Give low-key Switzer credit for honesty

January 17, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

Here's betting that the Dallas Cowboys will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl. By at least two touchdowns.

And here's betting that Cowboys coach Barry Switzer won't follow up the big win by writing a self-help business book detailing his management style and how to apply it in the business world.

A lot of sports figures are writing such books these days. Even marginal NFL coaches such as Minnesota's Dennis Green have published their advice to CEOs. Heaven help the stockholders.

If Switzer wrote such a book, he could call it "Fourth-and-One: When Everyone Thinks You're a Fool and a Few of Them are Right."

Alas, the public doesn't seem to be crying out for advice from Coach Barry.

The popular belief is that Switzer is just along for the ride on a team driven by Emmitt, Troy, Michael and Deion. There is some truth in that perception, no doubt.

If someone pushed a magic button one day and Switzer dramatically vanished from the sidelines in a puff of smoke, the Cowboys would carry on just fine. Troy would pass to Michael, Emmitt would run 25 times, Deion would dance around after routine incompletions and the Cowboys would be hard to handle. Do they really need a coach?

The players might not even realize Switzer was gone unless they needed someone to order a pizza.

But you know what? There is something refreshing about Switzer's downsized role in the Cowboys' success. Without a self-proclaimed genius around to raise his arms in triumph and take all the credit, the players themselves are getting the credit. How controversial.

Coaches are fond of taking the credit these days, of course. The football and basketball landscapes in particular are littered with egos large enough to block out the sun.

BPat Riley. Steve Spurrier. Rick Pitino. Bill Walsh. John Calipari. Bill Parcells. Jimmy Johnson. What do they have in common? If you could hear their innermost thoughts, you would hear this: "My players ain't nothing without me."

They're all good coaches who deserve credit for winning, but their self-important act is much too rich to swallow. Riley has fallen so in love with himself and his motivational "secrets" that he now gives speeches instead of actually conversing with people. I wonder if Bimbo Coles can really relate to "the warrior within."

The problem with all this garble is that the players get left out of the recipe for success, and that just isn't right. Coaches are important and even critical, but the players do the winning and losing. Look at what has happened to Parcells in New England. So, it turns out he isn't quite the visionary without Lawrence Taylor. Shhh. Don't tell.

But sports are so big and popular these days that dweebs in suits are climbing all over each other to buy into any successful coach's management philosophy. It's a cool thing to do.

And now, along comes Barry.

The anti-Riley.

The guy has taken a lot of heat in two years in Dallas, and he will continue to take it even if he beats the Steelers in the Super Bowl. He is what he is, a good recruiter who could sweet-talk mamas and coach the heck out of the wishbone 20 years ago.

He got his job for one reason only: Because he promised not to try to steal the thunder from Jerry Jones.

But I applaud him for keeping himself and his job in perspective.

"This stuff isn't that difficult, you know," he said one day last week. "It's football. It's pretty straightforward. People like to make it more complicated than it is. There is only so much a coach can do."

No, Switzer doesn't coach much. His offensive coordinator calls the plays. His defensive coordinator sets the defense. Switzer is responsible for managing the clock and the timeouts, and getting the players fired up. That's it.

No, it's not a heavy workload. But you know something? It's the same workload Johnson had in Dallas. Exactly the same. Johnson delegated to his coordinators. Johnson did the firing up. That was it.

The difference is that Johnson talked a great game, particularly when it came to explaining how important he was. And so today Johnson is a self-proclaimed genius and Switzer is the butt of jokes across the football nation.

But at least Switzer is honest.

"I'm just a football coach with a bunch of great players," he said last week.

Imagine that.

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