Switzer won't confuse where he is with what he's doing SUPER BOWL XXX

January 25, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

TEMPE, ARIZ — TEMPE, Ariz. -- Not that it's a big deal or anything, but five days before the biggest game of his life, shouldn't Barry Switzer know where he is?

Asked yesterday about the importance of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, Switzer said, "That's why we're at the Orange Bowl."

The Orange Bowl?

"The Big Orange Bowl," Switzer corrected.

Obviously, the former Oklahoma coach is so busy with X's and O's, he can't remember every detail.

Orange Bowl, Super Bowl, whatever.

"It's not hard to be a football coach, especially when you've done it for 30 years," Switzer told reporters. "It's overrated.

"You guys are the ones who make them all into geniuses and gurus. That's your fault. When they start to believe it, that's their fault."

Switzer, 58, has no reason to believe it -- few even consider him a coach, much less a genius.

What is he?

Ask a man who has known him since 1953, a man who played against him, worked for him, even lost his wife to him -- briefly.

Ask Larry Lacewell.

Lacewell, 58, was Switzer's defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, then a head coach at Arkansas State. Now, as Cowboys director of scouting, he's still dumbfounded by Switzer's approach.

"It ain't Bear Bryant," Lacewell said. "I can assure you of that."

Switzer is the anti-coach, a threat to clipboard toters everywhere. As Lacewell put it: "He's always done things different than anybody I've ever known." Different isn't all bad, though. Different did get the Cowboys back to the Super Bowl.

Switzer, Lacewell, Jimmy Johnson -- they were all on Chuck Fairbanks' staff at Oklahoma in the late '60s and early '70s. Switzer saved all of their jobs once. Switzer won three national championships. Remember?

"His style works," Lacewell said. "I won't argue with it. It's not my style. I'm a butt-chewer. Jimmy was, too. But I didn't win as many games as Switzer."

Not the most ringing endorsement, but Lacewell isn't about to portray Switzer as another Bill Walsh. Lacewell worked for Bryant, for Fairbanks, for Johnny Majors. Switzer is unlike any of them.

Lacewell recalled that when Oklahoma would prepare to play an inferior team, the assistants would spend the entire week building up the opposition, trying to convince the players they were facing a legitimate threat.

Switzer would have none of it.

"He'd come in Friday and say, 'I want the first team to hang half a hundred on 'em in the first half so they can get out of there and the second team could play,' " Lacewell said. "As an assistant, you're saying, 'God almighty.' "

Half a hundred.

Now, that's coaching.

It's not as if Switzer lacks football acumen -- "he understands when Leon Lett gets trapped," Lacewell said reassuringly. But perhaps his greatest strategic move came when he was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.

And even that was a gamble.

The year was 1970. Oklahoma was off to a poor start. Switzer persuaded Fairbanks to switch to the wishbone offense -- a daring, desperate move, coming as it did in the middle of the season.

"In a year and a half's time, we had the most prolific rushing offense in the world," Lacewell said. "People forget that."

People also forget that when Switzer took over for Fairbanks in 1973, the pressure was similar to when he replaced Johnson in Dallas. The results were similar, too. Oklahoma won 28 straight games, and went 37 straight without a defeat.

"You coach 'em, I'll leave you alone," that's what Switzer told his assistants, even then. Lacewell found his hands-off style curious -- "I was always the kind to want people to think I was coaching." It later resulted in Switzer's demise, when the program grew out of control.

His record is above reproach -- he's 184-38-4 in the colleges and pros, including postseason.

His lifestyle is another matter.

Lacewell left Oklahoma in 1977 after his wife, Criss, became involved with Switzer. After a separation, the Lacewells reconciled. Switzer is now divorced, with three children. Lacewell did not object to his hiring in Dallas.

"It wasn't as bad as people ever thought. It was something that lasted not too long, and was over with," Lacewell said. "Everything that happened is 20 years ago. I'm an old man now."

And Switzer has mellowed some. Yesterday, he revealed that his ex-wife will be his guest at the Super Bowl.

"My daughter asked her if she wanted to come," Switzer said. "She said, 'I lived with that mmm-mmm-mmm 22 years, I guess I can come to the Super Bowl.'

"I said, 'Come on, I'll put a rollaway in for you.' They took out the dining table in my suite. I've got four rollaways."

That Barry. Such a romantic.

Switzer's ex-wife might dislike him, but the same can't be said of his ex-players. Lacewell said that from a white Heisman Trophy winner (Steve Owens in 1969) to a black Heisman winner nine years later (Billy Sims) to a current Oklahoma congressman (J. C. Watts), they adore him.

Ditto for the Cowboys, or at least, most of them. They didn't second-guess him after he blew the fourth-and-one call in Philadelphia. And they've rallied around him in the playoffs.

What would winning the Super Bowl mean to him?

"It would prove that his style didn't screw it up," Lacewell said. "I know Barry wouldn't sit here and say, I thought we had to do this, I told him to run that. But I think he'd like to say to everyone -- the coaching profession, in general -- that there is another way to skin a cat."

He sure ain't Bear Bryant.

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