Longtime and winningest Fresno State head coach Sweeney dies at 83
FRESNO, Calif. -- Fresno State's legendary head football coach Jim Sweeney passed away Feb. 8. He was 83 years old.
Sweeney led the Bulldogs for 19 years on the sidelines, finishing as Fresno State's all-time wins leader with 144. In his 32 seasons as a head coach, he finished with 200 wins.
"Jim Sweeney is a Bulldog legend who will be deeply missed in our community," Fresno State president John D. Welty said. "Not only was he one of Fresno State's most successful football coaches, but he was also a man who loved his student-athletes, first as individuals, and second as athletes, making their well-being a priority. Jim was devoted to Fresno and to our university -- he embodied the true Bulldog spirit."
After winning eight conference championships at Fresno State and retiring following the 1996 season, the field at Bulldog Stadium was renamed Jim Sweeney Field.
Sweeney was considered by many as one of college football's greatest motivators. The Bulldogs were ranked in the top 25 in seven of Sweeney's years and won five bowl championship games.
"Most of what our football program has accomplished in recent years was clearly made possible by the path that Coach Sweeney blazed for Fresno State Football throughout his two decades of leadership," Fresno State's Director of Athletics Thomas Boeh said. "He was a man of vision, toughness and character who led the Bulldogs to new heights and went on to become a national icon. Our deepest condolences go out to June [Sweeney] as well as Jim's entire family. It is our hope that all will find comfort in knowing that Coach Sweeney will be missed by thousands and honored always at Fresno State."
With several stints as an NFL assistant, Sweeney delivered championship Bulldog teams and garnered numerous individual coaching honors, including three-time PCAA Coach of the Year, two-time District 9 Coach of the Year, Big West Coach of the Year in 1988 and '89 and a national coach of the year finalist, also in '89.
Under Sweeney, dozens of Bulldogs were able to move on to professional football. The list includes Henry Ellard, Trent Dilfer, Stephone Paige, Stephen Baker, Ron Cox and Aaron Craver. Overall, 35 players went on to be drafted by NFL teams.
Sweeney was born Sept. 1, 1929, in Butte, Mont., and began his head coaching career at Montana State in 1963. Following Montana State, Sweeney became the head coach at Washington State from 1968-75, before being hired at Fresno State in 1976.
After two years at Fresno State, Sweeney took to the NFL as an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders in John Madden's final season, then one year with the St. Louis Cardinals under Bud Wilkinson. Sweeney was hired back at Fresno State following the 1979 season with the Cardinals, and remained a Bulldog until his retirement following the 1996 season.
Sweeney's 200 victories rank him 19th all time in collegiate victories. Sweeney was inducted into the Fresno Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Montana State Hall of Fame in 2002.
Not only did Sweeney have the chance to mentor a strong list of players, but also had the chance to coach his son, Kevin Sweeney, from 1983-86. Kevin still holds several quarterback records at Fresno State, including most passing yards in a career with 10,808.
Sweeney started a tradition at Fresno State, that to this day, the football team still chants: "I'm Bulldog born, Bulldog bred and I'm going to be a Bulldog until the day I'm dead! Go Dogs!"