Friends for 64 years, Barry Switzer and Jerry Jones still treasure their relationship

Friends for 64 years, Barry Switzer and Jerry Jones still treasure their relationship

Switzer, at the game with business partners, was whisked to the field and as Jones made his routine pomp-and-circumstance entry onto the field, Switzer popped out of a line of people to surprise Jones. The glee on Jones’ face was priceless.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 11, 2023, 4:27pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 11, 2023, 4:27pm CST

Barry Switzer watched the Cowboys-49ers game back on October 8. San Francisco won 42-10.

“They got destroyed,” Switzer said of the Cowboys, to whom he’s still partial, having coached America’s Team from 1994-97. “Got the s*** beat out of them.”

The next week, Switzer got a call from Madison Matthews, executive assistant to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

“Jerry wants to talk to you,” Matthews said.

Switzer wondered what Jones could want. They remain good friends and talk frequently, even though they don’t see each other often.

“I’m wondering if he was going to ask me about the game, my evaluation,” Switzer said. Switzer had his response ready. “Jerry, I don’t live in your house anymore. I don’t know what’s going on.”

That’s not why Jones called. Turns out, the iconic Jones just needed someone to talk to.

“Switzer, the reason I’m calling you, I wanted to hear your voice, because you make me happy,” Jones told his old Arkansas pal.

It had been a rough few days for Jones. His Cowboys had dropped to 3-2, including a loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals, and Dallas looked nothing like the Super Bowl contender that Jones so desperately craves.

Switzer made Jones feel better, talking about their old times together, in Fayetteville when Switzer was a Frank Broyles assistant coach and Jones was an offensive lineman and co-captain of Arkansas’ 1964 national championship team, and at Valley Ranch near Texas Stadium, where Switzer was the Cowboy head coach for four years. The 1995 Cowboys won Super Bowl 30. 

“He wanted to talk about old times,” Switzer said. “He and (Larry) Lacewell and Stephen (Jones), how great a time we had when we were there. The great relationship we had with each other.”

And if you doubt Jones’ sincerity toward the coach he hired on March 30, 1994 — almost 30 years ago, can you believe it? — just check out their meeting on the field of AT&T Stadium before the Cowboys-Eagles game Sunday night.

Switzer had some business dealings in Dallas over the weekend and called OU donor Tim Headington for some help with suite tickets. Funny that a Super Bowl-winning coach for the Cowboys turns to Sooner sources for Cowboys tickets, but that’s a world I don’t know much about.

Anyway, Switzer and a group of business partners went to the game, Switzer was whisked to the field and as Jones made his routine pomp-and-circumstance entry onto the field, Switzer popped out of a line of people to surprise Jones. The glee on Jones’ face was priceless. He took Switzer by hand and led him around, even taking Switzer to meet Netflix people who are planning a documentary series on Jones.

Switzer will be part of the series.

“Jerry, are they going to pay my a**,” Switzer asked with a laugh. “I’m not going to spend that much time for something without getting paid.”

The 86-year-old Switzer (again, can you believe it?) even told Jones he would tell the filmmakers “exactly what was said and what I saw.”

That’s Switzer for you. Pulling no punches. And that’s Jones for you. Want no punches to be pulled. “That’s OK,” he told Switzer. “You can go ahead and tell ‘em the truth.”

Switzer’s lone regret is that Lacewell, his pal from Arkansas boyhood days and OU defensive coordinator and Dallas Cowboys scouting director, won’t be around to help jog Switzer’s memory of those long-gone times. Lacewell died a year ago at age 85.

“It was a special time in my life, it really was,” Switzer said of the Dallas years.

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that the Cowboys/Switzer connection actually happened. Did Barry Switzer, Barry Switzer!, really coach the Dallas Cowboys? The Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin/Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys? Did Switzer really coach the Cowboys to a Super Bowl victory over the Steelers in January 1996? 

The Sooner Camelot of the 1970s and 1980s seems so real. But the Dallas excursion of the Switzer tale? Did that really happen? It seems myth. Seems surreal. Fable and fairy tale.

But happen it did.

The story is fantastical. How Jones got crossways with Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson, his old Arkansas roommate, and after Dallas won Super Bowl 28. He fired Johnson on March 29, 1994. A day later, Switzer, still groggy from a colonoscopy, got a phone call that would send him to the Cowboys for four years.

“I’d always known if he was going to fire Jimmy, he was going to hire me,” Switzer said. “He only had two people on his list.

“He knew my personality, he knew my makeup, he trusted me and believed in me. I had no ego compared to other coaches.”

They have known each other since Jones was 17 years old and Switzer was 22. Their Arkansas ties were reborn in the 1970s, when Jones was in the oil and gas business in Oklahoma City, building a company that would enable him to purchase the Cowboys in 1989.

“I got to spend a lot time with him,” Switzer said. “We socialized quite a bit together. I had a great relationship with Jerry.”

Still does. Few owner/coach relationships withstand a firing. This one did. Switzer’s 1996 Cowboys went 10-6 and lost in the conference semifinals. His ‘97 Cowboys went 6-10, as the stars aged and free agency broke up what had been a deep and talented roster. And Jones looked elsewhere for a coach.

But Switzer didn’t seem to mind too much. He had a Super Bowl ring, a bunch of new relationships from ballplayers and more memories to last a lifetime, to go with those he had gleaned with the Sooners.

And a renewed relationship, which is still going strong, from someone he’s now known for 64 years.

“He never changed,” Switzer said. “I’ve always liked him. I know a different Jerry than the public perception of him. I have a different perspective, and an accurate one, too.”

And, oh yeah, the game Sunday night. This showdown, Dallas won, in dominating fashion; 33-13 over the Eagles.

“Great evening for the Cowboys,” said Switzer.

Great evening for the man who once coached them.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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