NORMAN — If someone mentions “the King” in the Sooner state, Oklahomans don't think of Elvis Presley, they think of legendary football coach Barry Switzer.
Nicknamed the King, Switzer was honored before Saturday's game. A Switzer statue was unveiled alongside former OU coaching legends Bennie Owen and Bud Wilkinson.
“I forget to say in my speech I outlived my statue,” Switzer said, smiling. “This is a tribute to all my players and coaches. No one has won like they won during that era.”
The winningest coach in OU history, Switzer captured three national titles and 12 conference titles. He compiled a 157-29-4 record, including 100-11-1 in conference play.
Switzer told the story how he anxiously waited two days in late January 1973 after Chuck Fairbanks left for the New England Patriots.
“I got a nine-month contract,” Switzer said. “I told them, ‘That's all I need with the players that I've got.'”
Before he coached his first game, Big Eight commissioner Chuck Neinas informed Switzer the Sooners were being placed on three years probation with no bowl in 1973 and '74. Switzer informed his coaches and players in a team meeting.
“I'll never forget telling them they didn't tell us we couldn't win,” Switzer said. “I told them, ‘We might not be in bowl games. We might not be on TV. But whoever represents the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl is going to be the second best team in the conference.'”
Because of their 40-year relationship, Switzer selected Neinas, the interim Big 12 commissioner, to introduce him at the ceremony. Neinas read a poem ending with the lines:
The man has more than his share of championship rings
but those who know him it is the joy of his personality that he brings.
So as we prepare to unveil his statue and make merry
let's all stand and salute a great coach and better friend named Barry.
Former Switzer players, assistant coaches, his wife, two sons, daughter and nine grandchildren, who call him “Grumpy,” attended Saturday's ceremony.
“Years after they left this campus he'd give his players the shirt off his back if they needed it,” said OU president David Boren. “That's Barry Switzer. That's the great heart he has. It's not just because of his strategic grasp of football but it's also because every player knew he loved them.”
Neinas for years helped connect schools with football coaches and athletic directors, including bringing Bob Stoops and Joe Castiglione to OU.
“Barry asked me one time if I would serve as a character witness for him,” Neinas said. “I said, “Barry, that's the easiest job I've ever had. Everyone knows you're a character.' Barry brings joy wherever he is... a friend to the world. Arkansas born and bred but now he is Oklahoma red.”
The statue is of Switzer is from his early years as head coach.
“I had so many family members in town I was a nervous wreck just trying to get everything organized the past few days,” Switzer said. “Once we got here, settled down and the ceremony got started I realized how special a day it is.”