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Sweeney Doesn’t Recall First Victory But Remembers Lots of Others

November 1, 1996

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) _ Jim Sweeney doesn’t really recall the first game he won as a college football coach, but he remembers lots of other highlights in a career that is just one win away from 200 victories.

Like three Big Sky championships with Montana State, including one in his first season as a head coach in 1963.

Like a 7-4 record with Washington State in 1972 which won Sweeney coach of the year honors in the tough Pac-8.

Like eight championships in 19 years at Fresno State, coaching his quarterback son to glory and winning five bowl games, including a 24-7 Freedom Bowl upset over Southern Cal in 1992.

Sweeney hopes to get one more highlight this Saturday _ his 200th victory _ which would put him in a category only 15 other major college coaches have reached. Fresno State (3-4) will be favored to beat Boise State (1-7) at Bulldog Stadium.

Getting the 200th win in this game has become more important since Sweeney announced last week that he will retire at the end of the season. The Bulldogs are unlikely to be favored in their final three games against tough Western Athletic Conference foes.

Sweeney admitted that reaching number 200 is ``more important now than it was at the beginning of the season.″

For Sweeney, the single biggest highlight was not the bowl victory over USC nor Fresno State’s undefeated 1985 team, but the 1977 team. Those Bulldogs were called the ``stadium builders″ because their 9-2 record got the community so excited people pledged $7 million to build a first-class stadium.

``They were overachievers,″ Sweeney said. ``All of them graduated. They were awesome guys.″

Sweeney has similar sentiments toward many athletes he’s coached over the years.

``Most of all I remember the players,″ Sweeney said in an interview.

He mentioned a few names from long ago _ Dennis Erickson, who coaches the Seattle Seahawks; Jon Stenerud, who became a top NFL field goal kicker and is Sweeney’s godson; Joe Tiller, Sweeney’s protege who now coaches undefeated and 18th-ranked Wyoming.

In nearly two decades at Fresno State, Sweeney coached wide receivers Henry Ellard and Stephone Paige on the same team, and both became stars in the NFL. His son, Kevin Sweeney, set a then-career passing record for a major college quarterback with 10,623 yards in the mid-1980s. And Trent Dilfer led the Bulldogs to a share of WAC titles in 1992 and 1993 before skipping his senior year to quarterback Tampa Bay of the NFL.

Sweeney, who turned 67 the day after the first 1996 game, is retiring largely because his health is poor. He’s had seven major operations in recent years, including repairs to his right knee damaged in a near-fatal traffic accident last March.

``I’ve got to spend a lot of time in rehab,″ Sweeney said. ``I can’t play golf now, no way I can.″

Then, his Irish humor showed through as he quipped:

``If it doesn’t get better, I’m going to seek another coaching job.″

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