Fresno State’s legendary head football coach Jim Sweeney passed away Friday, February 8th, 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 victories. 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’s University 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 college football’s greatest motivators and helped push Fresno State into the upper echelon of the Division I ranks. His tenure as head coach at Fresno State brought Sweeney into the national limelight. 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 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 3-time PCAA Coach of the Year, 2-time District 9 Coach of the Year, Big West Coach of the Year in 1988 and 1989 and National Coach of the Year finalist, also in 1989.
Under Sweeney, dozens of Bulldogs polished their skills well enough 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.
Coach Sweeney was born September 1, 1929 in Butte, Montana 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, Coach Sweeney took to the NFL, as an assistant coach for the Oakland Raiders in John Madden’s final season and 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 coach Sweeney have the chance to mentor an unbelievable 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.
Coach Sweeney started a tradition at Fresno State, that to this day, the football team still says those famous final words, and Coach Jim Sweeney will always hear those chants:
"I'm Bulldog Born, Bulldog Bred and I'm going to be a Bulldog until the day I'm Dead! Go Dogs!"
A memorial service will be planned in Bulldog Stadium, more details to follow.
Statement from Fresno State head coach Tim DeRutyer on the passing of Jim Sweeney
“Our football team and staff are deeply saddened by the news of Coach Jim Sweeney's death. Coach Sweeney is an icon in College football who put Fresno State football on the national map. His larger than life personality and tenacity in which he coached the game are legendary. He will be sorely missed not only in Fresno and the Valley, but by the coaching community as a whole. We pray that Coach Sweeney's family will be comforted by the knowledge that Coach's impact was profound and his legacy will live in the hearts of the Red Wave for a long, long time.”
Statement from Chris Pacheco, who played for Jim Sweeney at Fresno State in 1984 and 1985
“I came to Fresno in 1983 because of Jim Sweeney! I decided to stay in Fresno after my Bulldog playing days because of Jim Sweeney! He is and always will be a father figure to me! My father died in my mid 20’s, he filled that void. He treated me like a son, not a player. He taught me how to be a man, how to be accountable for your actions every day, to do the right thing, not just sometimes, all the time! To this day I use his five success essentials in life! The SWEENEYISM’S that he taught me are a part of my daily thoughts and coaching to my staff and family! ‘If you always do what you have always done than you will always be what you have always been’ is definitely one of my favorites. Attitude is everything is what I have told my children for the last 15 years. When I would screw up he would let me have it, but always ended with ‘that is not like you’, ‘all setbacks in life are temporary and should be treated as such!’ He taught you how to enjoy life, not just to live, but to LAUGH along the journey!! I love Jim Sweeney and I will always love Jim Sweeney! Bulldog Born, Bulldog Bred, Gonna be a Bulldog to the day I am dead!!”