SOMEBODY SAY WISHBONE?
"Yep," says Barry Switzer, the Oklahoma Sooners'—excuse us—the new Dallas Cowboys' coach. "Figured we'd line up in the wishbone for the first play of the season. Troy down the line, pitch to Emmitt, me right behind. Like that New York Life commercial? Emmitt running all the way and me yelling, "I knew it would work! I knew it would work!' "
You want to clear your throat here, maybe check Switzer's eyes. Because, trust us, stranger things have happened.
"Uh-huh, I heard that," says Emmitt Smith, the Cowboys' all-world running back. "He was joking." Smith pauses to make sure that he has been understood. "He was joking."
O.K., O.K. Don't yell. It's just, how do we know with these Cowboys? Maybe Smith is fuzzy-headed. He was, after all, tossed from one of those six-wheel, all-terrain vehicles after a collision last week at training camp in Austin, Texas, with Crazy Ray, Dallas's mascot, who took a careless step in front of the ATV. Smith landed on his head and was knocked cold for a spell. But if owner Jerry Jones said he was moving the Cowboys to Brazil tomorrow and naming Pelé the defensive coordinator, would you doubt him? Jones is the hyperkinetic Arkansas oil-and-gas guy who bought Dallas's team in 1989, ticked off every Cowboy fan in Texas by firing demigod coach Tom Landry and putting University of Miami coach Jimmy Johnson at the helm, declared himself general manager, went 1-15, took credit for some inspired drafts and trades, won the last two Super Bowls, made every Cowboy fan love him and then, in March, suddenly let Johnson go (following story) and hired former Oklahoma coach and social outcast Switzer because, said Jones, Switzer was "the best man for the job."
To appreciate Switzer's lack of appeal to the football community—and thus the audacity of Jones's decision—consider that Switzer had been sitting in a rocking chair in Norman, Okla., for five years with an imaginary sign around his neck saying WOULDN'T MIND COACHING AGAIN, and that until Jones beckoned, tumbleweed made more noise than Switzer's phone. Until Jones declared Switzer the man to replace the uppity Johnson after Jones and Johnson feuded at a March NFL owners' meeting in Orlando, it seemed certain that the 56-year-old Switzer would live out his days huntin' and fishin' and dabbling in those bidness ventures that former coaches tend to fall back on.
"I think I found out Jerry wanted me by hearing it on TV," says Switzer, still amazed at his rebirth. Forced to resign from Oklahoma in 1989 after guiding the Sooners to three national championships and a few NCAA violations (not to mention the occasional shooting, rape or other heinous crimes that occurred during his watch) in 16 years, Switzer was suddenly an antique, a living relic of a wilder era in college football.
And yet, here he is now, a squinting Lazarus dressed in Cowboy-blue shorts and a Cowboy-white shirt, Panama hat protecting his scalp from the blazing Texas sun, walking among his charges, the best football team on earth. He is bent a little more than he was back at Oklahoma. His back is killing him and so is his neck, and one knee still hurts from the time in 1987 when a University of Missouri tackier missed Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson on a keeper and nailed Switzer on the sideline. But Switzer still walks like he belongs on a football field. He doesn't say a whole lot or act brassy. He never did. He was always a motivator, a recruiter, a guy who delegated power and kept things loose until it was time for his boys to strap it on.
"I see it all," he says later. "I'm analyzing the players, checking out their hands, their stance, their techniques. I'm not an actor. I'm not a guy who intimidates or uses fear. That kind of stuff may draw attention to you, but I'm not trying to create crises. These players know if you're a phony."
Still, the media throng (some 500 credentials were issued last week to cover training camp) and the more than 48,000 spectators who watched the Cowboy drills in just the first six days wanted to see something from Switzer that proved that he was indeed the coach here and not Jones's puppet. "He'll gel blamed for things he can't control, like injuries," said special teams coach Joe Avezzano. "But as far as decisions? He came in and said, 'You guys have been very successful. Go to work.' That's a helluva decision right there. The correct one."