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Barry Switzer is living a good life 25 years after he resigned as OU football coach

It’s been 25 years since the bombshell dropped in the Santee Lounge above OU’s Memorial Stadium. A quarter century that was much kinder to Switzer than it was to the Sooners.
by Berry Tramel Published: June 19, 2014

/articleid/4946661/1/pictures/2802769">Photo - Under the heat of TV lights, Barry Switzer displays an array of emotions during a June 19, 1989 press conference during which he resigned as head coach at the University of Oklahoma. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, The Oklahoman Archives
Under the heat of TV lights, Barry Switzer displays an array of emotions during a June 19, 1989 press conference during which he resigned as head coach at the University of Oklahoma. PHOTO BY STEVE SISNEY, The Oklahoman Archives

In Switzer’s 1990 autobiography, Bootlegger’s Boy, he wrote that he recommended both Merv Johnson and Gary Gibbs to replace him. And Duncan has said forever that he chose Gibbs.

But Switzer now says that he recommended Johnson, his long-time assistant head coach. “My guy was Merv Johnson,” Switzer said. “He loved our players. Hell of a man. Hell of a football coach.” Switzer says the regents got behind Gibbs and it became a political issue. Switzer says Duncan told him that if Gibbs wasn’t named, “everybody’s going to lose their job. That’s how the university administration lined up.”

So who knows? Gibbs had a lot of rebuilding to do but also made some mistakes. He was forced out after six seasons and a 44-23-2 record.

“I was disappointed,” Switzer said. “I’m not taking anything away from Gary. Gary is a great football coach, coaching is his life and love, and that’s all he cares about doing. I don’t think he ever wants to do anything else. I’ve worried about Gary making some decisions to affect the team.”

Primarily, Gibbs’ decision to fire defensive backs coach Bobby Proctor, the only staff member on all 16 of Switzer’s teams. “I knew what impact that had,” Switzer said. “Bobby and Merv recruited the state of Oklahoma.”

Switzer said he recalls a conversation with former Tulsa World sports editor Bill Connors, when Switzer was in Dallas coaching the Cowboys. “Didn’t have internet, didn’t have OPUBCO (,” Switzer said. “I couldn’t keep up with what was going (on). I asked Bill, ‘What in the hell has happened to Oklahoma?’”

Connors told Switzer that the top 25 ranked teams that particular season included 17 starters from Oklahoma. Good ballplayers were leaving the state.

“Recruiting’s so important,” Switzer said. “You gotta recruit your own state.”

Then came Howard Schnellenberger and John Blake and things only got worse. Switzer shakes his head at the Schnellenberger story of taking R.W. McQuarters’ cap off his head during a recruiting visit. McQuarters, as good a player as this state has produced in 30 years, went to Oklahoma State.

Switzer recalls talking to Tom Osborne after Nebraska pinned back-to-back routs of 69-7 and 73-21 on Blake’s Sooners.

“I asked Tom, what’s wrong?” Switzer said. “He said, ‘Coach, they’re not the same team you had.’ These kids don’t believe. When things start not going their way, they cave in.”

Meanwhile, Switzer went 40-24 as the Dallas coach, and his 1995 Cowboys won the Super Bowl. The Cowboys came as a godsend.

“I was kind of lost as to what I wanted to do professionally, get involved in private business, getting my feet on the ground,” Switzer said. “I wasn’t in a hurry. I had income.”

After Dallas, Switzer wasn’t so lost.

“I just really got interested in some other things,” Switzer said. “Today I’m involved in so many damn companies. I’ve met coaches, all they can do is coach. That wasn’t the way for me. I’ve surrounded myself with good people, a good team. I’ve done pretty good.”

Doing pretty good still, 25 years after a fateful day.

Switzer recalls calling his kids, then in their 20s, home from Arkansas when he decided to resign. He told them a day or two before the announcement.

Doug, his youngest son, was relieved. “I thought you were dying,” Doug told him as they all had a laugh.

Not by a longshot. Switzer was down on June 19, 1989. He didn’t stay down long. It’s been a good 25 years.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at

Collection: #BarrySwitzer

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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