ENID, Okla. —
It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago last Thursday Barry Switzer announced his resignation as the football coach at the University of Oklahoma.
The next day, defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs was selected to replace Switzer, who had resigned under pressure after OU had five players arrested for felonies in a month’s period in the off-season and the program was placed on probation.
Switzer wrote in his book “Bootlegger’s Boys’’ that OU interim president David Swank and regents told him he was the subject of an FBI probe about interstate gambling.
Time has been good to Switzer, who still is the “King’’ in the eyes of OU fans. His strong support is credited for Brad Henry’s 2004 upset victory of NFL legend Steve Largent in the Oklahoma governor’s race.
Switzer went on to coach the Dallas Cowboys to a Super Bowl championship and current OU coach Bob Stoops, who passed Switzer as the school’s all-time winningest coach, wisely embraced him from Day 1.
But it’s also time to reflect favorably on Gibbs’ six-year tenure, posting a 44-23-2 record.
He didn’t win a conference championship and was 2-15-1 against OU’s biggest rivals at the time (Texas, Nebraska and Colorado).
But it’s unfair to compare him unfavorably with Switzer or Stoops.
Gibbs had the double-edged sword of replacing a legend (who left in controversy instead of retiring a la Bob Devaney or Bear Bryant) in a period where OU was hammered by probation (loss of 14 scholarships over two years) and off-the-field problems (more than 20 non-seniors left the program, including wingback Glynn Milburn, who starred at Stanford).
OU suited up 55 players that season.
Gibbs lost Steve Collins, who had replaced Charles Thompson (one of the five arrested) at quarterback the second game of the season.
Gibbs was criticized for his bland personality, especially compared to Switzer, who will go down in history as maybe the best recruiter in college football, especially with minorities. Gibbs, who grew up in the Houston suburbs, came from a background totally different from Switzer, the bootleger’s boy who grew up around African-Americans.
Actually Gibbs’ personality is not that much different than Stoops. Neither will wow you at press conferences. I will appreciate the kindness he showed me (once saying hi to me on the field before a game in front of my friend and colleague Mark Rountree).
I remember Stoops as someone who was very friendly his first visit to Enid and a little bitter sarcastic in his last talk (saying newspapers practice sensationalism ... this was after an OU quarterback was arrested for a DUI at 2:30 in the morning).
The press, for the most part, and fans didn’t forgive Gibbs for not being Switzer. I remember one prominent reporter asking “Why didn’t they hire Merv Johnson (probably a good question)?”
Also, remember Gibbs’ first year record was identical to Stoops’ first year (both were 7-4 in the regular season with Stoops losing to Mississippi in the Independence Bowl).
Gibbs’ personality no doubt hurt him with some players who came to OU to play for Switzer, maybe the ultimate player’s coach. That came to a head when the Sooners didn’t practice one day the week of the Nebraska game. Some felt Collins should have played instead of Cale Gundy in a 15-15 tie with Oklahoma State.
OU signed only 15 players in the 1989 recruiting year, and only 13 actually came to OU. The low numbers were evident when the Sooners went 5-4-2 when that class was fourth-year juniors or seniors.
Switzer was known for his Sooner Magic, but Gibbs was known for his bad luck.
Four of his Gibbs’ losses to Texas were by a touchdown or less (28-24, 14-13, 10-7, 17-10).
One of those losses came on a returned fumble for a touchdown and another came on a missed field goal. Texas scored in the final seconds in 1989 when OU was using Tink Collins, who started the season as the No. 3 quarterback.
In 1994, James Allen was stopped on the goal-line on a fourth-and-goal in a 17-10 loss.
How history might have changed if Gibbs had been 5-1 instead of 1-5.
Four of the losses to Nebraska — which was at the height of its prowess under coach Tom Osborne — were respectable — 42-25, 19-14, 21-7 and 13-3. They did beat the Huskers 45-10 in 1990.
Colorado kicked a long field goal at the gun to tie the Sooners 24-24 in 1992.
OU lost in the last seconds to Arizona (6-3) in 1989 and to Iowa State (33-31) in 1990.
Kansas State (with Stoops on its staff) was on the rise when they beat the Sooners back-to-back 21-7 in 1993 and 37-20. That was the start of a five-year losing streak to the Wildcats.
Stoops had the advantage of following Howard Schnellenberger (5-5-1) and John Blake (12-22).
Stoops obviously is a great coach having won a national championship his second season. Following Schnellenberger and Blake made him more appreciated.
Gibbs has gone on to be a well-respected NFL assistant with the Cowboys, Saints and Chiefs.
He was not in Switzer’s and Stoops’ class as far as record is concerned, but he did bring the program back to respectability reputation wise.
Merv Johnson’s intangibles might have made him a better selection to replace Switzer, but Gibbs should be remembered as a good coach.
His only problem is being judged by comparisons with the legends of the game as Bud Wilkinson, Switzer and Stoops.
Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.