Fueled By Death Cast Ep. 142 - JIM SWEENEY
NFL FOOTBALL PLAYER - JIM SWEENEY
"If you know what to do, you win, and that's the bottom line." Jim Sweeney, NY Jets/Seattle Seahawks/Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Lineman, Offensive Line Coach University at Albany
ABOUT JIM SWEENEY:
Meet Jim Sweeney, former NY Jets, Seattle Seahawks, and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman. Jim played for 16 seasons in the NFL, 11 of those for the Jets. Now, Jim is the offensive line coach for the University of Albany and helping shape young men into future NFL stars. Jim joins the podcast to talk about his love for the game at an early age, studying football at the University of Pittsburgh, and his career in the NFL. Also hear about his coaching methods at the University at Albany and how he uses what he gained from playing the game and the coaches and players he learned from.
Jeff: Jim, thank you so much for joining me on the show. I kind of want to start out in present day. Right now you are currently the offensive line coach for the University of Albany, correct?
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: When did you start that position?
Jim Sweeney: This will be my sixth season coaching, more like 16 years. I did some high school. I did Duquesne University when I first retired from the NFL. The head coach, which was Greg Gattusoon went onto Pitt and Maryland. I was raising kids, so I didn't have time to do it as full-time, so I did local high schools for about 10 years. I also trained guys getting ready for the NFL draft.
Jeff: Oh, wow, and now you're coaching college. I read in an interview with you, I believe, it was recent, you were talking about how when the idea of coaching came into your head, you always thought about college, you never wanted to really coach NFL. Is that correct?
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, I enjoy college. NFL is a different game now. It's a different animal. I like to coach kids to get them to that next level, see if we can get someone to the NFL.
Jim Sweeney: That to me would be more rewarding. I mean, it would be fun to coach the top offensive line in America. I mean, I've helped guys get there. I helped them a little bit. They were already going to be there. I just helped them a little bit, and most of those guys are retired now. That's how long ago I did it, but, I mean, I just like college. I mean, to get a young man to look at you as a mentor, as a father figure, as a coach they feed on every word you say. I mean, that's pretty powerful stuff.
Jeff: Yeah, definitely. Do you draw from any coaches like any practices that you observed either in the NFL, or when you were in college?
Jim Sweeney: I mean, I have a whole list of coaches that I pick and choose from each one of them. There were things I agreed with. There were things that I didn't agree with, but I still value their opinions. It just reiterates what I'm trying to do. I mean, my college coach, they have a national award named after him, Joe Moore Award that they give out to the top offensive line in America. That was my college coach. My high school coach, coach O'Neil, texted me every every game. He texted me birthdays. He just texted me the other day.
Jim Sweeney: I had a friend we played when we were in high school. I grew up with a guy named, Glenn Streno, as well, who played at University of Tennessee. He ended up being a center there as well. Well, they do this countdown by numbers. His number was also 53, so that for 53 days from the season they highlighted Glenn. I just, actually, texted Glenn this morning, but I originally got it from my high school line coach.
Jim Sweeney: So, I mean, I've always had great coaches all through my career, grade school, high school, college. My first pro coach was Jim Ringo, who is a Hall of Fame from the Green Bay Packers. Dan Radakovich, who was the architect of the Steelers line was one of my coaches. Larry Bechtel, was probably my favorite coach just because I could mess with him the most. He was about 5'6" round, and he had yellow teeth, but, no, I love Larry, and I still talk to him. I've had a whole list. Howard Mudd, who is pretty well-known around the NFL, he was one of my coaches. I mean, I've been blessed with a lot of great coaches, players as well. I learned a lot from players. A gentleman by the name of Joe Fields took me under his wing when I was a rookie with the Jets and taught me a lot about how to play the game as well. I got to pass that on. It's sort of neat that a guy that I played with in Seattle, Kevin Mawae, he's being inducted to the Hall of Fame August 3rd.
Jeff: Oh, that's excellent.
Jim Sweeney: I sort of took him under my wing, and what Joe Fields did with me, I did with Kevin. Even though it was just one year, I mean, he still gives me a lot of credit.
Joe Fields: Ray Donaldson, Jim Sweeney, Howard Ballard, and Eugene Robinson, you taught me how to be professionals as a young player.
