We spoke with former Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer this past Thursday about college football playoffs, modern offenses and the requirements for playing him in a movie of his life.
Spencer Hall: Have you been following the college football playoff debate at all?
Barry Switzer: Has it been in the papers lately that they wanted to go quickly to a four-game playoff?
SH: Yeah, in 2014 they're going to go to a four-game playoff of some sort.
BS: The first thing is that the Big 12 and the SEC are kind of the impetus for making this happen, don't you think? They talked about having our champion playing their champion, and therefore those two teams playing might have already have won a national title in some polls. Obviously, they need to have a playoff right away or they lose that. They gotta make a decision to get on board and make this thing happen. The public wants to see it, the fans want to see it, obviously, and I think most coaches want to see it, too.
SH: The central problem between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 pairing versus the Big 12 and the SEC is how those four teams are selected. The Big Ten and Pac-12 want a championship requirement to eliminate bumping teams up by conference reputation, and thus getting what we had in the LSU-Alabama matchup in the BCS this past season. The Big Ten and Pac-12 say the championships should matter here. Do they?
BS: Well, lemme ask you something. You say they want to avoid the LSU-Alabama situation, but I'm gonna tell you: Alabama deserved to be the national champion. When they played again, Alabama proved it. A lot of times, a team with one loss is better than some undefeated teams. I think what Bobby Bowden was talking about is as good as anything, bringing in a group of experts to do it. I think you need people that have coached the game, have spent 30 or 40 years in the game, and know the game to be a part of it.
It's a difficult formula to work out, but we ought to look at every available opportunity to bring about the best format. Obviously, that's a difficult one to figure out right now. You brought something to light I hadn't even thought about: avoiding rematches. I don't even know how you keep from doing that -- because sometimes the best team doesn't always win.
I've been in rematches. I fumbled nine times and lost six as an undefeated against Nebraska that day in 1978. I had the best team in the country, No. 1, undefeated, leading in every category offensively and defensively. I get a rematch against Nebraska, I don't lose a fumble, I got 'em 31-10 in the fourth quarter. I should have done that the day I played them in the regular season, and I would have won a national championship. I don't get to do that, but we did get to play them again and prove we were the better football team.
You gotta make it happen the day you play. That's why a playoff allows a team that may have missed something a chance to come back and win a national championship. Alabama did that, and that's why they were the best team in the country.
SH: This leads me to my next question: if you were asked to be on a playoff selection committee, would you do it?
BS: First thing I'm asking is "Do they pay?" I made $24,000 a year when I was a coach. Bob Stoops makes five million a year now. Think about that. I didn't make anything, we win two national titles back to back, have two undefeated seasons back to back, and I'm making $24,000 a year. Because I went to a bowl game, I got an extra month's salary.
I don't know, I'm making light of this. I'm not advocating that "this is the system you need to have," I'm just throwing out things that really make sense to me. If you're talking about getting experts, who are the experts in sports? Who are the people in football, in basketball? They're the people who've been in the game for a long time and know the game. So that's all I'm throwing out there.
SH: So if we can get you some gift certificates, maybe a few free rounds of golf, you'd consider it?
BS: How 'bout that? Yeah, I can do that. I don't play golf anyway.
SH: You talked about Bob Stoops at Oklahoma now. How is it a different place than when you were coach there?
BS: Well, obviously things are brand new, and shinier and bigger and better than it was when I was here. The high school prospects are better, you get a better product coming out of high school probably today than we had. It's not that our players weren't superstars, the Lee Roy Selmons and such. Certainly, they would be. But it's just that the coaches do a better job, strength and conditioning have more people now, there's so many more variables into why you get a better product coming out of school today. But that's everywhere, not just at Oklahoma.
Stoops is doing a great job, and has a great program to sell. There's six or seven schools in the country who parallel us, and they're all very fortunate enough to have a great product to sell to high school student-athletes.
SH: From an Oklahoma perspective: is everyone just an inequal partner to Texas in the current Big 12? Throughout realignment, when the Big 12's made decisions, they sort of mirror exactly what Texas' interests would be. Are the two schools bound that closely, or does Oklahoma take a second seat to Texas power-wise in the conference?
BS: I never thought we took a second seat to anybody. We kicked their ass more than they have ours. I beat Texas more than they beat me, and Bob Stoops is certainly doing the same thing. I never looked at it as being second to them. I looked at high school athletes from Texas -- Oklahoma wouldn't have the tradition we have if it wasn't for high school athletes coming out of Texas, we had to have them. We got 200 high schools in this state playing football. They got 1600. That's where most of your athletes are coming from, obviously south of the Red River. So I had to spend time down there and get those players.
