Q&A with Barry Switzer
Barry Switzer has a saying for moments like these -- when he can wake up in the morning with no plans and by mid-afternoon, be in his Mercedes SL550 driving up Interstate 35 to Oklahoma City to hop on a private jet to Las Vegas.
"I'm calling my own plays," says Switzer, who will be in Sin City in a few hours after getting an unexpected invite from a buddy. "I'm at a point in my life where I want to be able to call my own plays and you can't do that if you're tied down to a schedule."
It's been 11 years since Switzer last patrolled a football sideline, but the former Oklahoma and Cowboys coach still speaks in gridiron lingo as he explains to his wife that his plans for the weekend have changed. "I'm calling an audible," he explains. "I'm going to Vegas."
"When you're 70 years old you want to do what the hell you want to do when you want to do it," he says. "That's why I always say I'm calling my own plays."
The only time Switzer might not be calling his own plays is when he is in front of a camera, reading lines from a script written for him. While he isn't an actor, Switzer has appeared in Any Given Sunday, Varsity Blues and Arli$$ since he retired from football and will add to his IMDB profile this Monday when he plays himself on the TNT original series Saving Grace.
I recently caught up with Switzer to talk about his acting career, why the Cowboys haven't won a playoff game since he left and if he would leave college football for the NFL if he were still coaching the Sooners.
SI.com: You play the part of Barry Switzer on the next episode of Saving Grace. How did you prepare for that role?
Switzer: [Laughs] Well, Nancy Miller, who writes the show, is an OU graduate and this was her baby. She's a big Sooners fan and that's why the backdrop of the show is Oklahoma City and you see all the Sooner stuff on the show. She was here [in Norman] a couple years ago and I took her and Holly [Hunter] to a ballgame. Holly had never been to a damn ball game. We had a bunch of them over to our home and entertained them, and at one point Nancy said to me, 'I'm going to write something for you and put you in a plot.' It was fine with me, I didn't care. I've done it before.
SI.com: The first time you acted was on an episode of Coach after you had left Oklahoma, right?
Switzer: Oh, I had so much fun on Coach. Get this, Hank Stram, George Allen and I did an episode of Coach for Craig T. Nelson and Shelley Fabares and they showed that thing so many damn times I'm still getting residuals. Before we began shooting, George tells me, 'Barry, I'm thinking about taking a college job,' and I said, 'George, you ever recruited?' and he said, 'Nah, I just coach,' and I said, 'Well, this is different.' Next thing I know he took the Long Beach State job and he shocked me.
SI.com: So you don't have any aspirations to be an actor?
Switzer: No, I don't have any aspirations like that. Hey, I'm where I am in my life and where I want to be. I'm happy and I want to be able to call my plays. I'm at a point in life where I want to call my own plays and you can't do that if you're tied down to schedule. That's why I can go to Vegas right now.
SI.com: I would imagine when you're in front of the cameras and looking over a script that's one of the few times you actually get coached. Is that at all weird that you're not the one calling the plays in that situation?
Switzer: No, they have the experience and they know what they're doing. It's like me telling a young kid coming in to squat down for the time and I talk to them about technique and how to play his hands and feet and what he needs to do. I'm teaching him how to play correctly because I know how it's done, but in something like acting I'm the student and they're my mentor or my coach, and I listen to them. They know what the hell they're talking about and I don't. I felt like when I was doing Any Given Sunday with Oliver Stone and Al Pacino. I had read the screenplay a couple times, but I did not have the feel and the understanding of the dialogue until Oliver Stone sat down with me and we read over it because we did the scene together. At that moment I understood it and had a feel for what the hell the script was. I didn't until then at that moment in that trailer with Oliver Stone. It became clear to me at that moment.
SI.com: You're one of only two coaches to win a national championship and a Super Bowl. Where did you have the most fun? Which one gave you the most satisfaction?
Switzer: I enjoyed both, but I liked the college game. It's a different feeling. Pro football is only about winning and getting to the Super Bowl. College coaches have a different mission and goal. They want to win too but they got kids to take care of 365, 24/7 and one-percent of them will play in the NFL, they're trying to develop the rest for the next 50-60 years of their lives. It's a different deal.
SI.com: You got a lot of heat when you were the coach of the Cowboys. Do you ever think about them not winning a playoff game since you left?
Switzer: No, I never think about that because they haven't been as good. They're almost as good now. They weren't as good. People ask me why didn't [Steve] Spurrier win in Washington or why didn't [Bill] Parcells win in the playoffs with Dallas, and my response is they didn't have as many good players as I did. If Spurrier or Parcells did, they would have won.
SI.com: You've always been very modest about your accomplishments as a coach, but it isn't always easy to win even if you have the best players. Look at the Giants last year, they probably beat four teams more talented than them in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl, including the Patriots.
Switzer: Sure, you have to still coach. I don't slight coaching but don't buy into these guys who build these coaches up to be geniuses. That's bull (crap). They're actors when they do that bull (crap). The media builds them up to be myths and you know that. I look at it for what it is. I know good football, and I know bad football, and the truth is there aren't many coaches today coaching bad football. They don't coach bad football anymore. I've seen too many coaches I know who are great coaches but haven't won and I know the reason. It isn't because of what they've done, but what they're coaching.
SI.com: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Wade Phillips in the sense that he took over for a legendary coach in Bill Parcells and is almost in a no-win situation with arguably the most talented team in football? Even if he wins the Super Bowl, there's talk he might get let go for Jason Garrett.
