnson to be Cowboys scouting director. What were the odds?
That afternoon, Switzer drove alone down I-35 to Dallas. “One of the slowest times I’ve ever driven it,” he recalls. “I had really mixed emotions. Before I left I had called my children and said, ’I hit the lottery.’ I was really excited. Then the reality set in. It was about time to say ’I do.’ It depressed me. I thought of all the personal commitments I had to so many business partners. I thought about the life changes. For five years I hadn’t been regulated. I had worked when I wanted to. I had taken cruises, gone to Europe, gone to my kids’ football games. I was content. Now I was going back to this structured, regimented lifestyle. I never dreamed this would happen.”
Given Switzer’s clouded tenure at Oklahoma, only one man would have hired Barry Switzer to coach a college or pro team-and, as Switzer’s luck would have it, that man happened to own a team positioned to make NFL history.
Unholy luck? Given the Cowboys’ position, Switzer knew he couldn’t win, that he only could lose. Even if his Cowboys won a third straight Super Bowl, critics would say, “Barry Manilow could have won with that team.” Even worse, the team that had fallen from heaven-orhell-into Switzer’s lap did not play in Kansas City or Phoenix.
No, it was in Dallas, where Switzer often had ripped the media for ripping him, especially during Texas-OU week.
“They were constantly dredging up all the old stuff,” Switzer says. ” But honestly-and maybe this is naive on my part-I always thought I was in direct competition with the University of Texas. So many people from SMU and A&M and Baylor and Tech pulled for Oklahoma when we played Texas that I didn’t think 100 percent of the people were against me. It was the media and the University of Texas, not the entire population.”
So Switzer kept driving south. “It was just the challenge of it. Coaching wasn’t something I had to do, but I missed it. The competitive challenge, the ego, the glamour…”
The money? Negotiations ended late that night without a resolution. Switzer’s lawyer, a former Oklahoma attorney general named Larry Derryberry, was prepared to press a little harder the next morning when a chipper Jones announced that he had had a great night’s sleep (of about three hours) and that he would give Switzer several bonuses he hadn’t asked for.
“You’re not going to beat Jerry Jones out of a penny,” Switzer says of the negotiation. “But he’s liable to give you the ranch. Hell, that’s why I took the job, because I knew he wanted me. And I knew I could work for him. He’s one of us. You can show him the [game] tape and he understands. Jeff Lurie [the Philadelphia Eagles’ owner] will never understand, so he’ll always be susceptible to outside influences from fans and media. Here, the only two people who matter are Jerry and I, and Jerry’s got pachyderm skin, the skin of a coach.” That’s all Jones ever really wanted to hear from Johnson.
ORIGINALLY, SAYS LARRY LACEWELL, JOHNSON WANTED HIM TO serve as a buffer between Johnson and Jones. Yet Johnson wanted Lacewell to be a loyal buffer. And Johnson, it appeared, thought Lacewell was siding more and more with Jones, who spent more and more time conferring and socializing with Lacewell. Says Jones: “Larry influenced my decision [to part with] Jimmy without saying a word. All I had to do was observe the way Jimmy began to treat Larry after Jimmy had been the best man in his wedding.” The flip condescension and the arrogant insensitivity grated on Jones. The Johnson-Lacewell relationship grew so strained that Lacewell refused to spend much time around training-camp practices before the ’93 season. “And that’s such a critical time for scouts to get a feel for what coaches want,” Jones says.
Yet when Jones fired Johnson, Lacewell went from Johnson’s frying pan back into an old line of fire. Talk about mixed emotions. It had been a long time since it happened, about 16 years, and maturity and a deeper spiritual awareness have given Lacewell a better perspective on why it happened. But it did happen, and suddenly Lacewell was faced with having to work closely with the childhood friend who had an affair with his wife.
Understand, says Lacewell, the times were wild at OU in the 70s. Lacewell and Switzer, two country boys from Arkansas, had come to the metropolis of Oklahoma City, and their Sooners were dominating the national polls. No one had heard of AIDS, and lots of folks had seen Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Switzer and Lacewell were mobbed for autographs everywhere they went. Lacewell says, “Here I was this little short shitass country boy, and I had my TV show. I was famous. ” Switzer was the king of Switzerland, and many loyal female subjects in his Sooner-crazed kingdom aimed to please him and his assistants.
