Switzer tales: Port Robertson is missed
College football players today are different from those of the 1970s. Barry Switzer says he thinks the drug culture changed the fabric of society somewhere around 1980. In other words, his later players dealt with a lot more than his earlier players.
“I wouldn’t be involved in football today,” said Gene Hochevar, Switzer’s assistant coach in the 1970s. “I don’t know how Bob Stoops does it.”
The reunion a week ago of Switzer’s ’70s-era players brought out a host of stories. But also introspection on how times have changed. Some for the bad, some for the good.
Coaches have changed, too.
“We should have been shot,” Hochevar said of how coaches treated players. “Nobody gets water. ‘What are you, a sissy?’”
Switzer called it the “Neanderthal” period. He thinks back to his Arkansas playing days, with all the head-first hitting of teammates and tackling dummies and now he labors with a bad back and a fused neck. “I wondered what all that popping was in my neck,” Switzer said. “I wanted to make the team. I was hitting an immovable object.” Recently, “a surgeon told me, ‘you don’t need to be in a car wreck.’”
Training rooms weren’t the palaces they are today. “You didn’t want a big training room,” Switzer said. “You don’t want 20 training tables. Then everybody gets hurt. Have 20 training tables, people think they’re supposed to get hurt.”
But not all the old thinking was backward thinking. The presence of a disciplinarian like Port Robertson never goes out of style. Robertson was the legendary OU wrestling coach and assistant football coach who eventually became the school’s athletic sheriff. Made sure guys went to class and stayed out of trouble.
No Sooner in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s wanted to run afoul of Port Robertson.
“Port would break their plate,” Hochevar said.
The coaches would enter the athletic dining hall and see who was washing dishes as punishment. “We called it ‘who’s in the Navy?’” Switzer said.
Switzer said Arkansas had a tough old coach like that, Wilson Matthews, who would go through the dorms and made the sure the rooms were tidy. If the bed wasn’t made, Matthews would grab up all the bedding, throw it in the floor, empty the closet of even clean and hung-up clothes and toss them in the pile, without caring whether they belonged to the roommate or not, and leave a note: “Clean this (crap) up or get out.”
Nowadays, not that many players live in athletic dorms. Mostly only freshmen. NCAA regulations prohibit dorms with at least 50 percent athletic occupancy.
“The thing I think college football is missing, we lived in one place,” said Thomas Lott, Switzer’s quarterback in 1976-78. “We ate together. We slept together. We cried together. When you go through those emotions … we were a family no matter what.”
Anyway, coaches like Port Robertson made players tough. Tough and wise.
Switzer tells the story of Mike Mullen, a linebacker who transferred to Tulane and eventually was drafted by the Dolphins. Switzer said Mullen was a talented player but didn’t know how to work, and Port Robertson was very tough on Mullen. But when OU built a new wrestling practice facility, Mullen donated to the project and even came for the dedication.
“He knew what Port meant,” Switzer said.
Players today, Switzer said, “bitch, go to the AD (athletic director). Get the coach fired.”
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