Switzer: Well, Parcells never won a Super Bowl in Dallas. That's a big difference. I was in the no-win situation. You talk about a no-win situation -- that was my time in Dallas. At least Wade got to hire his own people. He got to hire people he knew around him. I was the only one who went to Dallas, you got to remember that. Nobody wanted me there; the players, coaches, fans -- and I could understand that. I would totally be with them if I was in there shoes. All they wanted to know was why Jimmy [Johnson] and Jerry [Jones] couldn't handle their problems for the betterment of the team. I can understand why the players were pissed and throwing [stuff] and bitching and moaning. I could totally understand that but I didn't have anything to do with that. That was Jimmy and Jerry's problem and I told them that I didn't have anything to do with that, that's what I told them, I'm here to do a job and give me chance. I was the only one that got of the bus and came into town. I didn't hire anybody. I didn't know who the coaches were. I didn't know anybody. Factor in that I was taking over a team that had just won two Super Bowls, well, damn I was in a real no-win situation.
SI.com: That's true, but you did end up with a Super Bowl ring and not too many coaches can say that.
Switzer: Yeah, and if those guys would have played like they could have out in San Francisco [in the 1994 NFC Championship Game] instead of being down 21-0 when we had only snapped it twice in the first five minutes of the ball game. That horror story that we lived out there. If we had won the game, we would have won two Super Bowls and four in a row. I would have gotten my ass out of there. I probably should have gotten my ass out of there after I won the first one. We had a good run, but the team started declining, free agency and salary cap came in and we lost guys like Jay Novacek and Charles Haley due to injuries and you can't replace them. The team just got older.
SI.com: Was there ever a time when you regretted taking the job with the Cowboys because there was that overriding feeling that you were just a player's coach and this was Jimmy's team and even if your team won it wasn't because of anything you had done?
Switzer: No, I was a big boy. I wouldn't have done it unless I wanted to. I didn't arrive not knowing what was going to happen with the media or the player or anybody. I knew what was going to happen. I knew half of them would be for me and half of them would be against me but that's irrelevant to me. I had confidence that we'd get the job done.
SI.com: You won over most of your players by the end of your first season in Dallas; how were able to get them to believe in you when most of the outsiders didn't?
Switzer: They got to know me. They knew that I wasn't an actor and I wasn't phony. I was honest and sincere. I wasn't a [liar], when I said something I meant it and I told them the truth. That's the way you should be with everybody, no matter what you do, and I've always done that. All my life I've been honest with my players and you have to be. That's always been my philosophy -- don't be an actor, don't be a phony, don't create crisis, don't go out there with scrawl on your face. It's fun. It's OK to have fun and coach practice. It's alright to have a smile on your face; it's alright to joke around. Anyone who says you can't smile and have fun coaching practice, is full of it. That's that Neanderthal mentality where you don't give the guys water during practice. Give me a break.
SI.com: How do you look at your time with the Cowboys?
Switzer: I enjoyed it. I was happier for Jerry when we won the Super Bowl because he was the one who made the big gamble when he fired Jimmy and hired me. I was happy for both of us but he made the biggest gamble. Jerry really put himself on the line but we got it done so I'm happy about that.
SI.com: You and Jimmy Johnson are now working together on Fox Sports, what's that been like? There was awhile there after you got replaced him that you guys weren't talking.
Switzer: I love it. It's fun. I actually just talked to Jimmy, he's lost 30 pounds and he went from 223 to 192 pounds. My response was they better not set his ass between Michael Strahan and me, nobody will see him at 192 pounds. It's fun, Jimmy and I go back to when he was a 17-year-old with Jerry coming to Arkansas to play football, so we go back a long ways. I've coached him, coached with him, coached against him. We'll always be close.
SI.com: Oklahoma has a coach in place now that many have compared to you in Bob Stoops. What are the differences and similarities in the ways you guys coached Oklahoma?
Switzer: The only difference between me and Bob Stoops, is we both won, but he makes $3.5 million, when I was coaching, I was making $24,000. That's the big difference. I tell Bob, 'Why in the world would you ever want to coach pro football when you get to a school like Oklahoma?' When you get to Oklahoma, you're leading one of the top five programs in the country. You control your destiny here. You can make $4 million, recruit whoever you want in the country and you can win consistently every year. In pro football you can't dictate that. You can't determine how good you're going to be year to year unless you have a quarterback and even then it's not enough. It's a different deal.
SI.com: So you've told Bob that he should turn down an NFL job to stay at Oklahoma?
Switzer: Oh yeah, we've talked and Bob has asked me about coaching pro ball and he's been asked to do it before and I told him. 'Bob, more people want the job that you just left than the one you took.' More people would rather have the Oklahoma job than any pro job that he's been offered. I certainly would have. It's one of the best jobs in the country.
SI.com: You set the bar high at Oklahoma, it's not enough to just get to a BCS bowl game; you have to win it. How do you think Bob Stoops will be viewed if he continues to lose bowl games? Has his image already taken a hit?
Switzer: It's tough on Bob because he's lost four BCS games. When you get to those games, you're playing teams as good as you are and our fans don't understand that. They don't understand that West Virginia. LSU, USC and those other teams have good players to. You're losing to teams as good as or better than you are. They have great traditions to, and that's what happens when you get to those types of games. You know, Bud Wilkinson created this monster of winning and it was my job to feed it, and now it's become Bob's job to feed it and Bob has gotten some criticism here locally, probably not so much nationally, for not winning these BCS games, and my response is we're playing good team. We've lost to teams that were just better than we were. Face it; Oklahoma isn't the only school that gets to recruit good players. Some of these teams are just better than us and you have to accept that. We've got a great program and we're winning consistently and some years we might be better than those other teams and win another national championship, but it's hard to do. We've won seven of them; we've won our share or more than our share. Oklahoma has won more games in the modern era than any other team in college football. We have the best record of any program in the last 50 years and I'm proud to say my 16 years were the best of them all but it's hard.