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Barry Switzer went down this road before

BERRY TRAMEL — Former OU football coach had to replace his defensive coordinator in the 1980s. The move took a while to pay off, but it eventually worked out for the best.
by Berry Tramel Published: January 14, 2012

Barry Switzer had a defensive coordinator. Even had a defensive coordinator he liked.

But Switzer wanted someone else for the job.

Sound familiar?

Mike Stoops has returned to OU as co-defensive coordinator, and while the details don't exactly match what happened in Soonerville 31 years ago, the bullet points are the same.

In January 1981, Switzer promoted 28-year-old Gary Gibbs to defensive coordinator, demoting Rex Norris.

“It was a tough decision,” Switzer said Saturday. “I hated it. But those are the decisions you have to make as a head coach.”

Such were the decisions Bob Stoops made in recent days.

Fired an assistant coach, Willie Martinez, for the first time in 13 years at Oklahoma. Gone is Stoops' reputation of absolute loyalty.

Brought back his brother as co-defensive coordinator, wounding the status, if not the morale, of longtime lieutenant Brent Venables.

“Mike and Brent have worked together before,” Switzer said. “They'll handle this. I don't want Brent to leave.”

Neither does Bob Stoops, who is taking great pains to soothe the transition for Venables.

And Switzer didn't want Norris to leave, either.

Thirty-one years ago, Southern Cal came after Gibbs. USC dangled its defensive coordinator job in front of the coaching prodigy. Switzer didn't want to lose Gibbs, especially to USC, since the Sooners were scheduled to play the Trojans in 1981 and 1982.

So Switzer elevated Gibbs. Norris expressed support for the move but a few days later resigned to take a job with a New Mexico oil company.

Switzer held open the job. Three weeks later, Norris returned, with a new title (assistant head coach in charge of defense; Merv Johnson already was OU's assistant head coach), but Gibbs remained the defensive coordinator.

“That was a tough decision,” Switzer said. “I don't think similar to what this is here.”

Well, if Switzer means Gary Gibbs isn't his brother, OK. But the human condition mirrors, even to the point that Gibbs and Venables were players under the other coaches involved (Switzer and Norris for Gibbs, both Stoopses for Venables).

The Brothers Stoops are adamant that responsibilities haven't been hashed out. Mike Stoops and Venables worked great together from 1999 through 2003 as co-coordinators. But someone has to make the final decision; Mike Stoops was the triggerman when they worked together earlier. Is there any doubt that he would be again?

The sitting defensive coordinator has to relinquish his post.

The Gibbs/Norris switch paid off long-term. Not short-term. The first three seasons after the switch, 1981-83, were the worst of Switzer's career. OU lost nine games Switzer's first eight seasons. Then OU lost 12 in Gibbs' first three years as defensive coordinator.

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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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