Jeff: That's so cool. I read a recent article, actually, from the University of Albany where you said something that really stuck with me is where you deal with your players like they're in the NFL.
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: And you coach them that way. I think that is so important when you're talking about melding young men into making them football players. Why not deal with them like they're football professionals right now?
Jim Sweeney: I mean, why would you teach them something that's not the way it should be? I mean, I have my way. Like I said, I got to pick and choose from a lot of great coaches, put my own spin on it, and try to teach it the way I want to do it, the way I did as a player. To be honest with you, when I coached my son's Pop Warner team, I actually taught those guys, I wouldn't teach them bad habits. Why would you want to teach someone a bad habit that they're going to have to break eventually?
Jim Sweeney: My biggest concern always is safety. So I try to teach the game from a safety aspect. The way I teach it might be a little old school, but I think it's the safest way to do it.
Jeff: Yeah, like you said, and I think that's really important is in any sport, if you learn something not the way that it's going to be when you hit that professional level then you 100% have to change, and that is a detriment to your game. That's a detriment to the team that you're on.
Jim Sweeney: It may be too late, too, where you don't have time to change it. When you get to the NFL, I mean, every year they're bringing in players to replace you as well.
Jim Sweeney: If you can't pick it up, it doesn't matter which round you're picked in. If you can't do what they're asking, they're going to get rid of you. There's only probably 12, 11 offensive linemen on a roster. That's counting maybe guys who are on practice squad. There's not a whole lot of spots in the NFL for offensive linemen, so my goal is to get one of my players. There may be a kid here from Saratoga, Griffin Clancy, he's going to be a senior this year. He may have a shot this year. He's a big kid, try to get him in some Bull games this year. So at the end of the year we'll see where that goes.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Jim Sweeney: That would be great because I've seen Griff since he was a junior in high school. I've been with the young man for six years now. If we can get him into a camp that would be a feather in my cap.
Jeff: Oh, wow. Well, here's hoping because that's just great. It's so great to hear you talk about your duties as a coach because you still have a love for the game, and you have a love for imparting the knowledge that you've learned from playing professionally, and in college, and everything on this younger generation. I think that's very important.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, I mean, I've always stated that I enjoy coaching more than I did playing.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, I knew what I could do as a player. I mean, I love the game. I was able to make coaches come out we need you to play this position. I just, okay. I just did it. I got to play all five positions. In fact, I played six positions by the time I retired because I actually started at tight end my last game against the Titans, so that's six positions. I understand the subtle idiosyncrasies between each position, so I'm able to relate that through coaching about hand placement, foot placement, eye placement, all the little things that go into blocking. I think my kids respect that because they understand that I've been through the trenches, I've been there, so I know what they're experiencing. I've always told them there's probably not an a scenario out there that I haven't experienced that's not going to pop up that I'm going to know about.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, there's always a chance, but, I mean, you figure a 16 year career plus four major colleges there's a lot of football being played.
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. I'm just so proud of the UAlbany football organization, and they're so lucky to have you as part of their organization.
Jim Sweeney: Well, see, I look at it the other way. I'm lucky to be here. I'm lucky that they want me here because getting into the coaching profession, it's a tough gig now.
Jim Sweeney: It's not easy at any level. So for them to want me here, I feel privileged to be here to be honest with you.
Jeff: That's awesome. So let's take it all the way back. I know as a kid, your father was very instrumental in getting you into sports, and that kind of thing. I always wonder about this question, especially, with people who make it to the professional level because as a child I played some sports. I played baseball, and stuff like that, but I never had that moment where I was like, I want to pursue this as a career. I want to give that a shot. Was there a moment in your childhood where that happened where it wasn't just, I'm playing football with my friends, and now I actually maybe want to do it?
Jim Sweeney: To be honest with you, I just thought it was normal. I thought all kids did it, that all kids went on to play high school, college, professional. I didn't realize the higher you go, the harder it is. It just never dawned on me. I look at it, hey, maybe it was a gift from God. It is a gift from God. And I really don't want to waste his talents because I'll probably be dead a lot longer than I'll ever be alive. I don't want to get to the Pearly Gates and you wasted my gifts. So I tried to do it right. I tried to do it as long as I could, but I always thought that it was normal. I just didn't realize how lucky I was. I mean, I was blessed to have some talent, and you couldn't hurt me, so that was probably the biggest thing.
