Happy 50th birthday, Barry Switzer! Somehow you seem both older and younger than you are: How can anybody so youthful-looking have 142 career wins, and how can anybody so old mesh so well with jive-talking kids? But after some folks at the University of Oklahoma gave you that cake early last week and decorated your office with black balloons, black crepe paper and a tablecloth emblazoned with the words OVER THE HILL, BUT READY TO ROLL, you pretty much summed up the paradox. What you said was "I'm too old to grow up now." Amen.
So what would you like as a belated birthday present? How about Texas? No, not the University of Texas. You ate that up 44-9 on Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. No, how about the whole darn state of Texas, cut into little recruiting squares, all that high school gridiron talent wrapped up like choice beefsteaks and delivered to the godforsaken prairie town that is Norman?
Switzer may already have that, too. His 5-0, No. 1-ranked Sooners have a defense that has given up only 26 points this year. They are first in the nation in keeping down the score and in curtailing the opposition's total yardage, second in stopping the pass and fourth in halting the run. And eight starters on the D are from Texas. All told, 37 Oklahoma players are from the Lone Star State. Where would Switzer be without Texas?
"We've got to have the Texas kids," he says. "We'll get 90 percent of the best players in Oklahoma. But that's only about eight or nine a year. Then we'll pick up a few nationally. But that's not enough. Texas probably has the best high school football in America, so we get players there. Look at all the great Texas players who've come to Oklahoma—Billy Sims, Joe Washington, David Overstreet, Thomas Lott, on and on. It's as simple as numbers."
Well, sort of. If it's so easy to get great players in Texas, how come the University of Texas doesn't have more of them? The Longhorns' best player is running back Eric Metcalf. who had 14 carries for 63 yards and 7 receptions for 39 yards against Oklahoma, and he's from Virginia. Moreover, how do you get anybody to agree to spend his college years in Norman, which is 18 miles south of Oklahoma City, which itself is essentially Tulsa with a capitol building?
"You ever been to West Texas?" asks Switzer by way of explanation. "It's the same as Norman. Lubbock, Amarillo—they're closer to Norman than to Austin. The state line doesn't mean anything. People will go where they fit in." And Switzer makes everyone feel as if they fit in, from farm boys to big-city dudes.
"He's so easy to talk to," says freshman Marcus Lowe, a heavily sought-after defensive lineman from Houston. "When he came to my house, he didn't talk like a coach. And my mom liked him a lot."
Says Sims, the Hooks, Texas (pop. 2,507), resident whose Heisman Trophy sits in Switzer's office, "If there's ever been a players' coach, he's it."
Yes, Oklahoma is the home of the happy, victory-craving player. Switzer has averaged almost 10 wins per season during his 14 years with the Sooners, and he has the fourth-highest winning percentage of anyone who has coached at least 10 years in college. He gets into enough off-field trouble—in 1984, he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, and he successfully fought an insider-stock-trading suit—that
Dallas Morning News
columnist Blackie Sherrod was able to write recently that Switzer is "a crisis on the way to happening."
In a sense, the Sooners have become the Los Angeles Raiders of the NCAA, with Switzer assuming the role of Al Davis, loved by his charges, despised by opponents. This year's Oklahoma-Texas mismatch showed just what kind of team Switzer has been able to build with all those Texas studs, and it also demonstrated how far University of Texas football—and that of the entire Southwest Conference—has fallen.