Monday, June 27, 2022 Jun 27, 2022
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ACCORDING TO MANY WHO KNOW HIM, BARRY SWITZER DRANK TO EXCESS NEARLY every night as his 1997 Dallas Cowboys fell toward a 6-10 finish.

Yet Switzer has drunk to excess as long as his friends can remember. Within the last year they tried what Alcoholics Anonymous calls an “intervention,” con-. fronting him as a group and offering help. But Switzer waved them away because, I as one confidant says. “He’s always been able to drink all night and be just fine I once he sleeps it off. He’ll never change.”

He never has. As his Cowboys fell, it often appeared to those who don’t know Switzer that he was falling apart. But really, he was just being the same H old son of a bootlegger who often acted wilder and crazier than his hell-rais- ing college players at the University of Oklahoma. Really, you couldn’t blame Switzer, who never sought the Cowboys job. But you could blame the man who hired him in 1994.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones should have known what he was getting when he hired an ex-coach, out of work for five years, whom no one else would have considered hiring as a pro or college coach. Despite his three national championships, television networks wouldn’t touch Switzer as an analyst because of his stained reputation and loose-cannon tongue. Yet Jones-no angel himself-had always considered Switzer’s bizarre, roguish behavior “tough” and “manly” and “cool.”

Not sadly dysfunctional.

Even in Dallas, nearing 60 years of age, Switzer never changed, never grew up.

His manic hell-and-damn press conferences? His innocent-bystander indifference while wearing sideline headsets? His eating hot dogs on the sideline at the 1995 Pro Bowl? His crazed, made-for-Jack-Nicholson pep talks? His midmorning arrivals for work during the season and extended off-season vacations? His late-night carousing? Hanging out in topless clubs? Dating the occasional exotic dancer? Packing heat?

Nothing new. Vintage Switzer, circa 1970s Boogie Nights. The world just wasn’t as aware of Switzer’s mold-shattering behavior when he was king of Switzerland-head coach of so many wildly successful OU teams through the 70s and ’80s. He just didn’t get the media scrutiny in Norman, Okla.

“He’s always been about half-crazy,” says Cowboys personnel director Larry Lacewell, who has known Switzer since junior high in backwoods Arkansas. They were close friends at age 21, when Swit-zer’s mother, full of booze and prescription drugs, walked out on the porch and blew her brains out after Barry had refused to let her kiss him good night. Lacewell knows Switzer probably would lay down his life to protect Lacewell’s-yet he also knows Switzer has one loose screw that has allowed him to “hurt the ones who love him most.” Switzer betrayed Lacewell’s trust when the two coached at Oklahoma by getting to know Lacewell’s wife a little too well.

Maybe “half-crazy” is being a little generous.

Jerry Jones didn’t ask Lacewell for an evaluation of Switzer before hiring him. Shortly before the deal was finalized. Jones did give Lacewell the opportunity to veto the move, if his 16-year-old wound hadn’t healed enough to again work alongside Switzer. But Lacewell said he’d be OK. By then, he could see how excited Jones was about hiring a man he had long idolized.

Unfortunately for Jones-and Troy Aikman and Cowboys fans-the owner didn’t (or wouldn’t) grasp the full measure of Switzer’s self-defeating negatives.

Jones’ image of Switzer was formed when Jones was a player and Switzer a graduate assistant at the University of Arkansas. Like so many who have played for Switzer, young Jones viewed Switzer as a leading man, a man’s man, a ladies’ man-the life of the party and locker room. Jones wanted to be Switzer-or at least have him as a big brother and drinking buddy. Jones, an undersized overachiever who always fought the chicken-fried geek inside him and never had any close friends, especially looked up to Switzer, who never considered himself too cool to treat Jones like one of the boys.

Yet in the 29 years since Jones left Arkansas, he had seen Switzer only three or four times. From a distance, oilman Jones knew only Switzer’s reputation for being a fastest-gun winner- the fourth-winningest coach in college football history and a guy who always got a break and struck national-championship oil when you least expected it. “Sooner Magic,” Switzer’s luck was called. Jones wanted to touch il. When Jones quickly pulled the trigger in 1994 and hired a Switzer who had never worked in the NFL-who didn’t even know what division the Cowboys played in-the owner had no idea how much dysfunctional baggage Switzer would U-Haul with him to Dallas.

Jones argues that he “knew the positives and negatives,” yet the extent of his homework pretty much consisted of an audience with the godfather, Frank Broyles, the legendary Arkansas coach and current athletic director. Broyles coached Switzer, Jones, and Jimmy Johnson, with whom Jones replaced Tom Landry after buying the Cowboys in 1989. Broyles, in fact, had advised Jones to hire Switzer instead of Johnson, but even Jones didn ’t think he could get away with replacing Landry-God’s Coach-with the ex-coach from “Outlaw U,” Switzer for years had been considered Public Enemy No. 1 in Texas for enticing so many high school stars-with tuition and Trans-Ams?-to defect to Oklahoma and for basically running a good man like University of Texas legend Darrell Royal out of coaching.

