Dallas is Barry good, but is that good enough?

October 03, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

WASHINGTON -- Manilow. White. Goldwater. Larkin.

Pick a Barry. Any Barry.

The Cowboys could have beaten the Redskins with any of them doing the coaching yesterday.

Barry Foote. Barry Lyndon. Marion Barry. Perhaps even Drew Barrymore, the teen-age temptress.

It didn't matter who was drawing the X's and O's for the Cowboys yesterday. The Redskins were that inept. In the first half, they had 60 yards in penalties and 14 yards of offense, lost three fumbles in the shadow of their goal posts, completed three of 13 passes and were outscored 31-0.

Laurel, here they come!

"They are not a really strong football team right now," said Barry Switzer, the Barry who was coaching the Cowboys yesterday.

The Cowboys won't have it so easy on most Sundays as they try to become the first team to win three Super Bowls in a row. The 49ers and Giants and Montanas are out there. The Cowboys will need to be intent, sharp and consistent. They'll need their Barry, ol' Dr. Wishbone himself, to coach them intelligently and coax them into another round of championship performances.

Either that or they'll need to ignore him and win in spite of him.

Switzer's predecessor, Jimmy Johnson, drove the team hard. He was intense, relentless, cold. He kept the players on edge with such motivational tricks as guaranteeing a victory before the NFC title game last year.

"He would use the press to get to us," Cowboys safety Bill Bates said yesterday. "We always worried about what he was going to say about us in public."

Switzer is Johnson's polar opposite, a genial uncle-ish personality who fosters a relaxed environment. His Oklahoma teams were the loosest in college football. A son of poverty, he related naturally to his players, rarely criticized them and demanded little of them. Too little, in some cases.

Switzer had been out of coaching for five years when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones called him last March, but he has revived his old style with the Cowboys. No more mind games or subtle button-pushing. "It's a lot different now in that respect," Bates said.

The question is whether Switzer's style is the right one to use on a team for which overconfidence might be the biggest obstacle. The Cowboys believe their hype at this point, as well they should. But doesn't that mean they need to be pushed instead of stroked? Aren't they setting themselves up to become self-satisfied, and fail?

Remember, Switzer could get away with his loose style at Oklahoma because his team was twice as talented as the opposition. That's not the case in the homogeneous NFL, where most teams have pretty much the same talent.

"Personally, I don't think it matters what the coach's style is," linebacker Darrin Smith said yesterday. "Players win and lose games. A player has to be ready [to play] regardless of what the coach says or does."

Yet a coach can have a profound impact on a team. Johnson was proof of that. As tense as he made life for his players, he was popular with them because of his open disdain for Jones. The players, who believe Jones is cheap, loved Johnson for his willingness to go to bat for them in their squabbles with the boss. They played furiously for him.

Switzer, whom Jones hired specifically not to cause trouble, will engender no such loyalty.

No, it's not an easy situation for Switzer. His staff of assistants was assembled by Johnson. He had no experience in the pro game before this year. His players are loyal to his predecessor, with whom they won two titles.

If he wins, he will hear that the Cowboys can win with anyone as coach. That might indeed be the case. And if he doesn't win, he will hear that he couldn't match Johnson's standard.

Yet his players seemingly began to sympathize more with Switzer when Johnson started taking shots at him from the TV studio these past few weeks. It was a cheap stunt.

"It made the players want to say, 'Well, let's forget Jimmy and play for Barry,' " Bates said.

But doesn't that mean that Johnson is still the coach motivating the Cowboys? Nate Newton, the Cowboys' voluble guard, just laughed at the suggestion.

"Listen, we love them both," he said. "We love Jimmy for what he did for us. We love Barry for what he's going to do for us. And we're even starting to love Mr. Jones a little bit."

After the game yesterday, Switzer stood at a podium in front of a horde of reporters. He was tanned and sweaty and happy. He called his players "the squad," as a good college coach should. He wore a huge, bright-red ring symbolizing one of the national championship teams he coached at Oklahoma. He joked a lot. He clapped his hands. He said he had told his place-kicker, who hit the post twice, to eat more Wheaties.

Jimmy Johnson was a million miles away.

"We're going to get a whole lot better," Switzer said.

But just how much?

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