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FOOTBALL '93 / THE COMMUNITY COLLEGES : Swearingen Keeping Things in Perspective

September 08, 1993|STEVE KRESAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MISSION VIEJO — When it came time for Coach Ken Swearingen to speak about the upcoming season, he assured those gathered at the Mission Conference media day of one thing.

"We're not going to be improved," he said. "We're just trying to be competitive."

There was plenty of truth in Swearingen's glib remark. It would be impossible for his 1993 team to surpass the accomplishments of the 1992 team.

Saddleback was 11-0 last season and won its second J.C. Grid-Wire national championship under Swearingen. The Gauchos also won the title in 1985.

He starts this season, his 32nd as a head coach, poised to add another impressive feat to his long list of accomplishments.

With one victory, he will become the winningest community college football coach in U.S. history.

He starts his 32nd year with a mark of 241-68-6. He is tied with Hal Sherbeck, who retired at Fullerton after the 1991 season with a record of 241-71-8 in 31 seasons.

Swearingen can set the mark when the Gauchos play host to Santa Monica at 7 p.m. Saturday.

His teams also have won 14 conference titles and finished second nine times. Three of his teams have gone 11-0 and he has had only one losing season.

"When you look back," Swearingen, 59, said. "It's really an accomplishment that I lasted this long in this crazy business. But you don't ever do it alone. You have to have a great staff like I have and great players as well. . .I wish (the chance to set the record) would come at the end of the year, then we could really celebrate."

But parties aren't really on Swearingen's mind. He is much more interested in watching to see how well his team comes together.

But the last three years he has looked at the season from a different perspective--the defensive one.

Swearingen has run the offense for most of his coaching career. He was at El Camino from 1962 to 1975 then moved to Saddleback in 1976. But he made the switch to defense out of necessity before the 1991 season. Vince McCullough, Swearingen's long-time friend and defensive coordinator, retired from coaching after the 1990 season.

But the college was unable to hire for the position so Swearingen, despite never having coached defense, assumed the role. Bill Cunerty, who was already the quarterback coach, took over the offense.

"I already had a guy who could run the offense so I took over the defense. It's been a rejuvenation of sorts for me," Swearingen said.

After making the move, he took a crash course on the subject.

First, he spent a week at the University of Miami working with the Hurricanes' staff learning all he could about defense.

He also has attended several local clinics. But with a much different attitude than before.

"Before," he said. "I used to sit in the back with friends, then go drink beer. Now I'm in the front row taking notes as fast as I can . . . The adjustment really wasn't that hard. It's just that now I'm doing the antithesis of everything I used to."

With the help of assistants Dick Stuetz (defensive line) and Don Butcher (linebackers) he has made the transition pretty well.

"After about the first six weeks," Butcher said. "It was like he had been doing it for 30 years."

Despite learning a new side of the game, Swearingen said the question of retirement has crossed his mind several times.

But he said he plans to coach at least a couple more years and has no exit date set.

Still, he's making plans for his retirement. He and his wife Jill, both avid snow skiers, are about ready to buy property in Idaho.

"My wife is the one looking forward to retirement more than I am," Swearingen said. "She is tired of running the snack stand at our games. When I was helping her carry in Cokes, I joked, 'Did Bear Bryant start like this.' The answer is 'Yes,' but he didn't end this way."

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