By Joe Favorito
Not many people may fully understand how “The Bootlegger’s Son” could be a Renaissance man, touting wines and technology as much as football and beer. But that’s who Barry Switzer is these days. The 75-year-old former head coach of the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys has never slowed down or backed away from a challenge, whether it is charity work, assisting players down on their luck, or launching his own line of fine wine.
Switzer spends most of his time these days working on a new business with some longtime colleagues, former president of CBS Sports Neal Pilson and some of the legendary names in college football called “Coaches Cabana.” The second screen experience, created last year, gives fans the chance to watch and interact with as many as 14 former coaches, from Switzer and Johnny Majors to Jackie Sherrill, Fred Akers and Galen Hall, on a college football Saturday through social media and via broadband link at Coachescabana.com. It is agnostic of broadcast partner, no rights involved, so the coaches are free to watch on their own screen and interact with fans from a host of settings, including Switzer’s own cabana, which overlooks the stadium in Norman, OK.
Joe Favorito caught up with Coach Switzer to talk tech, wines, paying college athletes and his Cowboys.
You have never been one to ignore innovation on or off the field, do you think college coaches are adapting fast enough to use technology?
Yes. No question about it. People don’t realize how much technology is used in scouting and to breakdown films. It amazes me when I go to the Athletic Department, and see all the technical support you don’t see on game day. Head coaches have been slower to adapt, but Assistant Coaches really understand how to use new technologies to stay in touch with recruits in their territories and analyze film in excruciating detail.
The coaches involved with Coaches Cabana are legends, but did you every worry that they would not be able to adapt to the digital environment?
I knew they would have the same learning curve I experienced. I’m still learning. We have provided training on Twitter, but co-hosts are integral to the success of the program. They help tremendously in making the show interactive by keeping up with Twitter, the game and the coaches simultaneously during broadcasts. Mark Rodgers is a great compliment to my show; it’s teamwork. Plus, many of us have added young people to the programs who help keep it interesting and appealing to younger demographics.
Who has surprised you the most in terms of using twitter, etc. of the group?
Coaches know how to tell stories, so this comes naturally to them. Johnny Majors takes pages of notes and loves engaging with people. It’s like he found a new toy! Pat Jones got off to a good start doing his show from Hideaway Pizza with fans. He could talk the entire show! They’re all active on Twitter. All these guys were successful because they adapted to their players and environment, and this is no different.
So much of today’s news is broken in the social space, do you think college coaches use the social space as an effective tool, or are they still learning?
I think some of the coaches we approached to participate in Coaches’ Cabana were totally lost at first. We’re opening their eyes to social media and a new way of communicating.
A few weeks ago, I had a Twitter chat with fans through the University of Oklahoma. We set aside 2 hours to do Q&A with fans using the hashtag #AskSwitzer. It was a lot of fun interacting with people, and we got some hilarious questions. A few days later, OU sent me a full report tracking engagement, followers and impressions. Anyone who doesn’t understand the value of social media, is missing out on real opportunity.
Do you miss the competitive environment of the NFL? What are your thoughts on the concussion settlement?
I always miss the competition. It’s anyone’s game on any given Sunday in the NFL. Everyone is good. I think the settlement is a good thing. I’m glad they stepped up. I had players affected and I was always concerned that they had no recourse. I saw the effects first-hand on Ricky Dickson, and I was always worried about him. Football is a physical game, but we still have to take care of our players.
This platform can become a pretty unique one for addressing issues…for example Pat Jones can talk freely about the current Oklahoma State issue…do you think it can help tell a side of a story that has not been heard before?
You bet it does. It gives us a voice to express opinions on things the university and others affiliated with the program often can’t discuss. It’s an authentic way to connect with people I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to talk to. In about 30 seconds and 140 characters, I can talk to 30,000 people directly. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
You are involved in so many unique projects…wine, technology etc…did you ever think as a coach you would have such wide interests?
I think everything I’ve had success with happens because I surround myself with good people, who understand the business and can make things happen. I’ve always had the philosophy that you have no business being in business if you don’t know the business. I love football and people, so Coaches’ Cabana is a perfect fit for for me. When I was at The Cowboys, Jerry Jones helped me develop a palette for fine wine. Switzer Family Vineyards is a labor of love, and something my family can enjoy for years. The vineyard is online too; we just launched a new website that includes some neat features to buy online and find retailers that carry the product.
The NCAA is under great pressure these days to change, where do you see the NCAA going in the next few years?
I never see players being paid. Players should be paid based on their financial needs, regardless of their gender or sport. A female softball player who has a financial need, has as much right to be paid as a football player. Title IX will prevent this from happening.
Any thoughts of going into the broadcast booth?
I was blackballed years ago. I’ve been offered opportunities many times since then, but I’ve declined them. At my age, I’m not interested in traveling around the US to cover games. I’m happiest in my Cabana among friends and doing the show.
Photo via Getty