Why covering Jim Sweeney was such a remarkable experience

I covered Fresno State football for the last nine of coach Jim Sweeney’s 19 seasons, and I long lost count the number of college beat reporters from other newspapers who said they envied me.

The Western Athletic Conference at the time actually had several cool personalities as football coaches, such as Utah’s Ron McBride and Wyoming’s Joe Tiller.

But there was only one Jim Sweeney. There will ALWAYS be only one Jim Sweeney.

Jim Sweeney was a delight to cover.

As much as my heart beats for high school sports, my Bee career that now counts 35 years will always be highlighted by the time spent with Jim.

And I emphasize TIME.

Jim, who died Friday at 83, had an open door policy with me. He gave me countless, unconditional hours, and it wasn’t as if he had nothing else to do.

Besides being great friends who deeply respected each other’s families, a big part of this was Jim’s interest in educating me — his interest in educating reporters in general.

He liked to read, and he wanted to help those who wrote.

Never did he deny me an interview. Never did he deny a request to draw up Xs and Os on the greaseboard. Never did he deny an answer to a question.

Never did he deny me his hand with that vice-like grip — accompanied with a finger snap, of course.

Seems like yesterday when we walked off Jack Murphy Stadium following that final game against San Diego State on Nov. 23, 1996.

He threw his left hand around my shoulders as we walked from the 50 to 45 to 40 to 35 to 30 to 25 to 20 to 15 to 10 to 5 to the end zone, through the tunnel and out.

What an extraordinary ride it was.

Lord, how I was fortunate.