NORMAN — Can you imagine Tony Dungy as Oklahoma’s quarterback in the mid-1970s, running the wishbone offense?
It could’ve happened, Barry Switzer said, had the NCAA not imposed scholarship restrictions in January 1973.
I interviewed Switzer late in the summer for a package about the rule changes in the early 1970s that, first, allowed freshmen eligibility in football and men’s basketball and, second, restricted the number of scholarships football programs could offer.
A couple stories about the changes ran in The Oklahoman on Sunday, Aug. 26, but there were several leftover — and very cool —anecdotes from Switzer and others I interviewed that I didn’t have room for. Then, the season started and I got busy.
But over the next couple weeks, I’ll be posting some of those stories here on the OU blog. The first is about the Super Bowl-winning coach who could’ve been a Sooner.
Back before the rule changes, when Chuck Fairbanks was head coach and Switzer was still offensive coordinator, the Sooners had “eight or nine teams of depth” and “over 200 kids dressed out,” Switzer said.
Back before the NCAA mandated a 30-scholarship limit, the Big Eight Conference allowed its schools 45 each year — and, if they weren’t all used, up to five scholarships could be banked for the next year, or five could be borrowed from the next year.
Switzer said the higher limit allowed coaches to take chances on players, and to recruit more players from around the country.
“We had to be more selective with the 30 limit,” Switzer said.
In January 1973, just before the NCAA scholarship limit came down, Switzer was still OU’s offensive coordinator and on a recruiting trip in Michigan, where he was impressed by a running quarterback from Parkside High School in Jackson, Mich.
“I was recruiting Tony Dungy, and I got this call. Chuck (Fairbanks) said, ‘Come on home,’” Switzer said. “The rule went into effect immediately, so our sack was full.
“I was in Detroit to talk to players up in that area, and because you had 50 scholarships, you could go lots of places. You could take a shot with kids around the country.”
Later in January 1973, Fairbanks left to become the New England Patriots’ head coach and Switzer took over.
Dungy came to Minnesota expected to be a run-first quarterback, and early on, that’s what he was. He earned his first start on Oct. 6, 1973 — his 18th birthday — at home against No. 2 Nebraska.
By his junior season, Minnesota installed a pass-first offense, and Dungy ended his college career ranked fourth all-time in the Big Ten for total offense.
After a few seasons playing in the NFL — he was part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 1979 Super Bowl title team — he began his coaching career, eventually leading the Indianapolis Colts to a win in Super Bowl XLI.
“I was excited about him, because he was a good option quarterback,” Switzer said of Dungy. “He might’ve been our quarterback here. He was really interested.”