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'Now It's My Team'
Michael Silver
June 19, 1995
Barry Switzer hopes his new fire can offset the Cowboys' loss of talent as he tries to keep up with the 49ers
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June 19, 1995

'now It's My Team'

Barry Switzer hopes his new fire can offset the Cowboys' loss of talent as he tries to keep up with the 49ers

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There is speculation that Switzer, who was plagued last year by chronic neck pain—"There wasn't a minute all season I didn't think about it," he says—might leave coaching after this year. But his pain has been relieved by more than a dozen cortisone injections in his spine over the past few months, and he points to the $500,000 house he's having built two miles from the Valley Ranch facility as a sign he plans to stick around.

The Cowboy players see Switzer's fiery speech as a sign of progress. Seldom has a chewing-out session been met with such bliss. "It was long overdue," cornerback Kevin Smith says. "Some guys are self-motivators, but others need authority."

If Switzer is getting his house in order, however, there remains a great deal of static from the outside. Many observers still consider the Cowboys and the 49ers to be the NFL's best teams, but while San Francisco continues to take risks in search of improvement—witness the draft-day trade that netted UCLA receiver J.J. Stokes with the 10th pick of the first round—Dallas has come under attack for merely trying to mitigate its losses. At least two years have passed since the Cowboys have made a move that substantially upgraded their roster. Not even Rambo goes that long without reloading.

"I think the 49ers had to do something last year because Dallas had a superior team, so they upgraded," says former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh. "Whatever the Cowboys have done or failed to do, they've probably eroded to the point where the 49ers now are the superior team."

Dallas goes into the 1995 season without Davis, who became the coach at the University of Miami and is the third Cowboy coordinator, along with current NFL coaches Norv Turner (Washington Redskins) and Dave Wannstedt (Chicago Bears), to leave since the end of '92. The fact that the Cowboys are still formidable is a testament to Johnson's Super Bowl teams, which may have been among the best ensembles of all time.

Where is the strong new blood? Dallas may have found at least one young addition last year by drafting offensive lineman Larry Allen in the second round, but first-round pick Shante Carver, a pass-rushing defensive end, was a bust. And this year's draft strategy—trading out of the first round for extra picks in later rounds—was scorned in most NFL circles. "Their last two drafts have been garbage," says Washington, who signed with the Redskins in March. "I think they're in trouble."

Even Aikman says he was puzzled. "I'll be honest with you," he says. "When I saw we took a backup player with our first pick, it was a concern to me."

The plan, as with all recent Cowboy plans, was dictated by the salary cap. The organization, says Jones, wanted to come away with players who could "play on special teams and fit into favorable salary slots in their second, third and fourth years while we groom them." Dallas, with the 28th selection in the first round, would have drafted Florida State safety Devin Bush to replace Washington, but the Atlanta Falcons took him two spots earlier. Jones then decided to trade down, leaving untested veteran Brock Marion as Washington's heir.

In helping Johnson build the Cowboys from the ground up, Jones distinguished himself by having the guts to take risks. But since Johnson's departure, Jones has been more conservative than Strom Thurmond. His strategy has been based on holding on to what he has—"Keeping your powder dry," in Jones's words. The Cowboys' only significant achievements this off-season were re-signing Irvin, tight end Jay Novacek and defensive end Tony Tolbert to long-term deals and talking Haley out of retiring.

Jones is a brilliant businessman—since he purchased the Cowboys in 1989, the value of the franchise has increased from $130 million to $238 million-yet he has been less creative at salary-cap management than 49er president Carmen Policy, who freed up money by restructuring the long-term contracts of key players. Jones thinks Policy's policies will come back to haunt the 49ers, but he now seems willing to consider playing San Francisco's game.

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