32 Minutes and 42 Seconds With Barry Switzer
So about a month ago, I got the bright idea to pitch a story featuring Barry Switzer telling old-school recruiting stories. The plan was to have the story run on National Signing Day. I emailed Coach Switzer, never heard anything back from him, and National Signing Day came and went.
No story for me.
But then I got an email two days after Signing Day …
Richard just saw this email! Sorry for my poor response. Would have love to been involved.
Is this some kind of joke? I mean, it was a Hail Mary when I requested an interview with Switzer through his contact page at switzerfamilyvineyards.com. Was this really the King returning my email? But wait. It had to be Coach Switzer; it was an AOL address.
Signing Day had passed. I had no idea what the hell we were going to talk about. Then I realized we weren’t going to talk about anything. He was going to talk, and I was going to listen to one of the greatest football storytellers alive. And for 32 minutes and 42 seconds, that’s what happened.
How it was recruiting Marcus Dupree?
[Laughs.] The world was recruiting Marcus Dupree.
I sent Billy Sims on a big private jet to Philadelphia, Mississippi, to bring Marcus to Oklahoma before National Signing Day. Billy Sims comes off the jet in his cowboy hat, blue jeans, big belt buckle, Rolex, and his national championship ring. Here he is, Billy Sims, NFL Rookie of the Year, and Marcus is surprised to see Billy get off the jet to pick him up. Marcus takes Billy back to school and introduces him to everyone in Philadelphia, Mississippi, before they get back on the plane to come back to Oklahoma. Marcus was sold after that.
It was different from any other experience. He was the best that never was, without a doubt. When I saw him in high school, he was better than anyone I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen ’em all. I’d seen the Bo Jacksons, the Herschel Walkers, the Eric Dickersons, Earl Campbells. I recruited them all. I saw ’em play live, I’ve seen the tape on ’em out of high school.
Marcus was as good as there was and ever had been. What he had was a physical maturity as a senior in high school, being 6-foot-2, 230 pounds that could run a 9.5 100-yard dash. He was the fastest on the field and the strongest without a doubt. I saw him bench press in high school, in their weight room, 400 pounds.
The first time we put him in a game to return a punt, we didn’t worry about putting him back there because he had great hands. He returned the punt 83 yards against Colorado, he just runs right through ’em, they just can’t touch him. He takes it to the house as a freshman, first time he touches it.
I look back on it, and what makes him unique when I was recruiting him, he’s the only guy that came with an agent. He called himself a counselor, minster, his preacher. His name was Ken Fairley. You saw the damn 30 for 30. The only thing that upset me about the 30 for 30 is, by God, that they did not say in there that Marcus Dupree ended up suing Ken Fairley for $5 million dollars. He took everything Marcus had. He’s a crook, he’s a thief, and all you have to do is ask Marcus about him. It’s on public record. You saw it in there. Marcus was 19 years old and [Fairley] had him sign a power of attorney to get all his money turned over to him. [Fairley] took his check away from him when he was in New Orleans.
Think about that, you’re 19 years old, and there’s this guy that’s not even a family member and he’s your agent. Someone who’s never been an agent in his life, he’s not an attorney, all he’s ever been is a Baptist minister in Jackson, Mississippi, and Marcus trusted him, and [Fairley] ended up screwing him. That’s the thing that really upset me. I had to try and get a piece of Marcus’s ear and ended up competing with everyone else tugging trying to get a piece of him.
If Marcus had stayed with me and listened to me, he’d probably would have won the Heisman and couple of national championships. His senior year, we won the national championship without him; we beat an 11-0 Penn State team. He would have been in the backfield with Jamelle Holieway and all those guys, Spencer Tillman, and been surrounded by Brian Bosworth, and that defense led the nation in ’85, ’86, and ’87. In ’84 the defense was second.
I wish I would have handled him different, but that’s history and I look back on that and think about how good he was and could have been. He was special.
I heard about the time you recruited somebody — it might have been Billy Sims — and there was a rumor you hid him in a basement?
I told Billy to hide out for two days. I wanted to sign Kenny King — hell, I wanted to sign every player in Texas, which I damn near did. I signed 13 of the 19 blue-chip list that year. Kenny King, Daryl Hunt, the Tabor twins, Greg Roberts, Thomas Lott, Billy Sims, and several others. But I can’t be everywhere, and Kenny wanted me to sign him at 8 a.m. Once I told Billy to hide out, he went to Houston with his dad for two days.
I sold him on it when I told him that once the smoke clears, everyone is going to be wondering where’d Billy sign? And then you’re going to get all of the attention and all the press when you sign. He kind of liked that idea. Two days later, he surfaces in Hooks, Texas, and all the attention and media in the country is given to him.
