Jones' switch to Switzer makes for good theater

PRO FOOTBALL

April 03, 1994|By VITO STELLINO

Maybe Jerry Jones is trying to give the Fox Network its money's worth.

The network is expected to lose big money on the $1.58 billion deal it made to take the NFC package away from CBS, but the Dallas Cowboys owner is giving the network a lot of entertainment value.

The Cowboys' drive for their third straight Super Bowl next season should have almost as much intrigue as Tonya and Nancy.

Jones' move last week in paying off coach Jimmy Johnson and then hiring Barry Switzer could have been a plot for one of those wacky Fox shows. Is Jones going to hire Al Bundy next?

Not only will everyone wonder how Switzer will do, but Johnson also will be looking over the shoulder of virtually every coach in the league. Even Don Shula has to be nervous in Miami because that's the job Johnson covets. Of course, it's nothing new for an owner to split with a successful coach. Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell retired the trophy when he fired Paul Brown, who virtually invented the modern game, in 1962.

The late Carroll Rosenbloom also pulled a slick maneuver when he drove Shula out as the Baltimore Colts' coach in 1970 and then demanded and got a first-round draft choice from the Miami Dolphins for him.

But Jones one-upped the field when he hired Switzer. There'll never be a dull moment when he's around. Switzer sounded like Dick Vitale when he cried, "We've got a job to do and we're going to do it, bay-bee."

Switzer is a walking controversy. Even his book, "Bootlegger's Boy," wasn't your routine football coach's tome. He was hit with a $30 million libel suit by reporter Jack Taylor, who claimed

Switzer implicated him in a scheme to plant cocaine on an Oklahoma player.

After a six-week trial and four days of deliberations, the jury ruled both Switzer and the reporter had invaded each other's privacy. Each side got nominal monetary damages.

During the trial, Switzer admitted he once had an affair with an assistant coach's wife.

That assistant coach, Larry Lacewell, happens to be the Cowboys' director of scouting now, but both Switzer and Lacewell insist their relationship is fine.

"That's all been overblown by the media," Lacewell said. "It was never what it appeared to be. We've had a good relationship for a long time. I'd really rather not get into it."

Switzer said, "Larry Lacewell is responsible for me being here. He had as much input in my becoming head coach as anyone."

Lacewell also said Switzer can do the job after five years away from the game.

"He is a player's coach, period. Always has been," he said.

Switzer's got one thing going for him in Dallas. The NCAA can't put the Cowboys on probation.

The future

The strange thing about Johnson's departure is that it may not have that big an impact on the Cowboys.

For the short time, the Cowboys should be very good even without Johnson. As long as they have Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, they're going to be formidable.

Their leadership qualities and their drive to win are key factors in the team's success. The way Smith played with a separated shoulder and Aikman came back from a concussion are examples.

Their reaction to the change was typical, too. While Michael Irvin threw a trash can, Aikman brushed off the fact he left Oklahoma when Switzer was there and Smith said there was no use moaning or groaning about it. They're still focused on the goal.

Jones could be right about one thing. When you've got Aikman and Smith, it may not make much difference who the coach is.

For the long term, though, the Cowboys will have the same problem they would have had if Johnson had stayed: Jones won't spend the money to keep a good organization in place.

vTC Jones runs the team with a skeleton, low-paid staff and that could cost the team down the line.

One of Johnson's complaints was that Jones skimped on his scouting staff, wearing the coaches out by expecting them to do too much in the draft. That could cost the Cowboys now that they don't have any more extra draft picks from the Herschel Walker trade.

Jones' approach worked for the short term when the Cowboys got Aikman and Smith, but it may not be successful over the long term.

The new era

Norv Turner, the Washington Redskins new coach, gets his first look at his new team Friday when he opens a weekend minicamp.

Not only will there be a lot of new faces in the coaching and player ranks, but many familiar ones such as Richie Petitbon, Larry Peccatiello, Jeff Bostic and Joe Jacoby will be missing as the team starts its first major transition since Joe Gibbs arrived as coach in 1981.

It'll also be interesting to see if the Redskins come up with a surprise free agent or two. The Redskins, who rarely announce their moves before word leaks out, haven't announced that defensive lineman Tony Woods of the Los Angeles Rams has signed, even though Woods says he signed a contract Thursday.

This could be quarterback Mark Rypien's last hurrah as a Redskin. It's hard to imagine them fitting his $3 million salary under the cap.

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