SI Vault
Ray Kennedy
August 09, 1976
Barry Switzer, who was raised under a tar-paper roof in a swamp bottom, says he just likes to coach country boys out to have a yahooing good time playing Oklahoma football
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August 09, 1976

Boomingest Sooner Of 'em All

Barry Switzer, who was raised under a tar-paper roof in a swamp bottom, says he just likes to coach country boys out to have a yahooing good time playing Oklahoma football

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The action picked up when he entered high school and played football, swam freestyle and put the shot. "My best toss, 53'4", was the local record for seven years until my brother Donnie broke it—but just barely," says Switzer. "Then Karl Salb, the three-time NCAA champ, came along. Shoot, he threw that dang thing 69'6"."

"First time I met Barry was at a state swim meet at the YMCA in Pine Bluff," says Lacewell. "He was a man of the world—been to Little Rock once. He was also bigger than anybody and so when he said he wanted to play cards, we played. Took me and my buddy, Billy Ray Greenwood, for everything we had—$2.50. Next day, me and Billy Ray were out hitchhiking when here comes Switzer whooshing by in this big ol' Greyhound, giving us a wave out the window. Right then I knew nobody'd ever beat out ol' Barry."

Switzer was not accustomed to traveling first class. His father ran a fishing camp off and on and was known to haul in a fair share of contraband whiskey from across the Louisiana border. Since bass fishing and bootlegging were not deemed the most noble of enterprises in Crossett society, Barry spent most of his teen-age years huddling in the backseats of cars while friends picked up his dates.

When he was not working on bull gangs at the paper mill in the summer, Switzer's social outings consisted of "hopping in a pickup truck and taking in a Durango Kid movie or stopping by the caf� at the bus station, where I'd buy a cup of coffee and a piece of pecan pie for 15� and listen to Hank Snow sing I'm Movin' On on the juke." Saturdays were special. "That's when we'd break out the old battery radio and listen to Grand Ole Opry, brought to you by Ad-my-ray-shun Coffee," Switzer says. "But the best time was in the fall when a bunch of us would get together and listen to the college football games. We lived in a dream world of Johnny Lujack and Kyle Rote and Doc Blanchard. Now instead of hearing about Doak Walkers, I'm coaching 'em! It's almost unreal."

The state Lineman of the Year, Switzer was offered a scholarship to Arkansas. He says, "A family friend also got me an appointment to Annapolis, but that just flat scared me to death. So I packed some jeans and socks in a cardboard Early Times box, tied it with twine from the Mercantile Store, put on my Crossett ball jacket and went to the University of Arkansas, not knowing what to expect. I remember they gave me a locker and said, 'This is for your books.' So I locked those books up tight and didn't touch 'em until somebody told me different." Eventually, Switzer not only made the dean's list in business administration but, playing center and linebacker, captained the 1959 team to a share of the Southwest Conference title and a victory in the Gator Bowl.

"I was just about the only player that ever went from Crossett to Arkansas and lettered," says Switzer. "The town thought I was a pretty good guy and had an appreciation day. They had a catfish fry and a Rotary luncheon and gave me $1,000. That was a lot of money in 1960. I remember somebody saying it was the biggest thing that'd happened in Crossett since they sent a fellow to the state pen for 27 years. I think they caught him stealing hogs.

"But the thing I remember about that time was me and my daddy getting up one morning at 5 a.m. and driving my brother Donnie to Montrose with his Early Times suitcase and putting him on the train for Hanover, New Hampshire. Donnie's the smart one. He graduated from Dartmouth on a scholastic scholarship and went through Vanderbilt Law School. Now he's vice-president and legal counsel for General American Life Insurance in Houston."

In 1961, nearing the end of a one-year hitch in the Army, Switzer was offered a job by Arkansas Coach Frank Broyles. "I hadn't been considering coaching," says Switzer, "but I thought, what the heck. I was single. I could live in the dorm. It wouldn't cost much. It might be fun."

It was, and revealing too. "Within six months I was swept up in coaching," Switzer says. "And later, when I visited around the country, went to clinics and met with other staffs, all of a sudden my eyes opened and I said, 'Heck, I know more than these guys and they're head coaches. I can do that.' "

He moved to Oklahoma in 1966 and then, two years and one fateful winter night later, into the busy thoroughfares of Abilene, Texas, to corral a prize prospect. Unable to contain himself, Switzer stopped his car in the middle of the street that night and jumped out with the prospect in tow. Crouching in the eerie glow of the headlights, he began barking signals and then rolled out behind an imaginary line while the traffic screeched around him. Quarterback Jack Mildren, the most coveted high school player in Texas at the time, dug the demonstration and went on to lead the 1971 Sooners and their new wishbone attack to the most productive offensive season in the history of college football.

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