Jeff: You grew up in a great football area, Pittsburgh.
Jim Sweeney: Without a doubt, yeah.
Jeff: I mean, some of the greatest football players ever have come out of that area. It seems like there's something in the water that breeds just football.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, you know what? That's true. I mean, you figure the work ethic of Pittsburgh back in the '60s and '70s you had the mills. A lot of people were more blue collar than white collar, which isn't a bad thing. Neighborhoods were ethnic groups. You have Polish Hill. All the Irish lived in the Oakland, and just had areas like that, but for the most part everything was still intermixed. I mean, we had the Steelers. I mean, they weren't good in the '60s, but all of a sudden in the '70s that's where Dan Radakovich was the line coach.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, they started putting some teams together and bringing in some great players. They made Sundays fun. Then they started winning so that started everybody wants to be a Pittsburgh Steeler guy, because I can remember in fourth grade for an art project, I drew myself as a Pittsburgh Steeler. The only thing I did wrong is I drew myself as a defensive lineman. I realized I had more talent to play offense than play defense. That's a shot at my head coach because he's a defensive guy.
Jeff: That's awesome. Do you still have that drawing?
Jim Sweeney: No, I don't, no, but I can vividly remember I was drawing I was the defensive then, so.
Jeff: That's incredible. That's something I tend to talk a lot about a lot on this show where I really believe that if you put something out into the universe, it's the seed that starts that journey. Whether or not you make it to that finish line is all on you really, but, I mean, you in fourth grade, drawing yourself as a professional football player, as a Steeler, you put that out into the universe.
Jim Sweeney: And that's where I ended up, yeah.
Jeff: And eventually that's where you ended up, which is incredible.
Jim Sweeney: I don't know if it's incredible, or it was just luck.
Jeff: I think there's some universal stuff in there.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, there could be, yeah. I'm not that smart, so I can't claim that I even know the universe.
Jeff: Well, you went to Pitt.
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: And you played football in Pitt, but you also went to college there. Did you have a plan if football didn't work out, did you have a plan, like a backup plan?
Jim Sweeney: No.
Jeff: No, it was all football.
Jim Sweeney: No, I just figured, again, I wasn't smart enough to figure out that what I was doing was maybe something special. I just thought that that's the way it was done. I mean, playing at Pitt, I mean, there were number one draft picks. We had Mark May who was from Oneonta, New York. Russ Grimm, who was a third round pick who's in the Hall of Fame. Bill Fralic, God rest his soul was a number one pick. Jim Covert was a number one pick from the Chicago Bears. Of course, Joe Moore was there. So everybody that played for Joe Moore went on to the pro. So I just figured it was natural. I was lucky to have him as a coach. I took to his coaching and I had great players around me. We had Dan Marino was the quarterback.
Jeff: You were snapping at Dan Marino.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, I've had some pretty famous hands on my backside and not getting in any trouble for it. I mean, we had great guys on defense. Hugh Green, at that time was the highest vote-getter for the Heisman Trophy for defensive lineman. Rickey Jackson, who's in the Hall of Fame. I mean, we were just loaded with talent, but, again, that was the essence of Pittsburgh. That was football.
Jim Sweeney: I don't know if this is true or not, I think it is. There's more players in the Hall of Fame from Western PA than anywhere in the country.
Jeff: I would believe it.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah. I mean, you figure there's five or six quarterbacks. People don't realize that some of these quarterbacks were Western PA, but that's where a lot of good football players go. There is still good football there. I mean, because I would get to recruit, being a college coach, and Western PA is still one of my areas, and there's still a ton of talent coming out of Western PA. There might not be as many kids, but there is that much talent there.
Jeff: Yeah. You're playing in college and you played, correct me if I'm wrong, you played three seasons for Pitt, right?
Jim Sweeney: Well, four years.
Jeff: Four years.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, I snap punched my freshman year, but my sophomore year I was a backup, but I started my junior and senior year with them.
Jeff: So junior and senior year. And then you're drafted directly out of there into the Jets organization.