What did a decent man like Broyles see in Switzer? A bright mind: Out of high school, Switzer had been accepted to the Naval Academy. And enduring loyalty: Broyles warned Jones that, as sharp and driven a coach as Johnson was, he couldn’t be trusted. In fact, after a season or so in Dallas, Johnson refused to pal around with Jones or include him in much football talk, and Johnson sometimes humiliated Jones in front of assistant coaches. In the end, all Jones wants is for his coach to treat him as an equal-as one of the boys-and Johnson had no football respect for a Jones who bought his way into the NFL and named himself GM. Johnson treated Jones like a wannabe who never quite got it, and Jones hated him for it.

Switzer, said Broyles. would become a trustworthy partner- and Broyles was right about that. Switzer genuinely enjoyed Jones’ company. “I really get a kick out of the guy,” Switzer said after his first season with Jones. Yet how much could Broyles really have known about a Switzer who left his staff in 1966? By ’94, many Arkansas sources characterized Broyles as a man who had lost touch with what was really going on in college football.

How deeply had Jones and Broyles looked into what had really happened to Switzer at OU? He had been forced to resign in 1989 in the wake of three black-eye, jock-dorm incidents in four weeks: His quarterback was busted for selling cocaine and sent to prison; two black players were given 10-year sentences for raping a white girl; and one player wounded another (his best friend) by shooting him in the chest with a pistol.

Yet OU officials privately indicated that removing Switzer saved the school from further scandal. As Switzer writes in his book. Bootlegger’s Boy, he was told the FBI was trying to “get him” on allegations that he had been in a Las Vegas motel room with people who had cocaine, that he had manipulated drug tests to protect his players, and that he had bet on college football games with a Las Vegas bookie and paid losses by interstate wire. All completely untrue, says Switzer. He wasn’t charged with any crime.

But shouldn’t Switzer’s fall at OU have foreshadowed for Jones the problems he would cause here?

As shrewd as Jones can be in some areas, he can be stunningly and dangerously naive in many others. It’s difficult to judge whether his best Cowboys moves have been shrewd or pure gusher luck. Obviously, hiring Johnson made possible three Super Bow] wins between 1993 and 1996. Yet Jones believes that Johnson received far too much credit for building the dynasty. Jones fired him after the Cowboys had won the second championship, in early 1994.

Jones saw in Switzer a coach who would be so gratefui for the opportunity to come out of semi-retirement and coach a Super Bow] favorite that he would gladly let Jones have the last word on all major football decisions: a coach who would talk football, eat nachos, and drink a margarita with him; a coach whose grown children would get “cousin” close to Jones’ grown children; a coach the players would love.

And in fact-shrewd or lucky?-Jones’ choice of Swit-zer turned out to be the perfectly imperfect complement to Johnson in ’94 and ’95. Those Cowboys needed a Switzer, a goofy, big-hearted, hands-off, player-loving coach, who served as the good cop to the whip-cracking psycho that Jimmy Johnson could be. “When I played,” Switzer said, “I always responded better to a pat on the back.” Johnson, motivating by fear, had pushed a team that had won back-to-back Super Bowls to the edge of burnout. Switzer let ’em chill. He occasionally raged at the team but never backed it up by cutting or fining a key player. He demanded only that the Cowboys show up for kickoff and play their golden tails off. For two years, they did, winning a Super Bowl in 1995.

Yet all along, the same old Bootlegger’s Boy often acted wilder and half-crazier than any of his Michael Irvins and Leon Letts. Soon, il was “like coach, like players.” The night the Cowboys won the Super Bowl, Switzer yelled to Lett, “Let’s win the party!” The following season, Lett violated the league’s substance abuse policy and was suspended for a year. Soon after that Super Bowl victory, Irvin, who privately boasted about how much he could get away with under Switzer, was busted with drugs and exotic dancers in a motel room and was suspended for five games.

Really, wasn’t all this predictable? Shouldn’t Jones have known quarterback Troy Aikman-who had seen the real Switzer in the two years he played at Oklahoma-soon would be tormented by the hang-loose coaching style?

Throughout the ’95 season, Switzer engaged in a mud-slinging, paranoia-plagued feud with Aikman unlike anything the NFL had ever known. Switzer was stung that Aikman wouldn’t publicly endorse him and that Aikman “demeaned” him in national TV interviews. Switzer believed Aikman had turned media personalities Dale Hansen, Brad Sham, and Randy Galloway against him. Says Lace well, “If you back Switzer into a corner, he’ll come out swinging with both fists.”

