Once upon a time, there was a college team with a purse-carrying quarterback, a defense that barked, a punk-coiffed linebacker and a coach nobody could quite figure. That team showed up in the Orange Bowl on New Year's night with enough beefcake to make Crockett and Tubbs blush and put a Miami vise on the national championship. It did just that by beating undefeated and No. 1—ranked Penn State 25-10.
And darned if maybe Sooner coach Barry Switzer didn't wake up to find that some people liked him after all. What's more, Oklahoma wasn't supposed to win the title until next year. But Switzer straightened out his act, and out of the vanilla world of BY-Who parity arose this cherry-red, four-on-the-floor dynasty called the Wishbone of the '90s.
It's 9 p.m. on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, five days before the Orange Bowl, and Switzer sees flashing red-and-blue lights. He's in the passenger seat, listening to the driver explain to the cop the finer points of left turns without left-turn arrows. After 10 minutes of haranguing between the two, Switzer lowers his window, leans his famous mug out and says, "How 'bout you just give us the citation, officer, so we can be on our way?"
The officer gives Switzer a look that would melt a sunroof, and Switzer ducks his head back in the car and doesn't make another peep. "One thing I've learned," he says. "Some people don't care where you coach."
One thing we've learned about Switzer is that he has learned a Sooner Schooner full of things lately. He's 48 and going on 49, not 29. In the last five years he has survived a divorce, a D.W.I. charge, a civil suit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission for insider trading, three (gasp) four-loss seasons, a poorly veiled threat upon his job, an Oklahoma City newspaper's call for his head and Marcus Dupree.
Switzer has struck up feuds with everybody from Darrell Royal to the state of Utah. When Switzer pooh-poohed BYU's being named national champion in 1984, the Salt Lake County Council of Governments named a sewage lagoon after him. "Most guys' kids want to see Yellowstone on a family vacation," Switzer says. "My kids want to go see a sewage treatment plant." Talk about Old Faithful; Switzer could generally be counted upon to muck up a good thing. "Barry can be very self-destructive," says Janet Gibson, his very close friend of almost four years.
To America, Switzer wore a black hat, XL. He was the Switzer in Penn State coach Joe Paterno's "I don't want to leave college football to the Jackie Sherrills and the Barry Switzers of the world" remark of 1979. He was the outlaw unbound. He was roguish, braggish, boorish. He spoke fast, drew fast, partied fast.
He won and won and won, but who wanted to write that, when Switzer could fill up your notebook with so much other good stuff? He was self-destructive, but is it any wonder, considering his background? The son of a Crossett, Ark. bootlegger, Switzer never had a phone until he was in college and didn't have electricity until he was in the ninth grade. As a kid, he would carry a kerosene lamp and a .22 pistol at night and lead his mother and grandmother out the back door and up the hill to the outhouse, ready to shoot copperheads, which were as fond of that hill as they were.
Because of his father's fame at the local Alcoholic Beverage Control board, Switzer's home was often searched without benefit of a warrant. Once Switzer himself was searched while he was coming home from school. Still, Switzer admired his father, even while his father was in prison. "It was the days of The Grapes of Wrath" Switzer says. "Everybody went to California looking for work and didn't find any. So my father came home and had to find a way to feed his family. They were hard times."
As were Switzer's. Bootleggers' sons weren't much welcome in Baptist living rooms, and most fathers prohibited their daughters from dating him. "I'd have my buddies go up to the door to pick up the girl, and I'd be waiting outside in the car," he says.