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: Take me to that moment. The draft is such a, for lack of a better term, a circus now. Nowadays it is. In the early '80s it still had some of that, but, I mean, you, like you said from childhood was just like this is the lay of the land. I'm going to play football until I hopefully make it professional. When you get that notification that you've been drafted to the Jets organization, was it just business as usual? Did you take a moment to take it all in?
Jim Sweeney: I mean, it was something special. Again, I wasn't smart enough to realize how special it was. Again, I just thought it was something-
Jeff: Everybody did.
Jim Sweeney: That was happening. It was just the way it was supposed to be. That's when ESPN started doing the drafts. It's not like now where everybody comes out on stage. The only thing there was they did at the hotel, the Marriott in New York City, so it was just the scouts. The organizations were given cars to Pete Rozelle and you would wait for a phone call. So the drafts started about 7:30. There was only ... How many teams were there? I think there was only 16.
Jeff: 16, I think, at that point.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, at that point. No, it was more than that. There had to be more than 16 teams.
Jeff: '82 was a long time ago.
Jim Sweeney: How many are there now? 32?
Jeff: Something like that.
Jim Sweeney: 28.
Jim Sweeney: There's 28. Yeah, because I was the 37th pick. I was the ninth pick in the second round. They started at 7:30. There were some rumors that maybe I could go in the first round. It didn't happen, but the second round was pretty cool.
Jeff: Heck, yeah.
Jim Sweeney: So about noon, 12:30, I got a call from Joe Walton who was a Pittsburger, he was a Pitt guy. He was the head coach of the Jets, and he says, "How would you like to be a Jet?" I said, "Absolutely." And from there on it was full go. Then the next couple of days I was on a plane here in New York. In fact, I was at game seven on our trip here for, I guess, it was a mini-camp was game seven. The Islanders were playing the Canadiens going for their fifth cup.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh.
Jim Sweeney: I got a chance to go in the Nassau Coliseum and watch game seven.
Jim Sweeney: I'm a big hockey fan.
Jim Sweeney: A big Penguin fan.
Jeff: Yeah, of course.
Jim Sweeney: Yes.
Jeff: Of course. Was it any different, was it a big jump from playing at Pitt, and then playing at the professional level for the Jets?
Jim Sweeney: It was because, I mean, football is football. I mean, blocking, there are skills to it, but, I mean, learning systems, but understanding the game as a whole. I mean, when I was at Pitt, when I played center, I made all the calls, but I really didn't understand why I was making the calls other than I knew how to make the calls, but when I got to the Jets, Joe Fields said, "Nuh-uh, when you're here, you got to know what's going on across the board. You got to know quarterback drops. You got to know where your help is coming from. You got to know how many people are formations, and personnel." He says, "The more you know, the easier the game is."
Jim Sweeney: There's a lot of merit to that. It actually slows the game down because that's what they always talk about the speed of the game increases, but if you understand what's going on around you, the speed of the game tends to slow down, and you can understand because there's only so many things that defense can do. I mean, the more you can engulf, and the more information you can bring in, the easier the game becomes.
Jeff: Wow. That's really-
Jim Sweeney: There are no dumb guys playing football, trust me.
Jeff: Oh, I'm sure of it. I mean, it's such a game that is so much more mental than you actually see when you watch it live, or on television.
Jim Sweeney: Correct, 100%, because you also have to be able to make split decisions, changes in the middle of a play. In fact, my first line coach, Jim Ringo, was always talking about the moment of truth is when it's fourth and one, and you're on the one inch line, and all of a sudden defense changes do you know what to do? Because if you don't, you lose.
Jim Sweeney: If you know what to do, you win, and that's the bottom line.
Jeff: Wow. Wow. So you go on to play, correct me if I'm wrong, 11 seasons for the Jets?
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: You are constantly lauded as one of the most consistent centers that the organization have ever seen. Speaking on consistency, you started almost 158 games, I think it was, 160 games.
Jim Sweeney: Something like that.
Jeff: Something like that.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah.
Jeff: How do you stay healthy to get all of those starts throughout that point in your career because, again, playing center it's not like, I mean, everybody on the offensive line, obviously, has their job to do, and has to go against that defensive line, but it is with 100% certainty that center is going to be up against a guy every single play.
