FAMILY FIRST? COACHES SAY SWITZER HAS THE RIGHT IDEA

Published: Sunday, Oct. 2 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

Barry Switzer's view that football and family can mix has struck a chord with coaches who find themselves spending more time with other people's kids than with their own.

Bobby Bowden, for one, said he admires someone willing to put family ahead of football, mainly because he regrets not having been to many of his sons' games."All my sons played high school football, and I don't guess I ever saw over six games," the coach of national champion Florida State said with a tinge of regret. "I think (Switzer) ought to put his family first. It's taken him a long time to realize that."

Switzer, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, slipped away to Arkansas the night before a game against the Houston Oilers, missing a team meeting to watch his son play quarterback for Missouri Southern. Jimmy Johnson, who won two Super Bowls doing Switzer's job, questioned his successor's commitment to the team.

The Cowboys won the game, 20-17.

In the debate about family values, Switzer appears to be way ahead in the court of public opinion. It's hard to find a coach who's not singing Switzer's praises, even though last season Houston Oilers tackle David Williams was fined for missing a game to stay home with his wife and newborn.

"There's nothing in this life more important than your family," said Kansas City Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, who knows all about the demands of trying to be a coach, husband and father.

He tells of a hectic journey in 1991, when he flew through a snowstorm on a private plane to watch his son play for the state football championship in Manhattan, Kan., just hours before a game in Cleveland against the Browns. His son, Brian, now a backup quarterback at Florida, won the title that day with Blue Valley High School.

"There was a major blizzard when we took off from the downtown airport - this good friend of mine flying his plane - and we landed on an ice-covered runway at Manhattan," Schottenheimer said. "It was a bad, icy runway. When the game ended we got right back on the runway, flew to Kansas City International. I got on the team plane and left."

The Chiefs lost to the Browns, 20-15. Schottenheimer had no regrets.

"If I had it to do over again, I'd do exactly what I did," he said. "I don't care who you are, where you start or where you finish. The only thing that matters in this life is your family."

Another coach who must have taken notice of Switzer's decision was Norv Turner, Johnson's assistant last year in Dallas and now coach of the Washington Redskins. Turner, who has three young children with his wife Nancy, went to see their 12-year-old son Scott play Pop Warner football last weekend, the day before the Redskins lost to Atlanta, 27-20.

"It's part of the deal, and it's been part of the deal for a lot of years," said Turner, who didn't miss any meetings.

While in Dallas, Turner also tried to attend as many of his daughter's ice skating shows as he could. "I don't think it kept me from being focused for the football game on Sunday," he said.

Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes said he learned from the start that coaching wasn't like other jobs. John McKay, who hired him to be assistant at Southern California years ago, warned him that his time would not be his own anymore.

"John McKay called my wife before he hired me," Fontes said. "He told her our lives would be different from now on. Wives have to be special people."

Is it just pro coaches who get stuck in a dark office in the wee hours of the morning watching film, chugging coffee and pulling hair out?

"Actually, I spent more time away from my family when I was a college coach than now," said New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora, who once coached at Occidental (Calif.) College. "In college, you had to take care of recruiting in the offseason, so you were away from your family for long periods almost all year."

A family that knows the rigorous demands of college coaching is the Bowdens.

Patriarch Bobby Bowden remembers bringing his children on recruiting trips all over the country.

"They'd get in the car and we'd go out and drive," he said. "They'd stay in a hotel room with me. You're just trying to grab every chance you can just to be with 'em."

One of the youngsters who climbed into the back seat of daddy's car was Terry Bowden, now the coach at Auburn.

"It would always be a great time," he said. "All those trips, sleeping in the luggage racks on the bus, traveling with the team. It was just great."

Terry's older brother, Tommy, is now his offensive coordinator, and another brother, Jeff, is an assistant at Southern Mississippi. Terry, now in his second marriage, has four children, aged 2 to 12.

"It's very difficult for me," he said. "I just never expected to be a head coach at a major college with such young children. Older children just might need your support, but younger children, they need your presence."

Whether in the NFL, college or even high school, no coach is immune to that hidden fear, the one that makes them always think they've forgotten something, that they're not prepared. It pulls them back into the film room, back onto the field, back into the playbook - and away from their families.

"I've done it, we've all done it," Mora said. "You stay at the office even when you don't have much to do, just hanging around.

"I never neglected my job for my family, but I have neglected my family for my job. I don't know many coaches who haven't."

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Coaches' views on family and football

"When I took this job, I told everybody, and I told the football team first: My family is a priority for me, my kids are. Jimmy Johnson has told the world that his family doesn't mean anything to him. Football was first." - Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, who skipped a team meeting the night before a game to watch his son play in a college football game.

"I've always have liked (Switzer). (His comments) raised his stock in my eyes. He's always been very true to himself, and I appreciated his comments." - Auburn coach Terry Bowden.

"When we have a meeting on a Saturday night, I'm there. If one of my kids was playing football, and we had a meeting, I'd be at the meeting. I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying that's the way most of us have done it. If I had it to do over, I'd do a lot of things differently. . . . I never neglected my job for my family, but I have neglected my family for my job. I don't know many coaches who haven't." - New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora.

"They're only 2 once. They're only 4 once. They're only 6 once. So whatever things he experienced during that year, the ones you missed, you missed. He's not going back." - Cleveland Browns coach Bill Belichick.

"There's God, there's family and there's football. I take them in that order." - Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes.

"It puts a strain on family life, I'm sure coaching does. . . . My wife and the assistant coaches' wives, their husbands go to work at 6 a.m. and come home at 10 p.m., night after night after night. It's tough." - Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy.

"People say, `I wouldn't want to be a coach's wife.' Just think about back in the days when they built this nation. (Husbands) would be gone a year. They'd leave their wife at the ranch with those kids, and she'd be taking care of the kids and 'tending with the Indians. That's the way it was in the olden days." - Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.

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