Jones: The Sooner the better


Pro football people laughed when Jerry Jones said in a hotel bar March 21 that he was ready to replace Jimmy Johnson as coach of the Dallas Cowboys with Barry Switzer.

They brushed it off as just barroom talk until yesterday when Jones -- a day after paying off Johnson to leave -- named Switzer the Cowboys' head coach.

"It's amazing," said Bob Ackles, the director of college scouting for the Arizona Cardinals who was present for the infamous toast that started the sequence of events that led to Johnson's departure.

Nobody thought Jones was serious because of all the baggage Switzer brings to the job. He's never coached in the pros and hasn't been in football since 1989, when he was fired as coach at the University of Oklahoma amid charges his program, headed for NCAA probation, was out of control.

Three Sooners players were charged with rape, another was charged with shooting a teammate and the starting quarterback, who also broke into Switzer's house and stole a trophy case with 25 conference, bowl and national championship rings in it, went to jail on a drug conviction.

Switzer also used the wishbone offense and ran the ball 87 percent of the time and had a reputation of being more of a recruiter than a coach. He even lost quarterback Troy Aikman, who transferred from Oklahoma to UCLA so he could run a pro-style offense.

In his book, "The Boz," former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth said, "Switzer can't be a coach. He's a PR man, a hand-shaker, a TV show host and the best recruiter in the country."

Even Switzer, who signed a five-year, $5 million contract, seemed surprised.

"This is what I always dreamed about," he said at yesterday's news conference. "I never thought that I would ever have the opportunity to do this, to be honest with you. I thought my time had passed, but being in the right place at the right time, we all know is the key in anything."

Switzer was in the right place because he was available and he fit Jones' criteria. He's a proven winner, winning three national championships while going 157-29-4 in 16 years at Oklahoma and he has an Arkansas background. He played at the school and was assistant coach there when Jones and Johnson played there.

Switzer was quick to say he won't make any major changes. Ernie Zampese, who replaced Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator Butch Davis will handle the X's and O's.

Aikman called Switzer "the best motivator I've ever been around," and predicted he'll have a good rapport with the players. "I think they'll respond to him," Aikman said.

Running back Emmitt Smith, who said last week that firing Johnson would be like firing him, said, "I'm going to have to be here anyway, so there's no use me moaning and groaning about it."

The player with the most hostile reaction was wide receiver Michael Irvin, who played for Johnson at the University of Miami. He threw a trash can toward reporters and refused to comment.

Switzer isn't likely to squabble with Jones the way Johnson did. He's just happy to have a football job.

When reporters asked who was going to be the general manager, Jones said, "It'll work exactly like it's worked since 1989."

Switzer then said, "I don't really know why this is an issue here."

When Jones was asked if he has the final say in the draft, he said, "With about 30 others around here."

Switzer said that Jones first called him last week, but Jones said he made his first call Monday.

Switzer then said, "I can't remember exactly which day it was."

The one thing Jones and Switzer have in common is that they both want to show they can win without Johnson. When he was at Miami for five years, Johnson handed Switzer his only loss three years in a row, including the 1988 Orange Bowl for the national championship.

This job also will give Switzer a chance to polish his reputation. In his book, "Bootlegger's Boy," Switzer said the renegade image of the Oklahoma team was exaggerated.

"The media made it seem as if our entire squad was running around like a blood-crazed horde plundering the countryside," he said.

The forward of the book was written by Penn State's Joe Paterno, who has a squeaky clean image, but called Switzer a "friend" and praised him for "loyalty, a lack of hypocrisy, a warmth for young people. . . ."

Switzer, 56, will be judged on whether he can keep the Cowboys on top as they go for the third straight Super Bowl.

New York Giants coach Dan Reeves said: "I just think that when you've been successful on one level, there's no reason why you can't be successful on another level."

Reeves, though, added it could be a problem for Switzer to adjust to his five-year absence from the game.

"The game changes constantly and you have to stay on top of the changes. But he has a good staff there. The biggest thing he will have to do is restore the feeling the players had with Jimmy,"

Reeves said.


Barry Switzer, named yesterday as Jimmy Johnson's replacement as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, coached for 16 seasons at Oklahoma. Some key stats from his college coaching career:

* Overall record : 157-29-4

* Bowl record: 8-5

* National championships: 1974 (11-0), 1975 (11-1), 1985 (11-1)

% * Top 10 finishes: 13

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