Those who know him best speculate that in those days, Switzer fought the childhood demons fed by his father. Frank Switzer was “a rounder and womanizer who drank a fifth of whiskey every night,” says Barry. His father eventually died in a fiery car wreck while being driven to the hospital by a black mistress who had shot him out of jealousy over another black mistress. Worse, Switzer hadn’t forgiven himself for refusing his mother’s goodnight kiss moments before she shot herself. Sometimes Switzer soothed the hidden pain by following too closely in his father’s footsteps.
Several sources say there were several affairs going on among husbands and wives on Switzer’s staff, but Lacewell was the one who found out and wouldn’t stand for it. And 16 years later, Lacewell probably could have had his revenge. He probably could have kept Switzer from becoming coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
“I honestly believe if I’d said it just wouldn’t work, he wouldn’t be here,” Lacewell says. “But Jerry basically asked me, ’Will he screw it up?’ and I said, ’No, he will not screw it up.’”
The afternoon Switzer’s hiring was announced, Lacewell told me, “The good Lord put us on the earth to forgive and forget.” Lacewell has forgiven the affair, but can’t completely forget. He and Switzer have worked productively, mostly because of their professional respect for each other. Switzer, who leans heavily on Lacewell’s advice, says, “Larry Lacewell knows as much about this game as anyone I’ve ever been around.” Around the office, he and Lacewell can still laugh and tell stories, like the time in an Oklahoma City airport bar that Switzer decked a guy for making fun of Lacewell’s shoes.
But Lacewell draws the line at running with Switzer after hours as they once did. “I have different priorities now,” Lacewell says. “My family is more important to me.”
THE FIRST THING SWITZER HAD TO learn about Dallas was that it’s not Fayetteville or Norman-that he couldn’t get rowdy in a restaurant, for instance, or decide to take a leak in the parking lot without some Cowboys fans acting as if he had committed murder. In Norman, they look the other way and think, “Oh, that’s just Switzer.” But in Dallas, the long reign of Tom Landry had turned the office of Cowboys Coach into a cross between Pope and President, Coaches who know Johnson and Switzer say Johnson could party at least as hard as Switzer, but that Johnson was discreet enough to let his hair down in the privacy of his home. By contrast, Switzer is what Switzer is.
Switzer moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with rented furniture and ate out every night, sometimes with family or friends, sometimes alone. Imagine Switzer just strolling into a restaurant by himself-as he did one night at Poor Melvin’s in Irving. He liked the owner and the “country home-cooking” and came back often. He says he now stays away from hard liquor, but that he does drink red wine with dinner. He just has to be careful about getting carried away. After a few glasses one night, he began doing his Muhammad Ali impression and blackened the eye of dinner companion Dean Blevins, a former OU quarterback.
Switzer had a lot to learn about Dallas and the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, he had followed pro football so little during his 16 years at Oklahoma that he wasn’t sure which division or conference the Cowboys played in.
During his first Cowboys minicamp, Switzer allowed a few of his OU cronies to hang out on the sideline, and some veteran players wondered aloud if the coaching staff soon would be filled with “Oklahoma Mafia.” When former OU quarterback Danny Bradley sat in on some meetings, players including Troy Aikman were puzzled: Would Switzer make Bradley quarterback coach? Aikman also wondered just how interested Switzer was in re-establishing a relationship with him. Sometimes on the practice field, Aikman would try to strike up a conversation with his old college coach, and a moment later Switzer seemed to lose interest and start thinking about something else. But Aikman soon learned that Switzer suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder and has taken medication for it-that his mind sometimes drifts, even during conversations with his closest friends.
As training camp started, Switzer hoped that Aikman and other veteran stars would take a more active leadership role. For the first five years of Cowboys II, Johnson was the team’s unquestioned leader. Now Switzer wanted to turn down the coaching heat that had helped burn out Johnson while he drove the team almost to the point of burnout. Defensive end Charles Haley said, “We’d been under the whip so long from Jimmy that we needed Barry’s more laid-back approach,” but Aikman wasn’t immediately convinced. Though he stresses that he likes and enjoys Switzer-what player or assistant couldn’t?-Aikman had grown used to Johnson’s whip. After all, it had produced two straight championships.
“Right away, Barry and I had a good relationship,” Aikman says. “But regardless of how strong a leader I might be, there has to be leadership at the top. If I’m given the power to cut and sign players and make decisions as to who’s playing, I’ll lead this team as well as anyone can. Otherwise, there’s a limit to what I can do as a player.”
