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Rick Telander
February 27, 1989
Oklahoma has paid the price for the anything-goes attitude that coach Barry Switzer has allowed to take root
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February 27, 1989

You Reap What You Sow

Oklahoma has paid the price for the anything-goes attitude that coach Barry Switzer has allowed to take root

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Switzer was an Oklahoma assistant for seven years before being promoted 16 years ago. The calm and courtly Bud Wilkinson, who coached the Sooners from 1947 through '63, made Oklahoma a team of great expectations, and his success imposed a heavy burden on those who followed him. "Bud Wilkinson created this monster," Switzer has said. "I just have to keep feeding it. I like feeding it. It is exciting. It is a challenge. It is never monotonous." And, indeed, Switzer, who has put together a 157-29-4 record and won three national championships, has been the equal of Wilkinson, who had a 145-29-4 mark and won three national crowns.

The Sooners are a reflection of their coach's personality. The son of a bootlegger, Switzer was raised dirt-poor in tiny Crossett, Ark., and he learned early, as he has said, that "there were different sets of laws" for different sets of people. He developed a seemingly carefree—some would say undisciplined—approach to life and admits that, when it comes to his team, he "runs a loose ship."

When it comes to his own behavior, he has trouble battening down all the hatches. In 1984 Switzer pleaded guilty to driving while impaired. The year before, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit against him in an alleged insider-trading case. An Oklahoma City federal court dismissed the suit for lack of evidence in 1984.

An important element in Switzer's success as a coach and recruiter is that he has always gotten along well with blacks. "My black players look at me as honest and open," he has said. "They're not suspicious of me. I'm their friend."

Indeed, he's a friend to all his players. But he's not a disciplinarian. "We don't inhibit, muzzle or restrict our players," Switzer has said. "You can't manage kids that way. I don't want to be managed that way."

You reap what you sow, and the epitome of the be-ond-the-bounds college player arrived at Oklahoma in the person of punk linebacker Brian Bosworth. The Boz wore a bizarre hairdo and earrings. He spat on opponents and spouted whatever thoughts came into his head. "Do hairdos bother you?" Switzer asked a writer who had wondered why Switzer didn't discipline Bosworth. "They don't bother me."

But before the 1987 Orange Bowl game, an NCAA-mandated drug test revealed that Bosworth had been using anabolic steroids, and he was banned from the game. As he stood on the Sooner sideline, Bosworth wore a T-shirt bearing a crude slur on the NCAA, and that bit of arrogance was apparently more than even Switzer could tolerate. He booted the Boz from the team in a rare—and certainly tardy—show of force.

In September, Bosworth, who's now with the Seattle Seahawks, released his autobiography. The Boz (written with SI's Rick Reilly). It describes wanton drug use, off-the-field violence, gunplay in the dorm and other manifestations of berserk behavior by football players during his years as a Sooner. In Norman, Bosworth was derided as a vengeful muckraker—from Texas, no less. The book, said defenders of the Sooners, was full of exaggerations, if not outright lies. Three months later the NCAA released its findings, which contained, in less lively prose, some of the same things Bosworth had recounted. Then came 1989 and the horrors.

On the night of Jan. 13, several players were lining up to get their hair cut in an upstairs room of Bud Hall, as the Wilkinson dorm is known. The police and published reports gave the following account.

Parks, who reportedly had been drinking, barged in and angrily confronted Peters about a cassette tape that he claimed Peters had borrowed. Peters told Parks he didn't know what he was talking about. The two had gone to high school together in Houston, and Peters knew of Parks's volatile temper. But Peters was much bigger—240 pounds to Parks's 176—and once the shouting turned to shoving, Parks was on the floor.

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