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Jim Sweeney(1929 - 2013)

By Andy Boogaard / The Fresno Bee

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."

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.

It's that Bulldogs career (1976-77, 1980-2006, interrupted by one-year NFL stops as an assistant with the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Raiders) that he's most remembered for: an-NCAA career record-breaking passing performance by his son, Kevin; eight conference titles; and five bowl wins, including his signature conquest -- 24-7 over USC with nearly 30,000 Fresno State fans present in the 1992 Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium.

"Biggest win in the history of Fresno State football -- by far," Mr. Sweeney said after taking a victory lap around the damp, late-December field while swirling a white towel above his head.

Published in the Fresno Bee on Feb. 9, 2013
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