NORMAN — The first five years that Barry Switzer no longer was the Oklahoma football coach seemed longer than the next 20.
“The older you get, the faster it goes,” Switzer said Thursday, the 25th anniversary of the day he resigned. The Switzer era ended June 19, 1989.
Twenty-five 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.
Oh, sure, OU has restored the tradition under Bob Stoops. But it took awhile to get to Stoops. Nine years wandering in the wilderness. Only three bowl games. Five straight non-winning seasons for a school unaccustomed to a single-digit victory totals.
Meanwhile, there was Switzer, coaching the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory, acting in Hollywood movies, joining with old foe Jimmy Johnson on the FOX NFL set, dabbling in businesses galore, talking all the way, unfiltered, with that Arkie/Okie charm.
“It’s been a packed 25 years,” Switzer said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I had a friend tell me one time, there’s a life outside of football, and you’re going to like it. He was right.”
That friend was Donnie Duncan, who 25 years ago was the OU athletic director and not the administrator who sought Switzer’s ouster. That came from higher up, and 25 years later, Switzer still bristles at the events that led to leaving the job for which he was made.
The scandals of late 1988/early 1989, Switzer can accept. The NCAA probation, and the lawless antics of several players. But the threats and accusations he remembers from the fateful meeting in the OU president’s office, of gambling on football games and manipulating OU’s drug-testing program, still anger Switzer.
Switzer retells the story of looking at interim president David Swank, outside legal counsel Andy Coats and regents chairman Ron White and declaring, “Let me tell you something; if this bull---- was true, the FBI would have knocked on my door a long time ago.”
Twenty-five years later, Switzer still doesn’t know if he did the right thing. Still isn’t sure whether he should have resigned or fought for his job.
“I did the right thing for the university,” he says. “I had run out of gas.”
But a few moments later, he turns wistful. “I’ve often thought about it; I shouldn’t have ever resigned,” Switzer said. “I believe in myself, I believe in our staff. I believe we would have continued to win. We’ll never know.”
All these years later, he still feels sorry for leaving Steve Collins, an option quarterback recruited to run the wishbone. “He never got to play in the system we recruited him for,” Switzer said. “He was in the wrong system, the wrong time, the wrong location.
“I think of the players I left. I’ve often thought of that. We would have been successful.”
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 (newsok.com),” 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 newsok.com/berrytramel.