Still, during camp, Aikman felt a subtle pressure to lead. “Guys in the media kept saying, ’You seem to be on edge.’ And it was true: I was more volatile. Jimmy and I wound up getting along so well because our approach to preparing for games was parallel. Usually, when I was upset about the way a practice was going, Jimmy was already upset. Last season, that wasn’t there. Often when I felt things weren’t being taken as seriously as they should have been, nothing was being said. That was constantly a conflict with me, but maybe most of the players liked that approach. I didn’t view it as a team problem as much as something I had to come to grips with.”
Several players, however, wished Switzer had been a little more passionate about their quest to make history. A locker-room source says, “I know he was trying to take some pressure off. But he came in with this attitude of, ’Hey, I don’t need this. I’ve won my championships. If it doesn’t work out for me, I’ll go back to my couch in Norman. You guys win this for yourselves.’ But the players desperately wanted to win a third straight Super Bowl. The players wanted Barry-the coach, the father figure-to share that goal.”
Switzer on Aikman: “I know what’s going on with that kid. I know he got a little raw having to answer so many questions about me. I know about his other concerns. We’ve talked about them [during the offseason]. Troy is a great player who doesn’t want to lead the team. He wants to be told what to do. I knew that at Oklahoma. He leads by demonstration, by performance.”
The internal criticism last season frustrated Switzer because he was doing his damnedest to make things as easy as he could for Aikman and the team. Johnson’s formula for winning: keep talented players on edge. Switzer’s: make talented players feel comfortable. Johnson wants to get credit; Switzer wants to give credit.
For all his larger-than-life aura, Switzer has as small a coaching ego as you’ll find. For all his achievement, he doesn’t take himself that seriously. His first-year goal was to delegate leadership and authority. Change nothing. “Why should I have changed a thing?” Switzer asks. “It wasn’t like this was a .500 team.” Nor did Switzer have any delusions about how he could subtly improve a back-to-back championship team. Lacewell says, “I don’t know many, if any, coaches who would have taken over and not tried to change something-and probably screwed it up.”
Switzer lost his temper only twice all season-the first time during camp in Austin, the second during the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. “People think Jimmy has a temper,” Lacewell says. “He’s not in Barry’s league. ” Adds Jones: “Barry is really, really upset when he’s upset. He’s genuine. When he’s at that point, he will not back down.”
Switzer didn’t back down after hearing about some female visitors to the Cowboys’ Austin camp dorm. Switzer wanted to hear about potential trouble sooner. “Goddamn it,” he told the team, “when these things happen, you have to come and tell me about it so we can cut the cancer out. That’s the team concept. You’ve got to help me police the team.”
Such a tirade, of course, might amuse Switzer-haters who believe his jock dorm at OU was all but the best little whorehouse north of Texas. His response in Bootlegger’s Boy: “The fact is, it was four players who were accused of raping, shooting, and doping. But because we are the Oklahoma football team and these things occurred in such a short period of time, the media made it seem like our entire squad of a hundred or so was running around like a blood-crazed horde plundering the countryside, and as if I had no rules of conduct for the team.”
That “damn media” again, as Switzer calls it. During camp, Switzer went at it with the most recognizable name in Dallas-Fort Worth media, Dale Hansen, in a live interview on Hansen’s WFAA-TV Channel 8 sportscast. Switzer believed Hansen was trying to set him up and that he and Hansen, who does color commentary for team radio broadcasts, should be “on the same team.” In Switzer’s world, you’re either for or against him. Menacing Hansen wasn’t a great public relations move for a rookie coach; Switzer probably could have turned Hansen into his personal P.R. guy by buying him a beer or two. But when Hansen said publicly that he was just doing his job-and didn’t apologize-Switzer basically said to hell with Hansen. Switzer still gives routine answers to Hansen’s routine questions, but he doesn’t share inside info as Johnson did.
Switzer: “It doesn’t matter what any tans or media people say about me. They’re as incidental as molecules in the universe. Only two people matter: Me and Jerry. Our relationship, how he accepts me.”
But early in the season, Switzer read the papers. He listened to the talk shows. He was still a stranger in a strange land. The truth is he was scared, say several Valley Ranch sources. As Switzer once said of his child hood: “They had no idea how insecure I was.”
The Cowboys began the season with perhaps their most impressive performance of the year, dominating Pittsburgh, 26-9, at Pittsburgh. Yet they struggled to win at home against lowly Houston, then hit bottom on a Monday night at Texas Stadium, losing to Detroit in overtime, 20-17.
