Losing it

When things go bad for the Cowboys, they go Barry bad

Editor's note: The Dallas Observer's regular sports column debuts this week.

Barry Switzer speaks in a soft, twangy growl. At first, you can barely hear him. He's like a crazy old grandfather scolding invisible ghosts that only he can see, and his sentences often blend into one very long word.

Standing behind the lectern in the Dallas Cowboys' team meeting room at Valley Ranch, where he holds his weekly Tuesday press conference with the local media, Switzer comes bearing bad news: Defensive tackle Chad Hennings will be out for six to eight weeks with a groin injury.

Then again, Switzer has relayed nothing but bad news for weeks now. An injury to yet one more essential piece of his crumbling team seems inevitable.

Switzer doesn't often look up as he addresses the cameras and tape recorders six days before the Cowboys are to celebrate Jerry Jones' birthday with a loss to the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. Dressed like an Oklahoma City insurance salesman in a blue blazer and brown pants, he radiates the demeanor of a man ashamed, a coach under siege. These days, Switzer always wears the countenance of a man who was just told that he has a week to live...and that he has to spend every second of it at Jerry Jones' house.

Though this press conference falls two days after the Cowboys threw the New York Giants a win--these guys are so bad they can gain more than 400 total yards and still find a way to lose--the reporters and radio hangers-on who cover the Cowboys do not blitz Barry. They do not knock him to the turf, where Troy Aikman has spent half the season, wondering where his offensive line has gone.

Leon Simon, a barber who's also one-half of KLIF-AM's Sports Brothers, asks whether Troy Aikman has "the capabilities of calling a play if a play is coming in late, as opposed to calling a time out." Someone asks if the team "scripts a series of plays" before the game begins. Radio...uh...legend?...Norm Hitzges asks if "whoever wins the ground war wins the game." They wonder if the Cowboys' offensive problems between the 20-yard line and the end zone are "mental."

They lob Switzer pathetic little screen passes, and he catches every one, weaving in and out of the details and the cliches on his way to the dead-end zone. "You people, don't look at NFL statistics and think they mean anything," he says. "We're all that close."

And, "The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins the football game."
And, "The team that rushes the ball and throws the ball is the one that wins the football game."

And, "You've got to stop the run."
Blah blah blah.
But, really, what is Barry Switzer going to say? What, really, is left to ask?

Barry Switzer must know what we all know: His team stinks.
He knows his players drop touchdown passes and commit deadly penalties when the Cowboys get to the opponent's 20-yard line. He knows his offensive line is aging and stumbling. He knows his star running back is running short on time. He knows his tight ends are question marks where once they were exclamation points.

Switzer knows his quarterback is frustrated. He knows Jerry Jones spent too much money trying to win yesterday instead of looking toward tomorrow. He knows his offense is on the defensive. He knows his assistant coaches, especially offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese and offensive line coach Hudson Houck, have assisted only utter and emphatic failure.

And he must know the end is near--for his Cowboys, for his job, for a lifetime spent coaching football. He hears the "Fire Barry" catcalls on sports radio, reads them in his morning papers, feels them when he takes the field at Texas Stadium.

If nothing else, Barry Switzer knows Dallas hates Barry Switzer.
And the fact is, the man doesn't give a damn 'bout none of it.
"Heeeeeeelllll, naw."

That's what he says when someone asks him--finally--whether he's worried about Jerry Jones firing him. "Heeeeeeelllll, naw."

Well, gawwww-lee.
Switzer has long since figured the best way to deflect criticism is to pretend it's invalid, that it's nothing but ignorant words spoken by people who've never played or coached the game. He often hears about how he's too soft with his players and too trusting in his coaches and too powerless to make any real changes. He hears the criticism about how he's too emotional on the sidelines (especially after he piled on to the players after a botched last-second kick gave the Cowboys an undeserved win over the Philadelphia Eagles) or not emotional enough (especially during the Giants game, when he watched his team fumble away a gimme win with all the excitement of a dead man).

And he doesn't care what you say. If he's here tomorrow, swell.
If not, hell, he can always go back to Oklahoma and make a mint on the Rotary Club speaking circuit.

Which is exactly the problem: If it's indeed true that Barry Switzer doesn't motivate his team--as his detractors often point out--it's because the 60-year-old coach no longer burns with the fires of a man who cares about winning. He possesses enough championship gold, with the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys, to satisfy any man. Perhaps Barry doesn't care about winning because he feels he has nothing left to prove.

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