The no. 1 player in Texas disappears for two days and resurfaces in west Texas after National Signing Day to sign his letter of intent. Could you imagine that happening today?
It’s a different deal today, they commit so soon; they put hats on, on television at All-Star Games. This is a different day. We didn’t have television media. We didn’t have social media.
What would do today if you were recruiting players?
I would probably do pretty good, I’d be busting my rear end like everybody else. [But] it was a different era. I could see a kid as many times as I wanted to, talk to him as many times as I wanted to.
What made you better recruiter than other coaches?
I don’t say that I’m a better recruiter than other coaches. Only thing I can say is that Keith Jackson’s mother, Gladys, said it better than I can say it. When I was recruiting Keith Jackson — you know who he is, obviously …
Out of Little Rock, Arkansas. No. 1 tight end in the country. Two-time All-American. The Philadelphia Eagles’ first pick in the draft. He played eight years in the NFL. He won a Super Bowl with Green Bay. He caught 82 passes his first year in the NFL — he only caught 62 his whole career at Oklahoma running the wishbone, but he caught 82 his first year at Philadelphia. He was NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and that was a record for about 15 years in the NFL.
But what did his mom say about you?
Well, Keith told me this later. Gladys remarked to Keith, she says, “You know, he’s the only head coach that has ever been in my home who’s ever made me feel comfortable in my home.”
So Keith told me that and I sat and reflected on that comment, and I said you know, maybe that’s why I had the ability in recruiting. I can’t elevate them; they always elevate me when I walk into a home. Put me on a pedestal. [The families] are scared to death in the beginning. They want to make a good presentation, they hustle around and clean their home, do everything proper. And you know, having her make that comment made me understand my success was my ability to make people feel comfortable around me and at ease. I had the ability to be very candid, honest, and trustworthy in the way I came across.
And I’m sure a lot of coaches are that way, but I came in a different era. There was no quota system in at OU. I was playing a black quarterback before anyone was recruiting a black quarterback in the Southwest Conference in 1972. I was recruiting Tony Dungy and guys like that.
Wait — Tony Dungy, how was that?
Well, he was out of Jackson, Michigan. He was a hell of a quarterback. I busted my ass recruiting him, and then all of a sudden, we got a 30-scholarship limit that year, then all of a sudden we had to back off. Chuck Fairbanks was the head coach at the time, and I was the assistant head coach in charge of the offense. I said to Chuck, “There is a hell of quarterback, Tony Dungy, that I want out of Jackson, Michigan.” Chuck calls me when I’m in Detroit and he tells me to come on home, the NCAA just passed a 30-scholarship limit. We’ve already got our 30. We’ve got more than 30 committed out of Oklahoma and Texas.
So next thing I know, Tony doesn’t even get to come visit. Tony and I have laughed about that. We’ve been around each other several times since. We always laughed about that. He ended up having a great career, played quarterback at Minnesota, and played pro football because he was a good athlete in the secondary.
We didn’t have a quota system back then. People were recruiting the black athletes because of the quota. That’s bullshit. I was doing it because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to recruit whoever gave us the best chance to win. I wanted to recruit every player based on his talent and ability to play the game and what kind of person he is. And nothing else matters. And all my coaches, thank goodness, all believed the same thing or else they were going to be coaching with the wrong guy if they didn’t. People recognized that immediately. That that’s the way we were, and that’s the way Oklahoma was.
We were playing Texas when there wasn’t a black player on their team. I had guys like our running back Greg Pruitt and Joe Washington put a couple hundred yards on their ass and puttin’ half a hundred on ’em. So, because of my reputation, all those things helped me tremendously.
Pete Carroll joined you and Jimmy Johnson as the only coaches to win a college national championship and a Super Bowl. How hard was that?
Well, all of three of us inherited a great [college] program. When Jimmy went to Miami, they had just won a national championship. He went there, had a chance to win two or three, and he won one in his short span there. So we had great programs. I inherited a great program at Oklahoma. Bud Wilkinson created a great monster here, and I had something to sell. And we did a good job of selling it, and we won greatly, and we were the best in college football for that period of time, 16 years, still today.
So then Pete Carroll gets to USC. He was on Lou Holtz’s (Arkansas) staff as an assistant when they beat our ass in the Orange Bowl 1977; he didn’t stay there long. He was a graduate assistant there. I don’t know where Pete went from there. He was a young kid then just starting out, and then he ends up getting the Southern Cal program, a great program with great tradition and something to sell.
