Switzer's Reputation Is a Little Misleading

Associated Press

From his glitzy won-loss record to his pull-no-punches style of football, Barry Switzer is a breed apart.

No other college football coach has a better record by percentage than the 126-24-4 mark Switzer compiled in 13 seasons at Oklahoma.

No other college football coach can boast three national titles. Switzer got his third New Year's night with a 25-10 victory over previously unbeaten Penn State in the Orange Bowl.

And no other college football coach has Switzer's style and reputation.

He's perceived as the free-wheeling cowboy--black hat, guns drawn--who lives life in the fast lane, barreling past everything that gets in his way.

Loosey-goosey, that's Switzer. That's his team, too.

"That's a label we're always going to have," he said. "You get stuck with something and it never changes. That's just our personality, that's just the way our kids are. I don't see anything wrong with it."

What people do not see is Switzer away from the football field--the Switzer who spends more time in film rooms and upgrading the academic standards of his players.

Age and maturity have changed the man, but the label sticks.

"I'm getting too damned old to have such a good time," said the 48-year-old coach the morning after his Orange Bowl victory in Miami. "I used to have a better time than I do now. I didn't make 'All-Hospitality Room' this year, I'll promise you."

Football is Switzer's passion. He says he is driven to succeed by the memory of a difficult, poor childhood in rural Arkansas, where his mother committed suicide and his father, an occasional bootlegger, was killed in a car wreck.

If his methods offend, so be it.

"I think at times in my life I've worried about what people thought of me, but not any more," he said. "There are only a few people who are close to you, and it's what they think that matters."

Switzer played football at the University of Arkansas, where he was a captain on the 1959 team that won the Southwest Conference and Gator Bowl championship. He came to Oklahoma in 1966 after a stint as an Arkansas assistant, and was named offensive coordinator in 1967. Three years later he was assistant head coach under Chuck Fairbanks and in 1973 he stepped into the top job.

Switzer, cocky and brash, directed the Sooners to 28 straight victories and 39 games without a loss. After three seasons he had two national championship teams, in 1974 and 1975.

There have been more difficult times for Switzer. He went through a divorce, a court trial that acquitted him on a charge of defrauding the government in a stock deal, and he was arrested for drunken driving.

Meanwhile, he went through three straight four-loss seasons from 1981-83 that resulted in his rollover five-year contract being sliced to four years. Switzer and the program appeared to be reeling.

But just two years later, Switzer is sizzling again.

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