Jim Sweeney: Yes.
Jeff: You would be like you are going to get hit every single time that that ball is snapped.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah.
Jeff: How do you stay healthy? How do you keep those starts?
Jim Sweeney: Agaion, great coaches. My strength coach at Pitt was Buddy Morris who's now with the Arizona Cardinals. He's one of the most renowned names in the strength and conditioning business, so I had him. During off season I would go back to Pitt and work out with him. Then when you got with your professional teams, now it's year-round where you have to live in the area. Well, back then we could go home and come back for mini-camp they come back, and summer camp, so they sort of left it up to you. I just had great guys who I used to work out with. I used to go to Gold's Gym in Pittsburgh, which is now Lifeforce, and the people that own the gym they're still friends. There was always good guys working out there, so I was always. It was basically on my own, but, again, it was more of a religion back then. Now I'm a work out atheist as you can tell by the spare tire around by gut.
Jeff: You put your time in. It's okay. It's okay.
Jim Sweeney: That's right, yeah, but, I mean, it was basically left up to me. They always said, "Hey, come back in May. If you want a job, come back in shape." So they left it up to you. They didn't take you by the hand. So there's some merit to letting you be a man about it. If you this job, then you got to do what it takes to keep the job because every year, again, they're going to bring people in to take your job. Eventually they're going to bring someone. And it does happen no matter how long you play. It's not what you did for me. It's what can you do for me? That's the motto that every player in the NFL should have that, hey, eventually they're going to bring somebody in to replace you because that's just the nature of the game.
Jeff: That's the nature of the game keep it fresh.
Jim Sweeney: That's why I didn't want to waste any time because I knew eventually it's like a ride at Kennywood. That's an amusement park in Pittsburgh. Once you get on that Thunderbolt you're going to have a ton of fun while you're on it, but eventually you're going to have to get off, and that's sort of what an NFL career is like. You got your ups and downs, and you have a ton of fun, and eventually you do have to get off.
Jeff: Wow. That's really great. It's very inspiring to hear something like that. And then moving from the Jets, I believe it was the '94, '95 season you went with-
Jim Sweeney: '95.
Jeff: '95 you went to Seattle. Was it a different monster playing on the West Coast as opposed to the East Coast, or was it just [crosstalk 00:21:49]
Jim Sweeney: 100%.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, everything was later. Dennis Erickson was the head coach who was a pretty well-known name. Howard Mudd was my line coach who I didn't always agree with, but I always respect, and I still love to this day. He was another guy that if I need something I'll call him. I was only there the one season, again, because Kevin Mawae was a guard and they wanted him to play center. It was a good choice because he's going to the Canton in about three weeks, so, I mean, but I was only there a year, and then I got a chance to come home and play. I was a backup, but it was still a chance to be part of an organization for four more years. It gave me a chance to retire on my terms because that's when it's easy. When you're forced out of the game by an injury, or you get cut and you think you can still play, that's when it weighs on your mind, but with me, I had enough. I was getting off the rollercoaster because I knew it was time.
Jeff: You hung up your cleats on your own.
Jim Sweeney: On my own terms. That's probably why I was at ease with it.
Jeff: That's great. And speak a little bit about that, being able to come back to the place that you grew up and play, be that kid in fourth grade, drawing yourself as a Steeler, and now you get to play for the Steelers. Did you have any way of tipping that scale to make that happen, or was that a surprise?
Jim Sweeney: Maybe a little bit. My high school coach at the time, obviously, when I was in high school was the general manager of the Steelers. Again, I've had a lot of great people around me. It was tough for me to fail, really it was. Coach Donahoe was the general manager of the Steelers, and he told me, he says, "Hey, we can bring you in, but you still have to make the team." I said, "I'll make the team." Then I got a chance to play four more years. And then when coming into the last game I needed two surgeries in the off season. I wasn't playing that much. The reason I came back for 16, 15 would have been great because I broke my foot in my 15th year. Again, I didn't want to retire on an injury because that will weigh heavy on your mind. So I said, "If I can come back and get one more year in and walk away from the game on my terms, that would be a career." I was able to do that.
