Posted: Feb 11, 2013 7:52 PM by MTN News
Updated: Feb 11, 2013 7:53 PM
Former Montana State football coach Jim Sweeney passed away Friday night in Fresno, Calif., at the age of 83.
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, Calif., home to San Joaquin Gardens, a senior living community with continuing care services in Fresno.
Mr. Sweeney died at San Joaquin Gardens, according to John Wallace, former Bulldogs Foundation president.
Sweeney began his head coaching career at Butte Central before taking over Flathead's program in 1956. In four seasons under Sweeney, the Braves won two state championships, in 1958 and 1959. He also won five high school Coach of the Year Awards in Montana.
Sweeney left Flathead in 1959 to become an assistant coach at Montana State University. He was promoted to head coach in 1963 and guided the Bobcats to four Big Sky Conference championships, including three straight.
Sweeney coached 19 seasons at Fresno State University and holds the school record for victories with 144. Following his retirement in 1996 the school renamed the field at Bulldog Stadium in his honor.
During his tenure at Fresno, the Bulldogs had 35 players selected in the NFL draft. He also briefly served as a special teams coach with the NFL's Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Cardinals.
"He was a man of vision, toughness and character who led the Bulldogs to new heights and went on to become a national icon," Fresno State Athletic Director Thomas Boeh said in a statement.
Sweeney spent 44 overall seasons coaching, before retiring with 200 college wins in 32 seasons as a head coach.
With his wife Lucille, he had eight children. His son Kevin, whom Sweeney coached in the 1980s, still holds several quarterback records at Fresno State. Sweeney's first wife died in 1988.