Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pushed coach Barry Switzer out the door with a pat on the back yesterday.
In what was announced as a resignation, Jones hailed Switzer as one of the 17 coaches to have a Super Bowl victory on his resume. He also noted that Switzer won 45 games and three division titles in four years. Switzer was 40-24 (.625) in the regular season and 5-2 in the playoffs.
"He had the toughness to walk into a situation that was as great a challenge as any football coach ever faced in the NFL. Barry Switzer was the right man for the right time," Jones said.
Despite the kind words, it was obvious that Switzer was fired. The team lost its final five games and seven of its last nine to finish 6-10.
"We have come to the realization we must chart a fresh and new path in returning this team to the level of success our fans demand of being a Super Bowl team," Jones said. "I have an image of the new coach real clear and good."
Asked if his own image fit, Jones laughed and said, "No. Not me."
Jones, who has been in the midst of the NFL TV negotiations, seems in no hurry to hire a new coach since those talks have reached a critical stage.
Speculation centers on former San Francisco 49ers coach George Seifert, whose coaching contract ends with the team on Feb. 1; Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak; Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Jon Gruden; University of Miami coach Butch Davis, a former Cowboys assistant, and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Campo. Other possibilities include former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz; former UCLA coach Terry Donahue; Colorado's Rick Neuheisel and Louisiana State's Gerry DiNardo.
Cowboys sources told one newspaper that Jones intends to keep his defensive coaching staff.
"I have a great plan, one that will work. I want someone with magic, spark, a good touch, someone who can energize the team. Those are very important ingredients and I will find that type of individual," he said.
Seifert and Jones reportedly have had dinner with each other on both coasts during the season.
"I will not divulge my interview process. The only speculation can come from me. If you see speculation, and it didn't come from me, then you can dismiss it."
Switzer, 60, wasn't at the news conference. He declined interviews with the Dallas Morning News, but spoke to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
He said he felt "relief."
"I knew it was time [to resign] with about two games left," he said, noting that he wanted an announcement at season's end.
Switzer had tried to get into Valley Ranch earlier in the day, but he couldn't get his access code to work and was denied entry until someone heard him banging on the door.
"This is the way Barry wanted it, and under the circumstances, we wanted to honor his wishes," Jones said of Switzer's absence at the news conference.
After the last game, Switzer said, "I told Jerry he should get rid of the whole bunch of us."
Jones had hired Johnson out of the University of Miami after he bought the team in 1989 and fired Tom Landry, who had coached the team for 29 seasons.
Johnson built a team that won consecutive Super Bowls in 1992-1993, but his and Jones' egos clashed. Johnson chafed at what he perceived to be Jones' meddling, and Jones wanted to be given credit for the team's success.
After a blowup between the two, Johnson resigned and received a $2 million severance check. Jones and Switzer disagreed on the status of Switzer's buyout.
"Barry will not have a capacity within the organization," Jones said. "We settled on his contract. I've known him for 37 years. We will still have a friendship. His ledger is square with me."
But Switzer said: "We haven't talked about it. That's something we'll do later. I'm still on the payroll."
After Johnson left, Jones hired Switzer, who had been fired five years earlier at Oklahoma when his players were involved in several off-the-field incidents.
The easygoing Switzer never challenged Jones. The owner liked that, but things reached a point where even some players complained about the team's lack of discipline -- on and off the field.
Switzer even contributed to those problems when he was arrested and charged for carrying a gun in his luggage into the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in August. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was fined $3,500 and 80 hours of community service.
Despite coaching the team to the Super Bowl title in the 1995 season, Switzer had little credibility as an NFL coach and Jones admitted as much.
"Barry had a lot of criticism from the very beginning and I've got to make sure this coach is not saddled with that kind of criticism when he comes in," Jones said. "That's possibly my biggest challenge. I get it big time."
Jones declined to discuss details of his coaching search. But he did say the new coach must understand that Jones is in charge. Jones pointed out that he missed only four or five practices last year. And he already has committed to changing the defensive scheme to a 3-4 alignment.
"It will be someone who can work within a system that works. The philosophy we have and how we approach football is why we've had three Super Bowl wins [since he bought the team]," he said. "I'm in charge of all football operations. I bought the Cowboys to manage and run the Cowboys."
(Switzer's record, 8C)
Pub Date: 1/10/98