It didn't help Switzer, already a controversial figure from his days as the coach at Oklahoma, that much of the heat was generated by Jones himself. During the infamous night at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando when he triggered Johnson's departure, Jones asserted that 500 coaches were capable of guiding his talented team to a Super Bowl win. As an example he cited Switzer, who as an assistant supervising freshman recruits at Arkansas in 1961 had coached Jones and Johnson. Less than two weeks later Jones shocked the football world by bringing Switzer back from a five-year coaching exile. It was as if Jones was saying, "I can get anyone to coach this team and still win," and, as a result, everyone jumped on Switzer from the start. "There's no question that the way the thing evolved colored Barry in a way that wasn't positive," Jones says.
In fairness to the critics, Switzer has made several moves worthy of scrutiny. Last January, at a key juncture of the Cowboys' 38-28 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, he was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for bumping an official. In November, Dallas looked ill-prepared in a 38-20 loss to the injury-plagued 49ers, Switzer's third setback in as many games against the Cowboys' chief rival. Then there were the hard times endured by Big D in December, symbolized by Switzer's infamous fourth-and-one call on Dec. 10 in Philadelphia. With the game tied at 17 and Dallas a foot shy of a first down at its own 29 late in the fourth quarter, Switzer elected to run Emmitt Smith rather than punt. Smith was stopped, but the play was nullified because the clock had reached the two-minute warning before the ball was snapped. So Switzer ran basically the same off-tackle play, and the Eagles stopped Smith again, setting up Philly's winning field goal.
It was hardly the soundest of football decisions, but the Cowboys have won four straight since, and Irvin points to the call as a key to the team's Super Bowl drive. "That made all the difference," Irvin says. "You have to understand, we were in a major slump. He was saying to us, 'I still believe y'all are the best in the world.' "
"Fourth-and-what?" Switzer says. "It's kind of insignificant today, isn't it? Look, I had the guts to go for it, based on the faith I have in my football team."
Slowly, the players have reciprocated that faith, especially after Switzer gave the best motivational speech of his pro career after the debacle in Philadelphia. In calling upon his players to confront adversity with toughness and overcome it with determination, Switzer recounted his own stormy upbringing: His mother committed suicide, and his father was a bootlegger who died after being shot by a girlfriend. The speech struck an emotional chord with the players, even those who flourished under the atmosphere of braggadocio instilled by Johnson. "We don't have the [Johnson] swagger anymore," Smith told reporters earlier this month. "Now we're the bootlegger's boys."
Switzer, as is his nature, shies away from assuming any credit for his team's success. "Don't make coaching more than what it is," he says. "It's players going out and playing good, and whichever team's players can do that while making the fewest mistakes usually wins. It doesn't take 16 hours a day to figure that out."
Such proclamations rankle other coaches, many of whom take pride in their obsessive approaches. Switzer has eschewed the long hours favored by many in his profession and, commendably, has devoted quality time to his children: Greg, 27, an aspiring classical pianist; Kathy, 26, who helps her father manage his off-field responsibilities; and Doug, a quarterback at Arkansas-Pine Bluff whose games have drawn his father away from team meetings on the eve of Cowboys games, prompting criticism from Johnson and others.
This is not to say that Switzer professes to be a saint. He may screw up at times, but not maliciously. "He is so much like a kid in many respects," says Switzer's friend and attorney, Larry Derryberry. "He's unconcerned with how people perceive him."
Jones recognized Switzer as a kind of endearing, naive rogue during contract negotiations that sometimes included Lacewell and Derryberry. (Consider that group for a moment: Larry, Jerry, Barry and Larry Derryberry.) "During those discussions," Jones says, "I learned that Barry had a $70,000 debt because he had signed a note for a friend who had defaulted on payment. He did it just because the friend needed the money. So I paid it off. Barry makes you want to do that, because he's so genuine and so eager to help people out."
Those qualities, combined with his credit-the-players approach, his openness and his fun-loving nature, make Switzer the antithesis of the stereotypical coach. "Barry is unique," says Derryberry, "and I think it throws the average American off a little. It throws his peers off a lot."