Even, unbelievably, if you’re the franchise quarterback most responsible for Switzer’s fate.

Not only did Switzer unwisely declare war on opinion-shapers Hansen, Sham, and Galloway, who began to portray him as an out-of-control imbecile, but Switzer and what became known as his “Oklahoma Mafia” (assistant coach John Blake, special assistant Danny Bradley, and Oklahoma broadcaster Dean Blevins) tried to discredit and “expose” Aikman. They whispered in the locker room and to some media members that Aikman was racist, that he had given less than his best in games against former Cowboys assistant coach and current Washington coach Norv Turner, even that Aikman was gay. Aikman vehemently-and convincingly-denied Switzer’s rumor campaign.

Of course, Jones should have tired S witzer then. He could have a! least talked Switzer into rising gracefully, head high and Super Bowl ring flashing, into some sort of assistant GM job. That would have been shrewd. But Jones was telling front-office staffers he had never been happier with Switzer as his coach and best buddy. Furthermore, he was winning with a coach no one respected, which undercut some of the credit heaped on Jimmy Genius while enhancing GM Jones’ value.

Incredibly, Jones somehow convinced Aikman his feud with Switzer was all a big misunderstanding, and Jones promised the quarterback he would do anything to make him happy-short of eliminating the head coach. Jones can be a snake charmer, and Aikman can be much more gullible than most fans would believe. If only Jones had listened to Aikman-or if Aikman had forced the owner to act.

Jones was about to let himself be Barry’d alive.

By 1996, Switzer had officially become the perfect coach for Jones and the wrong coach for the team. A couple of weeks after Switzer’s third season ended in a playoff loss at Carolina, Aikman again went to Jones and indicated he couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to be traded. Aikman basically said he could no longer live with Switzer’s lack of rules, discipline, and urgency. Yet, says a source close to Aikman, “It was like a televangelist laying his hands on Troy. I don’t know how Jerry did it, but he convinced Troy to give him one more year with Barry.”

Aikman has called Jones “an amazing man.”

Yet in the months following the ’96 season, even Jones nearly reached his limit with Switzer. Jones had tolerated a Switzer who, during the season, often arrived for work at midmorning-four or five hours after most NFL coaches have begun trying to outwork and outwit each other. But after an early playoff exit, Jones wanted Switzer to rededicate himself to football during the spring. Instead, as usual, Switzer rededicated himself to fishing.

“Jerry very nearly fired him then,” says a learn source.

Again, Jones should have known. During his national championship seasons at OU. Switzer often showed up late for work after sleeping in a strange bed. Why? Raging insecurity. Switzer almost certainly wanted to win as badly as Tom Landry or Jimmy Johnson ever did-“You win in this society, you can about get away with murder.” he once said-but Switzer wanted to give the appearance that he didn’t take football that seriously. He feared being portrayed as a workaholic. He delegated responsibility to his assistants in part because he didn’t want total responsibility for winning. He drank to escape the pressure; he caroused to create an excuse.

Jones should have known this story: Once, as the OU team bus prepared to leave the hotel for a game, an assistant coach frantically called Switzer’s room to see where he was. A buddy of Switzer’s, obviously trying to sleep off a long night of wine, women, and tight songs, answered. When the anxious assistant asked to speak to Switzer, the guy said, “What do you want him for?”

By ’96, you had to ask Jones the same question.

Jones should not have been surprised last August when his head coach absent-mindedly left a loaded gun in a carry-on bag that passed under a Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport X-ray machine. Switzer, whose father carried a gun, has always kept a loaded .38 in his glove compartment and near his bed. (Once at an OU practice. Switzer got his offensive team’s attention by stepping into the huddle and tiring a .357 magnum up in the air.)

Jones did not know that shortly before he hired Switzer, the coach was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Ah, that explains why he left the gun in the bag.

Jones also should not have been surprised by what Switzer did the night of Oct. 7.1997. Despondent over a loss to the New York Giants, Switzer spent the night alone with a bottle of wine out in the backyard rain, planning a motivational speech for his 3-2 team. “He had done similar speeches before and had them in tears,” says a source close to Switzer. “But this one didn’t work.”

The following day Switzer ranted and rambled about how he was no puppet for owner Jerry Jones, about how he didn’t care if some players didn’t approve of his lifestyle-even about why he dated some of the girls he dated.

His intended message was something to the effect of. “Maybe my life isn’t as disciplined as some of yours, but I want to win just as badly as any of you.” Some veteran players-including Aikman-initially thought the coach was taking a shot at the quarterback in front of the team. But as Switzer’s runaway train of thought ran farther off track, no one could quite figure out what he was trying to say. For sure, some players went from thinking Switzer was lovably crazy to just plain nuts. Many insiders believe that speech cost Switzer the little player-coach respect left in the locker room.