“I took it hard,” Switzer said of the loss and the criticism that lasted two weeks because the Cowboys were off the following Sunday. Switzer had more than enough time to question his decision to take the Cowboys job. Was it really worth it? Wouldn’t he be happier in Norman ? He sometimes felt lonely in his little apartment with only a carton of spoiled milk in the refrigerator. He missed his family and friends and sometimes felt as if he had few allies in Dallas.
After a few painful days, he quit reading and listening. The Cowboys regained their rhythm by routing the Redskins in Washington. By December 4, they had clinched the division. This was accomplished with a team that had lost offensive linemen John Gesek and Kevin Gogan, defensive tackles Jimmie Jones and Tony Casillas, and middle linebacker Ken Norton Jr. to free agency.
“If you have the best players, you usually win,” Switzer says. But Switzer didn’t have nearly as many good ones in ’94 as Johnson did in ’92. And Johnson didn’t have to wrestle with a salary cap-or contend with Deion Sanders, a late cap-beating signee who made the difference for the 49ers.
For Switzer’s Cowboys, it came down to the pass interference that wasn’t called on Sanders in the NFC title game. Switzer, knowing his first-year fate had turned on the play, blew up. He ran onto the field and began demonstrating to the ref what Sanders had done. Switzer bumped the ref. He cussed the ref. “Thank God they didn’t get me on TV, the things I said to the ref,” Switzer says.
The 49ers weren’t penalized, but Switzer was. His 15-yarder even took the Cowboys out of field-goal range. “I was upset and embarrassed,” Switzer says. Ironically, after a season during which veteran Cowboys sometimes wanted Switzer to get more involved with decision-making during games-to do something-Switzer finally had gotten too involved.
UP ROLLS BARRY SWITZER IN HIS “BIG ASS” black BMW, car phone at his ear. It’s mid-June, vacation month at Cowboys headquarters, but Switzer’s deep tan is color coordinated with a lime-green suit. Switzer is about to meet with his builder to finalize plans on his “big ass” 4,000-square-foot, $600,000 home at a private golf-course community about two miles from Valley Ranch. “So I’m not committed to staying in Dallas, huh?” he says, winking.
While Johnson appeared to age about 10 years in the five he coached the Cowboys, Switzer actually appears younger than he looked when hired. “It’s in my genes,” he said. “My father had a great constitution.” But Switzer says his secret is combining the right food with the red wine. “You’ve got to eat your fish, your pastas, your fruits and vegetables. You go to Italy and see the 80- and 90-year-old men sitting around smoking their cigarettes. They know it’s all about what you eat. I feel great.”
Two days earlier he was in Syracuse, N. Y to open one of 20 nationwide diagnostic clinics in which he has invested with doctor pals. A night earlier, he and two buddies had stayed out all night fishing Lake Fork on Switzer’s bass boat. He is about to head out on a cruise to Alaska.
So is Switzer ready to dedicate himself to winning in Dallas the way he did at OU? “Damn right,” he says. “I guarantee things will be different this year. With this team, we have a window of about three years in which we could win a couple more Super Bowls [before Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin are past their primes], So I’ve told the team, ’You can blame last year on me. I let you do it your way. Now we’re going to do it my way.’”
To the end, Barry Switzer will do it his way. like it or not. Don’t be surprised il his Cowboys find themselves in Super Bowl XXX. After all, Lady Luck has always found him irresistible.
Landry, Johnson, Switzer:
Three Cowboys coaches, three distinctly different personalities. Yet Jimmy Johnson, the second Cowboys coach, was more like Tom Landry, the first, than most fans probably think. Johnson and Barry Switzer, on the other hand, are as different as Dallas and Fort Worth.
Landry and Johnson ruled by fear, though they created that fear in different ways. Players feared what the stone-faced Landry didn’t say, while they feared what Johnson would say. Players constantly wondered, “What’s Landry thinking about me?” Still, Landry’s icy demeanor and reputation for X’s-and-O’s genius built motivational mystique. Players thought, “If this man wants me on his team, I must be pretty good. ” Under Johnson, players dreaded being humiliated in front of the team by a coach who sometimes exploded and made an example of a marginal player in order to motivate the team. Johnson was so monomaniacally driven to win-it was almost as if he willed a victory-that players were too afraid of him to make a mistake. As Johnson once told me, “Sometimesmy tirades are planned; sometimes they aren’t.” Most players considered Johnson a little crazy- scary crazy.
