Football Matters Barry Switzer

Football Matters

Barry Switzer wants to watch college football with you. Yes, you. He wants you to be sitting right next to him, in his house, munching on his snacks, with drinks from his fridge, talking Sooners football while the game is on TV.

And yes, I'm talking about that Barry Switzer, the 79-year-old College Football Hall of Famer and Oklahoma legend who won three national championships in the 70s and 80s.

Oh, you can't just up and go to Norman, Oklahoma every Saturday in the fall? That's fine. That's where Switzer's brainchild, the Coaches' Cabana comes in.

The Cabana

"Mark Rodgers! Boy, I was scared to death y'all wouldn't show," bellows Switzer, his commanding voice echoing throughout his backyard cabana.

Switzer leaps up from his chair to shake hands with radio host Mark Rodgers and former Sooners QB Thomas Lott. Rodgers walks in toting a laptop, while Lott carries a folder full of research.

Barry Switzer

"I didn't find out until five minutes ago who we were playing. I said, who in the hell are we playing today?" says Switzer. He's joking, sort of. Almost everything the College Football Hall of Fame coach says comes out in the same jocular, folksy tone that it can become difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Lott and Rodgers, along with a host of other people, are here for the Coaches' Cabana, Switzer and his business partner Mike Henry's show, entering its fourth season. The show is unlike any other sports talk show. Besides taking place at the legendary coach's house just south of the University of Oklahoma campus, the show is pioneering a new way to experience college football, and sports in general.

"We know more about OU than anybody from ESPN or Fox or whatever network is broadcasting the game. We give our fans the option of a second screen," says Switzer. "And we are all over the world. We get tweets from soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan telling us they are watching us live."

Switzer says the trick is to pull up your phone, laptop or tablet and stream Coaches' Cabana on CoachesCabana.com while you have the game up on your TV, or watch the Coaches' Cabana show on the local Cox Cable channel. If you're doing that, Switzer suggests doing a picture-in-picture of the Cabana and the game. Either way, turn the volume down on the networks and up on Switzer and co., he says.

Barry Switzer

"People are just watching me talk about the game. If I invite them over to the house, they come to talk about the game, so it's the same thing," says Switzer. "But this way you don't have to come to my house. You can stay home and turn on the damn cable to watch me talk about the game."

The "second screen" experience that Switzer and Henry discuss is something they started experimenting with during the first iteration of the Cabana back in 2012 -- though it's far from Switzer's first business venture outside of football.

A sampling of his other businesses include Switzer Locker Rooms, Switzer Family Vineyards, Switzer Wine & Spirits, and his wife Becky's talent agency, Switzer Talent. It's apparent that Switzer isn't just lending his name to business ideas either, he's got a sharp mind and has been investing in and starting businesses since his coaching days.

The son of a bootlegger from rural Arkansas, Switzer made himself a wealthy man through football and smart investing. He coached before college coaches made the astronomical salaries they make today, but almost 20 years since he was on the sidelines for the Dallas Cowboys, he's doing just fine financially.

The Cabana isn't Switzer's first foray into media either.

Sooners Illustrated

"Back in 1978, Mike and I started a magazine called Sooners Illustrated. A magazine called Sports Illustrated challenged us and they lost. Then we did a Huskers Illustrated, Longhorns Illustrated and a Trojans Illustrated," says Switzer. "We did 13 schools. I used it as a recruiting tool. We were successful with it and we ended up selling it several years ago, but it's still in print today."

So when Henry approached him four years ago with the idea for the Coaches' Cabana, Switzer liked the idea and knew there was a market for it. They brought in Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports to perform due diligence to make sure they had the rights to do it. Switzer did the first show by himself and quickly realized he needed to bring in some help.

"I did the first show by myself. After the first show I said I'll never do that sumb**ch again," says Switzer. "Three and half hours of me non-stop. Wore my ass slick out."

Making The Magic Happen

Rodgers wasn't even aware that Switzer did this first show by himself. He says he's been doing it all four years, so he must have been the first call Switzer made after he recovered from his first show.

Pilson also watches from his home in Massachusetts and critiques the show for them. Switzer, a man beholden to almost no one, keeps Pilson in mind while broadcasting -- not that it changes the way he acts, but at least he keeps him in mind.

"I'm not supposed to do this, but I want to eat this cookie. I'm not supposed to eat on camera. Neal's gonna call me and chew me out," says Switzer, live on camera during the second half of the game.

Barry Switzer's Show

He breaks off a piece of cookie and puts it in his mouth while chuckling. He's almost childish in his defiance of TV decorum, but, like everything Switzer does, it's met with laughs. After all, it's his show, his cabana, and his cookie.

"Pan the camera to these sponsor posters," Switzer says between mouthfuls.

Oh, yeah, the Coaches' Cabana is sponsored to the hilt by national beer companies, cable companies, casinos and soft drink brands. Switzer doesn't broadcast from his backyard as an act of charity.

The men he's telling to pan the camera are Craig Huddleston and Jacob Wright of Titan Standard, the production company in charge of keeping Switzer, Lott, Rodgers, and whoever else stops by, on the air. It's a surprisingly small crew of people that keep the Cabana operational. Huddleston and Wright handle the entire technical side, making sure that the stream still works online and on Cox Cable, keeping Switzer's monitors working, and desperately trying to silently signal to Switzer that they are back on camera.

The other members of the Cabana team are OU seniors Mesa Sharp and Carolene Stephan, whose technical job titles are ... "Well, Barry just calls us Twitter Girls."

"I got two good looking gals that sit right over there, they're Tri Delts. They handle all of our tweets," says Switzer. "They read them, make sure they are good, and show them to me on the monitor there during the show, and I answer the questions live on the air."

Barry Switzer

Sharp was quick to correct one part of that statement.

"We're Pi Phis! We've been telling him that for three years," says Sharp with a laugh.

Despite Switzer's uncanny grasp of new technologies for someone who is almost 80, Sharp and Stephan do have some trouble getting him to adapt to new social media accounts. Switzer, though, will do what it takes to reach the audience he wants. He's unsatisfied with Twitter and wants to be able to interact with fans in different ways. He talks with Sharp and Stephan about Instagram for a full commercial break, a conversation that continues even when the show comes back from break.

This, too, is a common theme of the Coaches' Cabana. Switzer really gives the viewer the feeling that they are peering into his world and not a normal TV show. Often the return from commercial follows this pattern:

Rodgers welcomes the viewer back to the show – Switzer is either talking to one of his houseguests, playing with a puppy, trying to set up Sharp with a young man that’s just joined the gathering, eating a cookie, telling a story, or asking someone if they want to be on TV – Lott may offer some game commentary – Switzer finally picks up his headset – Switzer either joins the conversation in progress or remembers a story about Billy Sims and starts telling it for the next three plays.

It's a highly entertaining act, especially for the "affinity fan" that Switzer is going for. If you love Barry Switzer and have been watching the Sooners your whole life, you are going to love watching the game with Coach. If you have no interest in Switzer or OU, then you’d probably rather watch the network guys.

Barry Switzer

"The most boring thing is doing a game when you're hanging half a hundred on somebody. We're not one of those people that gives the play-by-play," says Switzer. "People see that. You don't need to tell them all that bulls**t. We also get to second guess what's going on."

Switzer seems to relish not being a coach anymore. Instead of answering to the media, with whom he often had a complicated relationship, he gets to be the media.

"I told Bob Stoops that I can say things that he can't. For example, Bob can't say that his defensive tackle isn't worth a s**t. Stoops has to coach his guys all year long. I don't have to, so I can say if someone is a problem," says Switzer. "Most of the time I get to talk about how good the team is playing and how well they are coached. I get to tell the truth. Football coaches can't tell the truth sometimes."

Copying The Cabana

The revolutionary concept of the second-screen experience isn't just a closely held Switzer secret. As he tells it, ESPN copied the Cabana for its national championship coverage. He's likely talking about ESPN's "Homer Telecast" where former players from Clemson and Alabama provided decidedly biased coverage of the game in a second-screen style experience.

The reason he says he was copied (he doesn't seem to mean this in a legally binding way) is that he knows ESPN knows about his show. One week Coaches' Cabana got more Twitter impressions than College Gameday and Switzer says Gameday host Chris Fowler noticed. He had to call in a few favors to get it done, but it does show Switzer's promotional eye that's made him a successful recruiter and businessman.

Barry Switzer's Show

"I called all my celebrity buddies: Toby Keith, Deion Sanders, all my pro guys and I said I want every one of you sumb**ches to tweet about the Coaches' Cabana," says Switzer, laughing, as always.

Switzer's former players are fiercely loyal to him, and often stop by to say hello. Some have unwittingly dropped by during a broadcast and found themselves with a headset on before even knowing what the Coaches’ Cabana was. That’s how Lott got the job in the first place.

"I walked in here on Coach's birthday. I was dropping by to give him a bottle of wine, and he calls me over and has me sit down," says Lott. "We got to talk football, and the next thing you know he told me to come back the next week and then the next week and I've been doing it for three or four years now."

There's a rhythm to all sports commentary, finding that rhythm is what separates good commentators from bad ones. But with the Cabana, Switzer can create his own rhythm. The "affinity fan" watching the game with the Cabana on another screen doesn't need or doesn't care about the play-by-play or the stats. They want the funny stories, the nostalgia, the second guessing. In truth, they want Switzer. And they get it for four straight quarters.

"Hey, you guys would be proud of me," Switzer says at one point, to Rodgers and Lott and the streaming audience, but also to no one in particular. "Last night I went to bed at 10 and only had two glasses of wine."

Barry Switzer

Rodgers and Lott just chuckle and nod, not entirely sure how to congratulate a 79-year-old on his early bedtime and relative teetotaling.

There were long discussions about the earthquake that had occurred that morning, German Shepherds that Switzer and his wife have rescued, discussions about the many German Shepherds that the Switzers currently have in their backyard that would occasionally bark very loudly, and of course, they did talk about the game.

But this particular game was not going the Sooners' way. Despite Switzer's best efforts, the mood in the Cabana turned sour toward the end of the third quarter. Switzer, perhaps seizing an opportunity to lighten the mood, or, conversely, just speaking out his actual feelings, broke the silence.

"Think I'm going to start drinking again tonight."

Laughter once again rolled throughout the cabana.

Watching With The King

The Coaches' Cabana idea has spread to other schools in past seasons, but Switzer says it was too difficult to scale it nationally, for now. There are still several schools, including Oklahoma State, that do their own versions, albeit, not hosted from Barry Switzer's backyard.

Henry says what Switzer won't about Coaches' Cabana's national appeal.

"In hundreds of thousands of people's minds, Barry Switzer is Oklahoma football. So that's why people tune in to see what he has to say," says Henry. "So if we try to scale this thing to, say, the top 50 programs in the country, if there were 49 other Barry Switzers, our job would be a lot easier. But there's not. We try to capitalize on coach because he's the backbone of this whole thing."

Barry Switzer

Many famous people use their wealth to hide from their fame. They buy houses in exclusive neighborhoods behind gates with security guards. They play golf at exclusive courses and hang with their close circle of trusted friends.

Barry Switzer lives in a house less than two miles from the stadium where he became a legend. It's just across the street from campus. He walks his giant German Shepherds on and around campus. If a stranger knocks on his door he's likely to invite them in for a peak at his trophy collection and a chat. He’s been described as the "Coach Emeritus" of campus.

He could have disappeared in his retirement years, living off of his success in anonymity. But that's not Barry Switzer. His mind is too sharp, his personality too large, and the adoration too intense in Oklahoma for him to just fade into memory.

Every Sooner fan would relish the chance to watch a game with Switzer, and he would love to watch the game with every fan. That's the heart of the Cabana. It's why, during home games, he hosts the show from Campus Corner, the restaurant and commercial hub just north of campus where many people hang out during games. Instead of being surrounded by 20-30 houseguests, he's surrounded by tens of thousands of fans.

Barry Switzer

Wherever Barry Switzer goes, whether it's in the halls of Congress, or the streets of Campus Corner, or the Cabana in his own backyard, Switzer is always the most revered figure in the room.

It's a testament to the importance people place on football and the respect people have for Switzer's accomplishments.

When you're around Switzer you realize one thing: It's good to be with the King.

Scott Bedgood is a senior editor at Football Matters. Follow him on Twitter @scottbedgood.

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