On Nov. 2, The New York Times ran a story based on the locker-room fallout from that “meandering stream-of-consciousness tirade”-an exposé based on off-the-record interviews with players and their agents that basically portrayed Switzer as a lunatic who had lost control of himself and his team. Further adding to the team’s humiliation, the story was run by the The San Francisco Chronicle the morning of the Cowboys’ national-spotlight game against the rival 49ers in San Francisco. That afternoon, following a 17-10 loss, the emotionally combustible Switzer stopped outside the locker room to do something he rarely did after a final gun: He gathered his thoughts. After earlier losses, he had angered members of his defensive unit with knee-jerk criticism in front of the team. (They thought Switzer was afraid to tongue-lash higher-paid offensive stars, who deserved as much or more criticism.) So this time, Switzer tried to be positive, basically saying, “You guys fought your asses off. but we couldn’t get it done in the fourth quarter.”

Aikman. who rarely, if ever, spoke up during the couple of minutes Switzer addressed the team before the media is allowed into the locker room, stunned teammates by interrupting the coach to say something like, “Hey, I’m tired of hearing that. The fact is, we lost this game in practice last week.” From Switzer’s first Cowboys training camp, Aikman’s lament had been that, compared to Johnson’s all-business practices, Switzer’s might as well have been grade school recess, with too many players allowed to show up late, cut up, and screw up. Aikman has indicated that he personally didn’t feel prepared for the five San Francisco games played in Switzer’s four seasons. The Cowboys lost four of them.

Naturally, Aikman’s angry interjection pierced Switzer’s nitro pride. With what was left of his authority on the line, Switzer raised his voice at Aikman, who briefly raised his voice back at Switzer. In perspective, the exchange was typical of losers’ locker rooms throughout the NFL. Yet this one once again drove home to the team how little respect the franchise quarterback had for the head coach-not a relationship conducive to winning. As Aikman once said. “I don’t know what it is he does as head coach.”

Unfortunately for Jones, Aikman wasn’t the only VIP who was wondering how much longer the owner would stand by his P.R. nightmare of a coach. Those unhappiest with the The New York Times story’s impact were Jones’s corporate sponsors, who had paid significant dollars to align their companies with the Cowboys’ image. I mage-wreckers such as Irvin and Lett were bad enough, but the head coach? Jones momentarily appeased several CEOs by telling them former San Francisco coach George Seifert would take over the Cowboys in ’98.

Yet Jones also hoped he could buy time until Switzer’s “Sooner Magic” kicked in and the Cowboys saved Switzer’s job and Jones’ face by winning another Super Bowl. Instead, predictably, Jones’ Rome kept falling.

“Barry’s problem was that he wasn’t growing.” says Denton-based psychologist Don Beck, who helped counsel Landry and Johnson. “To him everything was still the same as it had always been in Norman. Talent was still going to prevail.”

At OU, assistants kept recruiting young thoroughbreds who wanted to break off a piece of Switzer’s wishbone offense. In Dallas, Jones had locked up a nucleus of stars with long-term contracts-and Switzer was incapable of tightening the screws on aging vets who took more and more advantage of him. Unfortunately for Switzer. none of them graduated. Aikman had lost heart and confidence. Emmitt Smith, rewarded with a “lifetime” contract, was getting too fat and happy to carry the load. His offensive linemen began to look like the “before” pictures in before-and-after weight-loss ads. More and more players were late to meetings and missed workouts.

Was Switzer listening to himself at midseason when he told NBC’s announcers that he had popped in a tape of the ’92 Cowboys and noticed how much leaner and quicker all the stars looked? Beck says, “Jerry’s belief is that if you give somebody a big enough contract, he will respond. Jerry bought into the myth that the superstar athletes will pull together and win, and it wasn’t going to happen. When it didn’t. Jerry’s response was to wind up down on the sideline standing next to the head coach, trying to take charge and rescue the team. In the players” eyes, that just made it worse.”

Jones desperately (if not pathetically) tried to “coach the coach.” as his NFL mentor, Oakland owner and general manager AI Davis, had taught him to do. But Jones couldn’t be Switzer- who couldn ’t be Johnson. The Cowboys were tine in the two seasons following Johnson, when they still remembered how he had taught them to win. But human nature dictated that they slowly began to emulate their current coach.

As the ’97 season ended, Jones finally did what he always said would be “the hardest thing I’ll ever do in football.” He told his “brother” Barry he couldn’t coach the Cowboys anymore. Under the 6-10 circumstances, Switzer wasn’t able to ride gracefully into the Red River sunset; he stole away without talking to the Dallas media. No doubt his humiliation ate at him like an ulcer. Friends hope he doesn’t sink into depression and follow in his mother’s footsteps.

At least Switzer still has many, many friends.

Without Barry, Jerry was alone again.