So we all three had to have that. Let me say this: If we had all been at a lot of other schools with lesser pedigrees and lesser tradition, I don’t think any of us would have won a national championship. You know what I mean? I don’t care how good of a coach we are. There are a lot of good coaches coaching those schools, you understand? [Coaches] that don’t have what Pete had, what I had, and what Jimmy had. So that was the first reason we were successful, all three of us. OK? We could get good players.
At the Cowboys, Jimmy was able to build a great program, him and Jerry. You’ve got to throw in Jerry in this. Jerry was a part. Jerry and Jimmy built a great program at Dallas with the Herschel Walker trade. In fact, having one of my ex-players, [Troy] Aikman, sitting at the top of the draft, a franchise player sitting there at the top of the draft out of UCLA who played for me at Oklahoma, who I recruited out of high school, in Henryetta, Oklahoma. He was already there for Jimmy. Then obviously, they were able to trade Herschel and get a lot of picks, and they built and evaluated the talent and were able to get a team in there with Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith, and get “the Triplets,” and built a team around those guys and, obviously more importantly, Troy Aikman.
When I went there, I inherited a great team. I could have lost, but I didn’t.
I won a Super Bowl. I could have won two. Shit, I came up within one game of winning two. They destructed in the championship game, you’re too young to remember.
My first year there we played …
San Francisco! I remember. I was a huge fan. Whenever San Francisco and Dallas played, that was the real Super Bowl.
Right, both [teams] know we’re gone hang half a hundred on San Diego in the Super Bowl. [Then] we go out and self-destruct. The first pass we throw is intercepted by Eric Davis and returned for a touchdown. Our next possession, Michael Irvin fumbles the ball and Ricky Watters scores a touchdown on the next play. We’re down 14-0 and our defense has barely been on the field. Then on the next possession, Kevin Williams fumbles the kickoff return in front of our bench. They go on a 35-yard drive, score again, and we’re down 21-0. Only five minutes had gone off the damn clock. [Laughs.] You know, what the hell does coaching got to do with it? You throw interceptions, you fumble, you put the ball on the ground, and make mistakes, we’ll get our ass beat — that’s what we did the first five minutes.
We fought back and Jerry Rice makes a great play right over Larry Brown as I remember. My biggest mistake in the first half was not running the ball. I told Ernie Zampese, our offensive coordinator, let’s run the ball and go in at halftime. He says, “We just went right down the field and scored, we got momentum, let’s go.” I let Ernie talk me into it. I knew in my gut we needed to run the ball and run out the clock, kick or punt it away and don’t give them no time left. We have three incomplete passes, give them the ball with a minute to go in the damn half, and they scored with it. I’m sick. I’m cursing myself out at the half, because I should have just said: Ernie, run the damn ball. But that was my coaching mistake right there.
Was the relationship between you and Troy Aikman as bad as the media made it out to be?
It wasn’t bad as media made it out to be. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be.
Why wasn’t it good?
You have to ask Troy, I can’t tell you. I can only give it to you from my perspective. I just coached the team a different way than what Jimmy did. I’m a different type of guy. Most of the guys liked the way I coached the Cowboys, the defensive guys especially. I was the only coach that was able to handle Charles Haley. Now think about that. Everyone else tried to run his ass off and he’s won five Super Bowls. I had a great relationship with 99 percent of the team. A couple of them maybe not so much. But you know Troy is a competitor, and maybe he wanted to do it his way or what he had been used to with Jimmy. We’re all different, and we’ve all been successful doing it out our own ways.
OK, two more questions. What are you thoughts on Michael Sam announcing that he’s gay?
First of all, that to me is irrelevant. I’d rather have a gay guy that’s got game than a straight guy that ain’t got game. It all comes down to the ability to play the game.
Would you have recruited him?
Why, hell yes! I don’t have a problem with that.
If you had to start a team with one player, who would it be?
Well, Peyton is at the twilight of his career … This might surprise you, but I think the most dynamic player…
I’ve seen Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. I’ve seen Oscar Robertson play live. I saw him against my college team as a sophomore for Cincinnati. With three minutes left to go in the game, my team had 54 points and Oscar had 56, so he’s outscoring my team. He’s the only player, and then Michael Jordan comes along, but [Robertson's] the only player that can take control of a game and win a game by himself.
Well, let me tell you, Johnny Manziel is the first football player I’ve ever seen that can control the game like those guys did basketball. It’s unbelievable the numbers that he can put up against the competition game after game after game.
I don’t like some of his antics. I’m sure Kevin Sumlin didn’t either. That all aside, let me tell you, he is a great, great football player. And I predict he’ll be drafted within the first five picks if he’s not the first pick overall. I bet he’ll be no. 1 on a lot of people’s board.