Jeff: That's so exciting. I mean, through all of it, that kind of leads me into the theme of this show. Through your career, through up until even this point where you get to shape young minds, and are coaching at an incredible organization like U of Albany and everything that you've done, what fuels you to keep doing it, to keep having passion for it, and to keep getting out there, and doing what you do?
Jim Sweeney: I mean, I just love the sport. I mean, it's a total team sport. In college, you get pretty much of a turnover because you only get the guys for mostly five years. Again, it's their maturing years and to see a young 17-year-old, 18-year-old come in as a young kid, all of a sudden, five years later he's 22, 23, leaving as a young man, but the only thing is they're walking out with degrees because not everybody makes it, obviously, but they can make it in life. I've had some great ... I inherited a bunch of great guys who are out in the world now teaching, corrections officer, in sales, working in a city. I mean, just all different facets of life, but they always come back and when they see you it's like, "Hey coach, how you doing man?" And I was like, "Hey." It's like they never left.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, some guys, I mean, I have one guy right now, he wants to go into the military. He wants to go into military intelligence. He was just a brilliant kid. He was about 6'8". He's still 6'8", but he was about 300 pounds. He's down to 235. I mean, he looks like a beanpole, but I says, "How do you lose weight? I gained weight." But it's fun, I mean, as long as you make an impression on people and they come back, I think, I know I'm doing my job that if they come back and say, "You were very positive in my life, and you're one of the reasons why I'm successful at what I'm doing." And that's probably why you do coaching.
Jeff: That's excellent. That's inspiring, too. And it also seems like everything throughout your entire career, what you've been talking about, it seems like football is a family. It seems like you kind of become really intertwined with the players that you play with, the coaches that you're around, even the opposing teams because you still are in contact with a lot of these guys from your career, from high school, from college, and all that kind of stuff.
Jim Sweeney: Yeah, I mean you do. Not that you have to talk every day, but eventually you'll cross paths, and it seems like you just saw them yesterday. That's what football does for you. Maybe that's why I love it so much because I do love my friends. I mean, I've been blessed, again, with a lot of great people in my life, and they're still instrumental in my life. Not that I get to talk to them all the time. I just surprised, actually, Shannon's godfather. I was recruiting in Pittsburgh and I was in West Virginia. He lives near the West Virginia, Pennsylvania border so on my way back I stopped at his house. I just recently cut my hair. I let it grow for about a year for a reason, but he kept saying, "Get your haircut. Get your hair cut."
Jim Sweeney: So I FaceTime, I say, "Hey, I got my hair cut. Look who cut my hair." And it was his wife. So I was at his house. He wasn't home, so he came over. It was good to see him again, but I haven't seen him in a while. His name is Ben Woods. Again, that's Shannon's godfather. So all my friends are still pretty much part of my life and got them to drink Death Wish coffee, too. You order it online. Family, it is about family. It's about making relationships, and when coaching now people are entrusting their sons to me. I take it as these are now my kids. I always tell people I have five kids at home, but I have 18 kids at work. First thing I tell their parents, especially, the mothers is your son's safety is my biggest concern, so I will never ask him to do something that I never did as a player, or would put him in harm's way. I just don't believe in that.
Jeff: That's excellent. That is excellent. And even throwing it back full circle, speaking of friends that you've had in the game, people that you still are connected with, your best friend from childhood is Greg, correct?
Jim Sweeney: Correct.
Jeff: Like who is your head coach at U of Albany?
Jim Sweeney: He's my boss.
Jeff: Your boss. Full circle, but I mean you guys came up together. Shannon was telling me while you were playing at Pitt, he was playing at Penn.
Jim Sweeney: Penn State.
Jeff: Penn State.
Jim Sweeney: That's where she was.
Jeff: So you guys were rivals technically then, right?
Jim Sweeney: It got even better than that.
Jim Sweeney: I was the center. He was the nose guard. So we played directly across from one another.
Jeff: What was that like?
Jim Sweeney: Believe it or not we didn't say anything. Everybody thought that we would talk to one another. It wasn't like that. It was business. Everybody else was talking about it. We didn't have to. And we knew, everybody knew we were friends, but it probably wasn't just isolated to that one scenario because Pitt and Penn State were pretty prominent programs at the time. Between '76 and '86 those 10 years at one time during the season, Pitt or Penn State was number one in the country, and usually the other team was in the top 10. If you didn't go to Pitt, you went to Penn State and vice versa.
