On Monday afternoon Barry Switzer announced his resignation as Oklahoma's football coach. In his 16 seasons with the Sooners, Switzer guided them to 12 Big Eight championships and three national titles. With a record of 157-29-4 at Oklahoma, he became the fourth-winningest coach in college football history. But winning isn't everything.
In December the NCAA slapped the Oklahoma program with a three-year probation. Then, earlier this year, five of Switzer's players were charged with felonies. There was speculation in Norman on Monday that Switzer's resignation does not spell the end of the Sooners' troubles. In fact, they may be just beginning.
In announcing his resignation, Switzer showed no signs of contrition. He blasted the NCAA for failing to "recognize the financial needs of young athletes." He also said, "I will never coach at another institution." That's to the good, because Switzer has lost perspective as to the role of college sports.
June 25, 1989
Several months ago, Mike Knowles, a 1987 graduate of Oklahoma with a degree in finance, wrote a thoughtful letter to Loren Ellis, the business school's coordinator of alumni affairs. In the letter—copies of which were sent to interim president David Swank, athletic director Donnie Duncan and Switzer—Knowles recommended the dismissal of Switzer and the abolition of athletic dorms. Knowles, who lives in Dunwoody, Ga., also wrote that it was difficult for someone with a business degree from Oklahoma to obtain a job outside of the Southwest because most major companies perceive the university as having forsaken education for football. "Approximately twenty thousand undergraduate students rely on the university as a foundation for future careers," wrote Knowles. "Do not penalize...the majority for the senseless actions of a few and their head coach."
The following is Switzer's reply:
This is in response to your letter to Mr. Loren Ellis, copied to me.
Mike, you haven't lived long enough for me to consider your suggestions and proposals of much value.
Head Football Coach
THE WRONG ONE
As far as hole-in-one lore is concerned, nothing can top the four aces within two hours at the U.S. Open last Friday morning (page 20), but Rick Syme, a Macon, Ga., package-store owner, did something nearly as amazing two weeks ago at Macon's Oak Haven Golf and Country Club. Syme was teeing off on the par-4, 328-yard 17th, which has a dogleg right. Because he's a long hitter, Syme decided to use a three-wood to cut the corner over the trees. He faded the ball, all right, but the wind took it much farther to the right than he had intended. Syme yelled, "Fore!" and Jim Grigsby, who was putting on the 16th green, looked up for the ball.
"I could hear it coming through the trees," said Grigsby, who was playing with his son, Ben. "I just froze. We had the flagstick out because we were putting. The ball landed about six to eight feet from the hole and rolled in."
Syme recovered nicely. After assessing himself a two-stroke penalty and taking a drop off the 16th green, he put his next shot on the 17th green and one-putted for a bogey 5.
Syme undoubtedly would have preferred an ace, but at least he has a great story to tell future playing partners. "I hit it from the tee to the green, and it went in the hole," says Syme. "It's not my fault that it was the wrong hole."
HOOPS, ITALIAN STYLE
While the Detroit Pistons were sweeping the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA title last week (page 28), the winner of Italy's basketball championship was also being determined. The scudetto, or "championship shield," was contested, though, in a court rather than on one. The Italian finals had pitted Philips Milano, led by former NBA players Albert King and Bob McAdoo, against EniChem Livorno, whose star is former Syracuse standout Wendell Alexis. In the fifth and deciding game, played on May 28 in Livorno, the home team was trailing 86-85 when guard Andrea Forti scored on a lay up at the buzzer to give Livorno its first championship—or so Livorno and its gleeful fans thought. Unfortunately for them, officials ruled that Forti's basket had come after the buzzer. The officials waited a full 20 minutes, however, until after the crowd had calmed down, before informing Livorno. The delay created even more confusion since a national television audience had already been informed that Livorno had won the game 87-86.
The Livornese did not take the decision lying down. They took their case to the Corte Federale ("Federal Court") of basketball and argued that the game should be replayed because a foul assessed to King had not been entered in the books, and he had been allowed to play after what should have been his fifth and final foul. Milano countered that the mistake was a technical error and thus did not warrant playing the game again.
The judicial panel met for two hours before rendering its decision. Two weeks after the final buzzer sounded, a newspaper headline in La Gazzetta dello Sport declared DEFINITIVO: LO SCUDETTO A MILANO.
