Jim Sweeney, legendary college football coach, dies at 83


The Fresno Bee

FRESNO, Calif. — Jim Sweeney, who christened Fresno State a “sleeping giant” when he arrived in 1976 and then awakened not only the school but a region with 19 years of charismatic, firm and witty leadership as a football coach, died Friday. He was 83.

“He was the catalyst, he gave us hope, and he gave us pride,” said longtime Bulldogs booster Harry Gaykian. “He took us from being obscure to being somebody.”

Sweeney had been admitted recently for a week at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno. His failing health had forced him and his wife, June, to move a couple of months earlier from their Clovis home to San Joaquin Gardens, a senior living community with continuing care services in Fresno.

He was born in Butte, Mont., and raised there as the youngest of seven children to a miner — some say it lent to his tough-as-nails demeanor.

Mr. Sweeney won exactly 200 games in 32 years as coach at Montana State, Washington State and Fresno State.

Jim Sweeney Field at Bulldog Stadium was named in the coach’s honor in 1997: “A monumental occasion, the highlight of my coaching career.”

It all began in 1976, when he arrived from Washington State of the then-Pac 8 Conference, where he had gone a humbling 26-59-1 in eight years following a rousing career start at Montana State.

In 1975, the year before Mr. Sweeney’s arrival from Pullman, Fresno State football brought in $245,000.

Not two decades later, the Bulldogs were playing USC and Colorado in consecutive bowls while generating nearly $4 million annually.