Jim Sweeney: So there were a lot of relationships I'm sure like that where high school kids were playing against each other. We were so close, I mean, you couldn't get any closer unless you're in the same huddle. Then we were on the offense alone, but, well, we really didn't want to say anything. Again, everybody else was talking about it. We didn't feel the need to, but it is funny how now he is my boss, and he hates when I say that so that's why I say that he's my boss.
Jeff: Well, I mean, but, again, it's that full circle thing where you guys are just kids just playing football.
Jim Sweeney: And we're still just kids.
Jeff: And you're still just kids, but now you're working together and it's incredible.
Jim Sweeney: We've been together 51 years.
Jeff: That's incredible.
Jim Sweeney: We actually started out as rival kindergartners. We were at the same time just different rooms. I always tell kids when recruiting them that we're like the two old guys in the Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf. Yeah, that's Greg and I.
Jeff: That is excellent. That is excellent. Finally, I want to ask a little bit on your NFL career. It's kind of a two-sided question. Do you look back at any point in that career finally like maybe games or plays or players that you used to get to play against that you really liked? And then the second part of that question is, do you use any of your career to help coach the kids that you coach?
Jim Sweeney: I mean, looking back, I don't regret anything. I mean, I wasn't meant to win a championship. That's fine, but I got to play 16 years, and I got to play a lot of plays so I don't have any regrets. I love all the guys that I played with. I've played against some of the greatest guys who people have enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but I held my own.
Jeff: Any plays ever stick out to you? Any games or anything that you?
Jim Sweeney: There are. I mean, I actually show my kids plays at times about how I want things done, and it gives me a little boost, too, but there's times there's a play I had against Mike Singletary on Monday Night Football where I just drove him about 10 yards and dumped him, but I also show them plays where John Offerdahl knocked me on my can, too, but the next play I ran a defensive back down on an interception. So I said, "What you don't do is you don't stay down." I say, "Everybody gets knocked down, and at times you get to knock people down." So I want to show them both perspectives. I won't show them a whole lot, but I do show them plays.
Speaker 4: First in 10 gets to their own 31 yard line and it's right here just stopped near the line of scrimmage at the 30 yard line. And it's John Bowser who's been taking some heat. He's the number one draft choice with a holdout signed rate, and they're making a big issue over the fact that he does not have a set this season.
Speaker 5: Although that's something that's really not bothering Don Shula. He says, "I know that's the type of thing that's going to come." There's John Offerdahl. That is how you take on a blocker as he just puts a hurt to Jim Sweeney, the left tackle in on the play as well, but the disruption initially came from John Bowser with two, three yards in the back field.
Speaker 4: Inside of the 20, now 10, and is trying to work. I mean, Kenny O'Brien trying to work the ball to the outside. Doesn't seem like when you see him react back from the inside and without being seen at the sprint to the goal line he'll take a little ribbing from his teammates about not getting into the end zone.
Jim Sweeney: Coaching. Yeah, I coach the way I play. I mean, to play 16 years, and to come out of it healthy, I mean, I must have did something right. So why would I teach something that I didn't do? It just wouldn't make sense. Again, safety is my biggest concern. There's a reason why kids commit to Albany that all of a sudden they're mine. Well, I take it as a personal responsibility that they're going to walk out of here with a degree and the key word is walk. I'm going to coach them hard. I'm going to coach them the way I want because I think they'll have success at it. Again, when they look at you, when you instruct them, and teach them, and mold them how to do certain blocks, and then they do it, and they do it right, and they turn and look at you, and you go, "Got it. See, I wouldn't lie to you."
Jeff: That's awesome. That is so inspiring. Finally, going into the NFL season here this year, having the career that you did, but also being from Pittsburgh is it tough to watch the NFL now and root for just a single team? Do you always root for the Steelers, or is it the Jets, or is it who do you?
Jim Sweeney: To be honest with you, we don't get to watch much football because we're all working.
Jeff: Because you're working, yeah.`
Jim Sweeney: We're working on Sundays for the next opponent. We have 12 games this year. I mean, we're going to have a good team this year at Albany, come watch us.