Switzer they consider lovably crazy. Unlike Landry or Johnson, Switzer often mingles with players in the locker room or players’ lounge, getting to know their family backgrounds, their wives and children, their personal problems, their hot buttons. Switzer thinks and acts more like an ex-player than a coach. Switzer gets attached to players- sometimes to a fault. He’s careful not to embarrass a player in front of the team unless the player has pushed him too far.
When veteran offensive lineman Nate Newton waddled out 45 minutes late and 50 pounds overweight for a May minicamp workout, Switzer pulled him aside and, within view of his teammates but not within earshot, chewed him out and delivered an ultimatum that got Newton’s attention. Newton has two more years on his contract, and Switzer risked alienating him. Yet Newton’s reaction was: “I deserved for him to jump on me.” Says scouting director Larry Lacewell: “I really believe if Barry hadn’t established a good relationship with Nate and won his respect, Nate wouldn’t have responded so well.”
The closest Landry came to blowing up in front of his team probably came in 1970. At a loss for words the day after a 38-0 loss to St. Louis on a Monday night, Landry tossed his clipboard up in the air, basically said, “Y’all coach yourselves,” and walked out of the meeting room. Without Landry, the players played touch football that afternoon. Then, playing looser, they won seven straight Three Men and a Dynasty
games, and wound up in their first Super Bowl, where they lost to Baltimore.
Johnson sometimes created a crisis to focus his team. To this day, some Cowboys insiders believe Johnson and receiver Michael Irvin plotted Irvin’s missing a team plane during the 1992 season. For sure, Johnson feared his team would lose to an inferior opponent in Detroit. While Irvin took a later commercial flight, Johnson made life miserable for the rest of the team, then “punished” Irvin by holding him out of the game’s first offensive series. But Irvin returned to contribute to a 37-3 Cowboys win.
Switzer is best known among his former players for spontaneous pregame and half-time speeches that inspired his Oklahoma Sooners to run through walls-or at least through Texas Longhorns. On Sundays, Switzer’s raw-nerve emotions and thundering voice can turn him into the NFL’s version of a hellfire and damnation preacher.
Switzer often curses during press conferences. Johnson was shrewd enough to clean up his language for the cameras. Ever aware of his Christian role-model image, Landry didn’t even use “darn.” Cowboys malcontents such as Pete Gent claimed that Landry occasionally turned away from sideline cameras and cursed, but Landry scoffed at the charge.
Landry and Johnson always were early; Switzer often runs a few minutes late. Landry and Johnson were obsessively neat and organized; Switzer is more hang-loose. Landry built his reputation on his creative play-calling, springing trick plays when least expected. Johnson, a defensive coach who didn’t call offensive plays, earned his “genius” label with highly calculated gambles such as onside kicks and fake field goals. Switzer, an offensive coach who allows his assistants to execute game plans, occasionally was criticized last season by Cowboys veterans who wanted him to get more involved in decisions such as taking or declining penalties.
Landry’s assistants often quietly complained that he had the last word on everything and gave them very little freedom to coach in their areas. Like Landry, Johnson was an egomaniac who wanted the world to know that he and he alone was the architect of Super Bowl seasons, Switzer readily delegates duties to his assistants, saying, “Credit is irrelevant as long as you win.”
Landry’s coaching style was best suited to white players who didn’t ask why. He had no feel for how to handle talented but touchy black stars such as Duane Thomas, Thomas Henderson, and Butch Johnson. Over-achieving African-Americans such as Michael Irvin always have responded well to Johnson, who makes it clear that if they practice and play hard for him, he’ll always put them in the best position to win games and fame and fortune. Switzer, who grew up among blacks in rural Arkansas, is at least as close to black players as he is to white. His personal assistant is former OU quarterback Danny Bradley, who is black, as is Switzer’s right-hand man and one of his closest friends, defensive line coach John Blake. Switzer is at his best getting the most out of potential problem players such as moody defensive end Charles Haley, who is black. (Before he was fired in early 1994, Johnson wanted to trade Haley. ) Recently, Haley signed a three-year extension to a contract that had one year left. “A big reason,” says Haley, “is Coach Switzer. I love playing for the man.”
While few players loved playing for Landry or Johnson-until they slid Super Bowl rings on their fingers-Switzer’s OU teams had fun while winning three national championships. Switzer hopes to prove that a Cowboys coach doesn’t have to be dreaded or hated to win it all. -S.B.