MAHORN OF A DILEMMA
The NBA championships also had an interesting postscript. On June 15, two days after the Pistons finished off the Lakers, Rick Mahorn, the punishing forward-center for the Pistons, referred to himself at the victory celebration in Detroit as "the baddest Bad Boy you've ever seen." But less than an hour after the rally ended, Mahorn learned that he was no longer a Piston but, rather, a Minnesota Timberwolf. Mahorn, 30, was the second player taken in the NBA expansion draft, and he did not take the news well. After clearing out his locker, he stormed out of The Palace, declining to speak with reporters. "It was lousy timing." said Piston general manager Jack McCloskey, who didn't include Mahorn among the eight players Detroit protected from the draft.
The NBA actually had two dates for the expansion draft—June 15, if the final series went only four games, or June 22, if the series lasted five, six or seven games. Terry Lyons, an NBA spokesman, says the dates were set by the league's operations department in consultation with the 25 teams. According to Lyons, the expansion draft closely followed the playoffs to give teams as much time as possible to "fill the void" before the college draft on June 27.
The riches-to-rags scenario is not without precedent. Last year Billy Thompson of the Lakers was selected by the expansion Miami Heat just two days after his team had beaten the Pistons in the finals. Billy McKinney, the Timberwolves' player personnel director, was himself an expansion pick, going from the successful Kansas City Kings to the brand-new Dallas Mavericks in 1980. Referring to Mahorn's sullenness, McKinney said. "I'm sure I'd have the same reaction. In fact, I did."
Later this summer one of the most important positions in pro football will be filled. The job requires great stamina, excellent instincts and superb negotiating skills. Yes, a replacement for NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle is expected to be named before long, but that's not the post we're referring to. We're talking about the position of bus driver for CBS analyst John Madden.
As everyone must know by now, the exuberant Madden travels from NFL game to NFL game by bus because he does not like to fly. From July 30 to Aug. 2, eight bus drivers will compete in the Greyhound-Madden Challenge at a shopping mall in San Bruno, Calif. They will have to maneuver their mammoth motor coaches through a difficult obstacle course marked by tennis balls. But their final obstacle will be the hardest one of all: an interview with Madden. The drivers may be able to squeeze a bus into tight places, but let them try getting a word in edgewise when talking to the loquacious Madden.
JUDY JOHNSON (1899-1989)
Connie Mack once said of him, "If Judy Johnson were playing in the major leagues, there would not be enough money to pay him." William Julius Johnson, who died last week in Wilmington, Del., at age 89, was an outstanding third baseman in the Negro leagues of the 1920s and '30s. His best season came in 1925, when he hit .392 for the Hilldale club in Philadelphia, and when he retired, in 1937, he had an unofficial lifetime batting average of .344. In 1975 he became the sixth of the 11 Negro league players in the Hall of Fame.
After his playing days, Johnson was a spring-training instructor and scout for several major league teams. For the Milwaukee Braves he helped sign outfielder Billy Bruton, who became his son-in-law, and he was instrumental in signing Richie Allen for the Philadelphia Phillies.
A man of wit and intelligence, Johnson once wrote a letter to SI praising a story (Time Worth Remembering, July 6, 1981) about a reunion of his contemporaries. He concluded by writing, "Negro league players of the earlier decades unfortunately were not recipients of enormous commercial residuals and bonuses. We played for something greater that could not be measured in dollars and cents. The secrets of our game were to enjoy and endure."
STRIDES AGAINST STEROIDS
Next week The Athletics Congress, the governing body for track and field in the U.S., will begin a stronger program to fight the use of anabolic steroids by its athletes. For five years, testing has occurred at competitions, but unless they miscalculate, as Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson did (page 98), athletes taking steroids during training, when they are most beneficial, have only to stop using them for a given number of days before competition in order to test negative. TAC's new program, adopted in December at its annual convention, sounds promising because it provides for year-round, random, short-notice testing.
Starting on July 1, any athlete ranked among the top 15 in an event can be required to provide a urine sample within 36 hours. Those samples will be sent to an IAAF-approved lab, where they will be tested for steroids, masking agents and diuretics, the last of which are used to flush steroids from the body. The number of athletes who will be tested each week has not been specified, but Frank Greenberg, the president of TAC and an attorney in Philadelphia, estimates that at least a thousand tests will be conducted over the course of a year, with some athletes being tested more than once.
In addition, athletes will continue to be tested at such competitions as the TAC championships, the world championships and the Olympics. In accordance with IAAF rules, an athlete who tests positive for the first time will be suspended for two years, and one who does so a second time will be suspended for life. Those deterrents, coupled with the new testing procedures, will make athletes think twice before they use banned substances. "For the first time, there is the feeling that this is the formula to eradicate drugs in U.S. track and field," Greenberg says.
In a related matter, Greenberg has appointed a panel of three to investigate charges against Chuck DeBus, the coach of Olympic women's 800-meter bronze medalist Kim Gallagher. De-Bus has been accused in three affidavits by athletes or coaches of abetting athletes in their use of drugs. The panel, whose members are unidentified, is scheduled to meet on July 11.
You have to question the educational priorities at Baldwin (Pa.) High. A few weeks ago, Baldwin hired a football coach at a salary of $60,000—$14,000 more than the school pays a teacher with 20 years' experience and a master's degree, and $10,000 more than the former coach made. The new coach is Don Yannessa, who during his 17 years at Aliquippa (Pa.) High made that school a football powerhouse, producing such standouts as offensive lineman Sean Gilbert, one of the most highly recruited high school players in the country this year. Yannessa, who will also serve as the school's athletic director, won't do any teaching for his hefty salary. Baldwin wants desperately to turn around its dismal team, which has gone 2-27-1 over the past three seasons.
The successful wooing of Yannessa by Baldwin was a particularly demoralizing blow to Aliquippa, which has been struggling to survive since most of its steel mills were closed in 1983. "We can't get over it," says longtime resident John Mowad, 68. "The way this town is, what we live for is football. Just as Rockne built Notre Dame, Yannessa built Aliquippa."
A WINNING REVIVAL ABOUT A LOSING TEAM
St. Louis Cardinals rightfielder Tom Brunansky has recently embarked on a monumental streak. Every night Brunansky lofts a 3-and-2 fastball from Cub relief ace Mitch Williams into the first row of the Wrigley Field bleachers. Every night he hits it with the bases loaded, two outs in the ninth and the Cubs ahead by three runs. And every night after depressing night, the Cubs lose.
On June 11 a nearly sold-out house of 380 at Chicago's Organic Theatre Company saw the first of Brunansky's crushing homers. He connected—offstage, of course—at the premiere of the revival of Bleacher Bums, a wonderful little morality play set among the proletarians who inhabit the Wrigley Field bleachers. When the play first opened 12 years ago, the bums included Joe Mantegna, who would later win a Tony award for Glengarry Glen Ross, and Dennis Franz, who would star in Hill Street Blues. Mantegna, one of several coauthors of Bleacher Bums, is the director of the current production, which stars native Chicagoan Dennis Farina, best known as Mike Torello on TV's Crime Story. Mantegna felt the time was right to bring back the play. "Let's face it," says Mantegna, "things haven't changed that much. The Cubs still haven't been to a World Series." That they are flirting with first place in the National League East only adds poignancy to the play.
Six members of the beloved Cubs who fumbled the '69 division title to the New York Mets—Ron Santo, Gene Oliver. Glenn Beckert, Randy Hundley, Ken Holtzman and Billy Williams—were on hand for opening night. The ex-Cubs were more charmed than embarrassed by the play. Williams, the Hall of Fame outfielder who now works in the team's front office, says he still has a special affinity for the denizens of the cheap seats. "In the last two months, I've been going to the bleachers in the seventh or eighth inning, just to sit and watch. I was the closest one to the bleacher bums, having played left. When I was a player, I'd turn around sometimes during a tense game and they'd relax me."
In the final scene, the bleacher bum who catches Brunansky's grand slam homer does what any loyal Cub fan would do: He tosses the ball back onto the field—or, rather, into the audience. At the premiere, Billy Williams reached up and effortlessly caught the ball with one hand.
THEY SAID IT
•Sam Snead, 77-year-old golfing legend, explaining why he doesn't play on the Senior PGA Tour anymore: "It's a grind trying to beat 60-year-old kids out there."
•Rocky Lockridge, journeyman boxer, after stopping Mike Zena in a junior lightweight fight Sunday: "I ain't been nowhere, but I'm back."