Jeff: We're rooting for you a lot.
Jim Sweeney: We got some acquisitions in. We got some transfers in. We've had some guys in the program now for five years, and we got to make some noise. I mean, it's time. We've had some close battles, but you don't get points for moral victories, so we need to step it up a little bit this year. That's on the coaches, and we'll respond, but, I mean, as far as watching NFL games, I really don't get to watch. I do at the end of the year. I mean, I got to watch the Jets. They're the ones that gave me a chance.
Jim Sweeney: I still have friends that work with the Jets, but, I mean, the Steelers are okay. I mean, they're going to win they're a perennial powerhouse, but, I mean, those guys like, Mike Vrabel, is the head coach of Tennessee now I was a teammate with in the Steelers, so I get to watch him. Mike Mularkey is an assistant coach who was a head coach. So there's still guys that I have crossed paths with during my career that they're coaching, so I get to watch them. One of my best friends who is actually from Rome, New York is Tom Myslinski. He's the strength coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I stay in touch with him the most. I'll watch the Jaguars, so I'll root for them, but me, I'm just a football fan.
Jeff: Like I said, that's what's great about you is that at the end of the day, football is football, and that's what you're rooting for.
Jim Sweeney: Right, and whatever level, man. I get a chance to go to Shen High School and watch them play on our bi-week, so I'll go. I mean, I just love watching it. I mean, I'll watch any football, I really do because to me I'm always learning. You can always learn.
Jim Sweeney: When somebody says they know everything they're lying because I don't know everything and I've been doing it for 48 years.
Jeff: Yeah. That is so inspiring. Finally, what is the best way to follow your journey at UAlbany and the team? I know UAlbany does do some social media. Do you social media at all?
Jim Sweeney: I try.
Jeff: You try.
Jim Sweeney: I'm not very good. I'm still a pen and pencil guy, pencil and paper guy.
Jim Sweeney: If I showed you my iPhone, you'd laugh. I mean it's not a flip phone, but it's close. I mean, I try to do social media. I get in trouble because I don't. I'm just not one of those guys that likes to put things out there. I mean, I had a coach tell me, "Why do you always want someone to read your mail?" So putting your stuff out there people get in trouble for putting stupid things out there. And I'm not the brightest bulb in a box, but I always said, "My mouth will get me fired before my actions." I mean, I try to do. I have Twitter and I have twittered so we can direct message kids that we're recruiting.
Jim Sweeney: It's a way to follow a kid, see how his career is going. Even guys that commit to other schools, I tend to keep them because I want to follow their careers because there's a reason why we crossed and we met. I want to make sure that kids that I came in contact with, because you never know what down the road where it may lead. You may meet up with them again, or they might want to use you as a reference, or maybe they want to get into coaching, and all of a sudden you guys will be working together. I believe there's a reason why I meet every kid that I meet, and there's a reason why I keep them in my phone it's for that in case we do meet again.
Jeff: That's excellent. Well, in this episode, I will definitely put links to UAlbany's football organization.
Jim Sweeney: Right. I mean, I guess if you go on ualbany.com sports section, they're going to have the schedules.
Jim Sweeney: I mean, it was on Twitter.
Jim Sweeney: Again, I don't know how to navigate.
Jeff: I'll put that all in there.
Jim Sweeney: That was all after me. My first video game was Tank Battle. It was two handles. It wasn't even Atari, so you know how old I am.
Jeff: Oh, man. Well, it's incredible to talk to someone like you who like you were saying, you got to have an incredible career, leave on your own terms, and feel good about all of that. And now being able to mold the next generation of football players, and everything that you're doing at U of Albany, it honestly was really inspiring getting to talk with you. And I'm so glad that you took the time to be on the show.
Jim Sweeney: Well, I enjoy it. I'm still young at heart. Again, obviously, Weezer, but, yeah, I mean, I think football keeps me young it really does that, and getting to coach you can't get old being a coach. It's like you stop time. And I get to do it with my best friend every day, so my life's good. It really is.
Jeff: That's awesome. That is awesome. Well, Jim, thank you so much.
Jim Sweeney: I appreciate it. No problem.