The University of Texas has a great tradition and all, but we've won more national championships, more Heisman trophy winners. Ours is richer than theirs. We've won more football games than they have. So, add it all up. They take a second seat to us. We don't have an inferiority complex about Texas. I never thought about being anything other than their equal or us being better than them.
SH:has mentioned the Wishbone offense as sort of a forefather of what he and a lot of spread offenses do. Where do you see college offenses going in terms of strategy? What do offenses need to do in order to remain competitive with bigger and faster defenses?
BS: I smile and I laugh every week when I see everyone trying to throw the ball all over the park. I look at who wins the the national championship just like Alabama. They do it with the running game. You can go deep with the ball if you want to, but you've got to be able to run the ball and play great defense. You take a team with a playbook like the one Tom Osborne had in the '90s, and you can compete for national championships every year.
Line up and run the ball north and south out of the I-formation with a split end attack or a tight end attack, and run the option at the corner of the defense attacking the perimeters, and you've got the best offense there is with the play-action passing game. When you can run the ball like Tom Osborne did, you've got people running wide open. They don't do that anymore, and people who do that win football games.
I don't think you can line it up pure wishbone and run it every down like I did. We'd never ever throw and put up 500 yards on people. I don't think you can do that anymore, but I promise you the best play in football is the option, and being able to run the football and play defense gives you the best chance to win a football game. Control the clock, keep it way from those high-powered offenses. You do that by having great players and by sticking with it instead of just getting trendy and doing something else like everyone wanting to throw the football.
SH: Who's the best at doing that right now, in terms of winning the run game and using the option?
BS: There's really very few. Oregon runs it, they got in the national championship game a few years ago, and they're an option football team. They spread everybody out and run it, but they're still an option team. Oklahoma doesn't have a play in their playbook designed where the quarterback carries the football. That's their philosophy. They've got an I-back to handle the ball back there. If they had a misdirection or option play where the quarterback carried the ball, it would really help their rushing offense, but they're not committed to that. They don't have that quarterback. 98 percent of their offense, he throws the football or hands it off to someone. He better be on that day, though, or else they've got problems.
SH: Did you watch the ESPN 30 for 30 about former Oklahoma running back Marcus Dupree, The Best That Never Was?
BS: Sure, I saw it. I was part of it.
SH: Do you think it was accurate?
BS: Yeah, I thought it was accurate, except for that Ken Fairley's the snake in the whole thing. He's the one Marcus sued for five or six million dollars because he had scrounged (sic) every dime the kid made and had him sign a power of attorney when he was 19 years of age. Everyone wanted Marcus, everyone wanted a piece of him to use him to benefit themselves.
The poor kid was listening to some poor advice from his counselor, from his pastor, his agent. That makes me sick to think about. I'm trying to tell him to do the right thing. His mother wished he'd stayed with me. He could have won the national championship, and maybe the Heisman in his senior year in 1985. He could have been a part of that. But he went on to pro ball at 19 years of age, the only teenager to ever sign a professional football contract, and we know the rest of the story, "the best that never was."
It was all because of some snake that convinced him to leave school when all he wanted to do was scrounge every penny the kid ever made. How's that for an answer?
SH: That's an answer.
BS: Well, that's the truth. That's the problem with the damn show, they didn't show the whole thing.
SH: What don't you like about college football as you see it now?
BS: I hadn't thought about that much. I worry about the rules taking away the aggression of defensive football players. We want to protect players, but by golly don't take away 11 players on defense getting after one guy who's got the ball. You've got to chase it with a bad attitude. You're going to have that, and you're going to have injuries. Don't legislate away the aggressiveness and the toughness of playing defensive football. I worry about that a little bit.
SH: What's been the impact of the Thunder in Oklahoma City?
BS: I love it. It made me an NBA fan, and I never thought I would be. I'm thundering down for two days. Everyone here's been thundering up, well, I'm thundering down until we find out who we're going to play. Maybe it'll be Boston. I hope it's going to be Boston.
SH: You'd rather see Boston than the Heat?
BS: I know what LeBron James is and what Dwyane Wade is, and they're getting Bosh back. People always say they want to play their best with their best, it don't work that way with me. I've been in the game long enough to know how it works. If they've got problems, they've got problems. You win in the NFL, you want teams that are the healthiest. I want to play the team that gives me the best chance to win.
SH: You made an appearance on the show Saving Grace in a cameo.
BS: I did Coach and Arliss, you probably weren't even born back then.
SH: Oh, I remember Coach.
BS: Yeah, I did some stuff on there with Hank Stram and Craig T. Nelson. I was in Any Given Sunday, too, with Al Pacino and Oliver Stone. But nah, I'm not thinking about that. They're talking about doing my book, Bootlegger's Boy, and doing a movie if they do it the way I want them to do it, not just a football story, but a human interest story.
SH: Who plays you?
BS: Some young actor. Some good-looking guy.
While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: