Photo by News-Times photographer Larry Singer. Me interviewing Barry Switzer.
Only two men in the history of college and professional football have won a Super Bowl and a college national championship; one of them was in El Dorado Thursday night.
Barry Switzer, former head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys, spoke to a crowd of approximately 80 people at the Union County Fairgrounds Activity Building as part of a fundraising event for Main Street El Dorado.
The evening was dubbed a “Night of Champions.”
Switzer, a native of Crossett, has ties to many different communities in South Arkansas, including Junction City, where his parents were married, and El Dorado, where he got his start playing football at Retta Brown School.
Flying into South Arkansas Thursday evening from in Norman, Okla., where he lives in retirement, Switzer said he felt like he was coming back home.
“It’s so great to be back, and as I look out at the crowd here, I see so many of you who are friends and family,” Switzer said. “I’ve decided to live out the fourth quarter of my life in Oklahoma, but I’m nowhere near the two minute warning and I’m planning on overtime.”
Switzer, 71, spoke mainly about his life and career in football, telling the crowd that he enjoyed cutting his sports teeth in El Dorado.
Switzer said he bought his first set of football equipment at Hibbet Sporting Goods in El Dorado and was looking forward to playing football at Barton Junior High before his mother told him they’d be moving back to Crossett.
He graduated from high school there, then went on to start a successful career as a Razorback football player at the University of Arkansas.
But he regretted leaving El Dorado.
“I really was sorry that I didn’t get to finish out my school years in El Dorado,” Switzer said. “I remember Barton Junior High had just been built, and I was so excited to be there.
“I was standing in front of my locker right after school started and my mom came up to me and told me to pack my books up and take them to the office. I was devastated. I often wonder how my life would have been different if we had stayed in El Dorado.”
On football, Switzer said his philosophy when coaching at the University of Oklahoma was to nurture young men and help them become better football players on the field, as well as good, productive citizens off the grid iron.
Switzer said the chief difference between college and professional football is the bond between coach and player.
“In the pros, I didn’t know about their families, their hobbies, their interests or any of that,” Switzer said. “It didn’t matter. And I didn’t care. But in college and high school, a coaches role is more than just winning football games. In the pros, you are there to win a Super Bowl. Sure you want to win games in college, but I had those kids 24/7 365 days a year. We only played 12 games a year, but they were mine all year long. That’s the difference.”
Switzer won three national championships with the Sooners then went on to win a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.
A giant gold and diamond right on his left hand, which he flashed repeatedly with pride during his speech, is a constant reminder of the game. The Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Boxl XXX 27-17.
“I had a great time with the Dallas Cowboys,” Switzer said. “I still remember getting the call from (Dallas Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones asking me if I’d take the job. I asked him if it was vacant, and he told me no. I told him to call me back when it was.”
That call came just a few days later after Jones cut Jimmy Johnson as the team’s leader. Coincidentally, Johnson is the only other coach who has won both a national championship and Super Bowl.
Switzer said he and Jones still talk occasionally, and the pair had dinner recently at Jones’ home. Switzer stays in contact with dozens of people from his playing and coaching days, and his phone book is full of former players. He said he’ll never forget them.
“I’m always there for them, and I always will be,” Switzer said. “I’ll never stop being their coach.”
The Super Bowl XXX ring.