By John Antonik for WVUsports.com
May 01, 2012 10:37 AM
|Two-time national coach of the year and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Barry Switzer will be in the Mountain State this week to officially welcome West Virginia University into the Big 12 Conference.
|University of Oklahoma photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Legendary Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and Billy Sims, 1978 Heisman Trophy winner for the Sooners, will be in Wheeling on Wednesday, May 2, and Parkersburg on Thursday, May 3, to officially welcome West Virginia University into the Big 12 Conference as part of the Mountaineer Athletic Club’s spring tour of the state.
Switzer says this is the first time he’s ever been to West Virginia.
“(Former WVU coach) Don Nehlen called me - Don is a real good friend of mine, even after that beating he put on me back here years ago - but he called six months ago and since West Virginia was coming into the Big 12 he thought I ought to be the one that comes out and welcomes them into the Big 12 Conference,” said Switzer. “So I'm coming out there for a couple of days and visit with people in Wheeling and Parkersburg."
Barry Switzer is one of the most successful football coaches in college football history, his Sooner teams winning three national championships in 1974, 1975 and 1985, 12 Big Eight titles and finishing in the national rankings 14 out of the 16 years he coached there. Switzer’s record at Oklahoma was an amazing 157-29-4, including six Orange Bowl titles in 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1985 and 1986.
Because of the Sooners’ great success in South Florida playing in the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma was one of the first out-of-state schools to enjoy recruiting success in the Sunshine State. Now, just about everybody goes down there to recruit players.
“People always thought the Orange Bowl was the best place to go and it is a great bowl, therefore, we were the last game seen in college football for that season so we had a lot of things working for us on that, plus, Nebraska and Oklahoma were always pretty good,” Switzer recalled.
Switzer’s Oklahoma teams were known for being among the fastest and most explosive in college football. Although Switzer predominantly ran the wishbone, what he did 30 years ago is very similar to what a lot of spread teams do today by putting their best athlete at quarterback and then surrounding him with a bunch of speedsters in the backfield. Florida did that with Tim Tebow and West Virginia did something similar with Pat White a few years ago.
"I recruited the best players at all positions because it was the right thing to do. I was recruiting black quarterbacks before anyone else was recruiting the black quarterback,” Switzer explained. “Tebow was basically a tailback running some option; he would throw the ball some, but he was more of that style (athletic quarterback) looking back at his career at Florida.
"I recruited a running quarterback - a guy who could probably run the ball first and throw it second - and when I got the combination of the two, we were usually pretty good,” Switzer said. “Then, I surrounded them with outstanding talent with great running backs. I would usually have first-round picks in my backfield - I had four or five first-round picks in my backfield at the same time - so I was fortunate to be able to recruit good players and outstanding talent in that era."
Like most successful coaches, Switzer says he has a hard time remembering the wins, but he never forgets the losses. The one that still sticks in his craw was a three-point defeat at Nebraska in 1978 that cost his program a fourth national title.
“Billy won the Heisman that year and we were the best team in the country,” Switzer recalled. “We got to play Nebraska again (in the Orange Bowl), we didn't turn the ball over, and we had them 31-10 in the fourth quarter (in a 31-24 Sooner victory). We fumbled nine and lost six the day we played them in Lincoln and lost to them 17-14. If they would have done that against us we would have put a half-a-hundred on them. That's the way it works, but we were undefeated and led the nation in every category but lost the national championship that day. There were a lot of wins, but the losses are the ones that you never forget."
Including a loss his Sooners absorbed to an upstart West Virginia team in 1982 when Nehlen was just getting the Mountaineer program off the ground. West Virginia was coming off a stunning upset victory over Florida in the 1981 Peach Bowl and had momentum heading into the ’82 opener in Norman. Oklahoma, meanwhile, was coming off the worst season of Switzer’s tenure (7-4-1 in 1981) and was in the process of switching from the wishbone to the I-formation with the addition of the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit, running back Marcus Dupree.
Plus, Nehlen had a Trojan Horse waiting for Switzer in quarterback Jeff Hostetler, who sat out the ’81 season after transferring from Penn State.
"He was excellent and he has proven that,” Switzer said of Hostetler. “He was a great player and when he won a Super Bowl that puts you at the top of the game and he did that. We knew he was good that day we played, and it was one of those days when they were the better team.”
On the other hand, West Virginia was able to catch Oklahoma in between quarterbacks. Switzer had three quarterbacks (Steve Davis, Thomas Lott and J.C. Watts) during the first eight years of his tenure from 1973-80. The next three in 1981, 1982 and 1983 saw three different quarterbacks under center – much the way West Virginia was in 2008, 2009 and 2010 with Pat White, Jarrett Brown and Geno Smith
. It is really impossible to develop any offensive continuity when that happens.
"I lost Turner Gill to Nebraska and that was a factor because Turner committed to me, but not only did I lose him to Nebraska, but now I had to play against his ass,” Switzer joked. “It was an era when I was down a quarterback and we were kind of in a transition, but that's no excuse. Jeff Hostetler beat us, and people didn't realize how good he was."
Like just about everyone else around the country, Switzer watched West Virginia’s 70-33 victory over Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl and he came away impressed with the offensive firepower Coach Dana Holgorsen has assembled in Morgantown.
"I think they are one of the preseason favorites (to win the Big 12) without a doubt,” Switzer said. “When you put 70 on Clemson, now that's a great offense. You've got your quarterback back (Smith) and you've got speed. I don't know what kind of defensive football team you are, but offensively you're really good. I'm a Mike Leach fan. Dana is with that group of guys and they do a great job offensively."
Although there may be some geographical barriers between Morgantown, W.Va., and the rest of the Big 12 Conference, Switzer says the campuses are all very similar - passionate, devoted sports fans.
"We don't have much else. We rally around football,” said Switzer, who still calls Norman his home. “We take a lot of pride in our programs - our high school programs and our college programs. It unites and brings us all together.
“I would say West Virginia and Oklahoma - the Okies and the West Virginians have a lot in common.”
After his tenure at Oklahoma, Switzer coached the Dallas Cowboys for four seasons from 1994-97, leading them to three straight NFC East titles and a Super Bowl victory over Pittsburgh in 1996. Switzer’s four-year record in the pros is 40-24.
Today, Switzer remains involved in football as a broadcaster. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and two years later, in 2004, he received the Jim Thorpe Lifetime Achievement Award.
Switzer says the game of college football has changed substantially since his days working the sidelines. One of the biggest changes he sees is now some of the great rivalries we grew up enjoying such as Oklahoma-Nebraska and Pitt-West Virginia are going the way of the dinosaurs.
"I loved that Nebraska and Oklahoma always played right around Thanksgiving time,” Switzer said. “We always put that there. Obviously the classics are still there, Oklahoma-Texas, Alabama-Auburn and I guess they will always be there, I don't know? But a few of them have died and moved on and there is only one thing for certain, nothing stays the same."
The Parkersburg event at J.P Henry’s Restaurant on May 3 is completely sold out. There are a limited number of seats available for the Wheeling Event at Oglebay Resort on May 2. Contact the Mountaineer Athletic Club Office at (304) 293-2294 or Jim Rosso in Wheeling at (304) 394-5670 for more information.
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