Jim Sweeney remembered; 1929-2013

FRESNO, Calif.

Legendary football coach Jim Sweeney passed away Friday night at the age of 83.

Sweeney spent 19 years as head football coach at Fresno state and has the most victories in school history. When Jim Sweeney arrived at Fresno state in 1976 the bulldogs were a struggling program playing in front of small crowds at Ratcliff Stadium.

But Sweeney saw potential in the challenge in front of him comparing Fresno state to a "sleeping giant."

In just his second season the bulldogs were conference champions his early success made Fresno state fans believers and that fueled the drive to build an on-campus stadium in 19-78. Sweeney's bulldogs annually contended for conference titles and bowl games in 1985 the bulldogs were the only team in the nation that year to finish the season unbeaten and were rewarded with a top 20 ranking.

His biggest victory no doubt came seven years later leading a much smaller and less talented squad to a surprise 24-7 victory over USC in the '92 freedom bowl.

Sweeney carried a certain swagger of confidence the red wave loved his aggressive and sometimes razzle-dazzle play calling.

He sent a number of players to the NFL Trent Dilfer, Henry Ellard, Lorenzo Neal and Kevin Sweeney were among the most talented.

The list of coaches who learned under Sweeney reads like a roll call of some of football's biggest names, Dennis Erickson, Lane Kiffin, Pat Hill, Mike Martz and Jeff Tedford were just a few of his many assistants who left for greener pastures and flourished.

Jim Sweeney retired in 1996 with 201 career victories capturing eight conference crowns in 19-seasons at Fresno state. The field at bulldog stadium is named in honor of him and the fans in the stands certainly will remember Jim Sweeney as the man who built Fresno state into a winner and put the bulldogs on the college football map.

The Sweeney family is working with Fresno state on a memorial that will celebrate Jim Sweeney's life and career as head coach.

The family tells action news it will be held at Jim Sweeney Field at Bulldog Stadium.

The date and time of the memorial still hasn't been finalized, but the Sweeney family says it will be open to the public.

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.