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 week began shortly after dawn with Switzer casting his favorite chartreuse spinner into a farm pond on the outskirts of Norman. But, as usual these days, he was not alone. ABC-TV was out in force and Announcer Keith Jackson was seated next to Switzer on the bank, quizzing him about the upcoming season. Just as Jackson posed the inevitable question about Texas, Switzer twitched—not out of sensitivity to the subject but to set his hook. "Hey, how 'bout that," Switzer cried, pulling in a flopping 1�-pound small-mouth. "People are gonna think this interview was fixed." The producer, Terry Jastrow, was jubilant. "American Sportsman spends a month trying to get footage like that," he said.

A farmer who had wandered out to see what that man with a TV camera was doing up in his tree had a more piquant observation. "Y'all like poison ivy?" he asked Switzer and Jackson. "Well, y'all must 'cause you're sittin' in a mess of it."

Three afternoons later, after a speaking date, Switzer was barreling down Interstate 35 in his red-and-white Cadillac Coupe deVille en route to yet another appearance. Jerry Pettibone, his recruiting coordinator, was at the wheel, talking into a CB radio microphone. "You got old Big Red southbound," Pettibone crooned. "Whatta ya got?" In answer to the crackling reply from a woman, he said, "Okay, Brown Eyes, you shake the trees, I'll rake the leaves."

Switzer, sitting in the backseat and sipping from a tumbler of Chivas Regal, said, "We travel a bunch up and down this road recruiting. Call ourselves the Red River Raiders. And the CB radio helps us go faster, cover more territory. We got to. Shoot, they got more 6'3", 250-pound guys in Los Angeles County than we got in all of Oklahoma. And there are a whole lot more guys playing football in Texas than anywhere. So we got to move out. It's a mathematical equation."

Kicking off his shoes and curling up on the seat, Switzer continued, "One of the reasons for the great Oklahoma tradition is that everybody is united in this state. Some people here may not have heard of Will Rogers or Mickey Mantle or Johnny Bench, home-grown boys, but everybody sure knows about Oklahoma football. You walk into towns in this state and it's all Big Red, baby. It's a common bond. There aren't but three major universities in Oklahoma, but in Texas there are about 13 major schools alone, and allegiances are divided. Here it's oil and Oklahoma football.

"This place we're going to today, Ardmore, is supposed to have more millionaires per capita than anywhere. Oil millionaires. And they're all looking for tax write-offs. So we tell 'em 'If you're going to give $100,000 to the government, why not give it to our athletic program instead and get a 100% write-off?' These guys help us in all kinds of ways. Hey, we got 60 airplanes at our disposal. We use 'em to bring in recruits or fly the staff and their wives down to Las Vegas or the Bahamas for some deep-sea fishing. These men help us. We help them by giving them a winning football team. Here, give me that thing."

Leaning forward, Switzer took the CB mike and said, "Hey, 18-wheeler, this is Mr. Pigskin. Where's your home 20?" Blue Tanker said he was from Dallas. "Thought so," Switzer said. "What kinda team Texas gonna have, Blue Tanker?" "The best," Blue Tanker said, adding that two of his first cousins were on the Longhorns. "Well, maybe you'll think differently when Oklahoma makes it six in a row this season," Switzer said. Blue Tanker cackled. "Okay, Blue Tanker, put the pedal to the metal. It's clean and green all the way. This is Mr. Pigskin, over and out."

When Switzer arrived at the Dornick Hills Country Club in Ardmore he was pulled into a group of OU boosters standing at the bar listening to a cherubic little man tell of his latest trip to Europe. "So the customs official looked at my passport," the man half-giggled, "and said, ' Oklahoma, huh. How many oil wells you got?' And I said, 'I don't know, I haven't been home in a week.' " As the group roared with laughter, 85-year-old Mort Wood, who played for OU, approached Switzer and said, "Barry, if you got three hours I'll tell you how it was in 1909, how 15 men played three games in six days. Both ways."

At the banquet Switzer rose to a standing ovation. He was to auction off a pair of OU jerseys worn by graduating seniors Leroy and Dewey Selmon. "I'll bid $250 and give $10,000 to have those boys back," he said, and then proceeded to sell the pair of jerseys for $1,800.

It was long after midnight when Switzer regrouped with several assistants at a brick tavern down the road from the country club. Lacewell, wearing a John Deere cap he had borrowed from one of the locals at the bar, was doing a monologue about how his tractor pulled to the left. As the hijinks wore on, David Bliss, the Oklahoma basketball coach, kept shaking his head. "Hey, Dave," Lacewell shouted, "tell 'em how you knew you were in a football conference when you were 9 and 17 and were named Big Eight Coach of the Year."

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