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Eric Swain: A Life in Sports

December 12, 2016

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Eric Swain: A Life in Sports

Photo by: Larry Valenzuela

Eric Swain has spent nearly his entire life associated with athletics. Whether playing, coaching or administrating, Swain has always had a passion to better the lives of young athletes. Little did he know that passion, combined with hard work, would land him the job of athletic director of the nation’s premier community college athletic program at Fresno City College.

He has fond memories of playing basketball as a kid. “My earliest memories were sitting on the bench of the teams my dad coached. Riding the team bus was a big deal as well,” he said. “I remember how loud the gym was; how hot it was inside because of all the people.”

“I played basketball through junior college and never really considered a career in sports until I started coaching junior varsity basketball,” Swain said. “I was going to the University of Nevada-Reno and working towards my accounting degree.”

Within a year, Swain came to the conclusion that accounting was not the right career for him and instead decided that he enjoyed coaching enough to change his major.

Swain’s family lineage of coaches and educators helped lead him to the decision that following in their footsteps would ultimately be the best career choice.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies from the University of Nevada-Reno and a master’s in education, including a teaching credential.

He was the head coach of the boys’ basketball program at Buchanan for seven years before moving on to become Clovis North High School’s athletic director.

While he enjoyed his times coaching some very successful programs, he eventually got to feeling that being a great coach was not worth the sacrifices he was having to make.

“I didn’t want to be on the road away from my family the way that coaches have to so often,” said Swain.

What became hard was missing events that my kids were involved in because of my coaching.  “Once my son finished playing high school, it was a great time to step away. I got to see my daughter compete in high school and watch my son play in college.”

That was when he decided that it was time to switch gears and try something else. Even after spending nearly two decades on the sidelines and in huddles, coaching up some of the finest high school athletes in California, the decision to stop coaching was not a difficult one for him to make.

I was a high school head coach for 17 years at four different schools in two different states. I had a great experience at all the schools I was at, coaching outstanding players,” Swain said.  “Coaching was a great experience but my goal when I got into education was ultimately to become an administrator.”

In 2013, an opportunity of a lifetime knocked right on Swain’s door when long-time athletic director of Fresno City College Susan Yates retired, leaving the position vacant.

Swain was immediately interested in the position and decided that he had nothing to lose by throwing his hat into the ring to try to get the position.

He was not exactly the most optimistic about his chances of getting the job, despite his qualifications. Still, Swain never doubted that he had the skills that he needed the perform the duties of the position.

“It wasn’t something that I honestly thought I had a chance at but as I looked into it, I started to compete.”

“I thought I was qualified, but I didn’t have the college experience. I thought I had the coaching experience,” Swain explained.

“I had the administrative experience and I thought that I had a connection to the local community but I just had never been a college person and I really didn’t know if that was going to be a deal breaker.”

He decided to apply and landed the job, “a dream job for a high school person.”

It is not hard to see why he wanted the job so much either. Fresno City has the oldest, most storied and arguably the most successful community college program in California. A program that has won the Learfield Cup multiple times. The cup is awarded to the best community college athletics program in the entire nation.

“This is a Cadillac job,” Swain said of FCC athletics. “This is a big time community college athletics program and I feel fortunate–I feel I put in my dues at the high school level–to jump to a major athletic program like this, I know I have a great situation,”

Lorraine Smith, FCC’s dean of athletics and health sciences, was impressed enough to offer Swain the position of athletic director.  

“I definitely think that we made the right hire,” she said, citing his experience as a successful coach and administrator, a quality that is not as common as people might think.

“I do think being a coach as well as being an administrator really is what we needed,” Smith said.

“We needed somebody who knows what [coaches] are going through; he has been a coach and has been there and has done that but has also been an administrator and understands that the processes might not be quick and some policies we might not exactly understand why they are here, but we still have to do it.”

Swain said that no matter the job, “you have to be able to communicate and you have to be able to maintain relationships” when you are in any leadership position, whether it’s in sports or in a classroom or as a school administrator or in a business.

But just as important is cultivating new relationships, being available and listening. Fresno City’s newest volleyball coach Kieran Roblee said she appreciates the way she has been treated since her arrival.

“Coach Swain has been a great asset and resource for me to transition into my new position.,” she said. “He has taken the time to assist me as a new coach/faculty member, and I appreciate his patience with the numerous questions that I ask as a new staff member.”

Swain has also gained the trust and respect of Brian Tessler, the long time head coach of FCC’s women’s basketball team.  Tessler said that Swain is committed to doing all he can to ensure that he and other coaches have the requisite things to have a successful program.

“You know, if we go and ask for certain things, if it’s possible for us to get them, he is going to go to bat for us,” Tessler said.

Swain isn’t in this business though for the adulation and adoration from his colleagues, although he does appreciate it. Rather he wants to be known for being able to make a difference in the lives of the athletes, coaches and the athletic program as a whole. That is what he wants his legacy at Fresno City College to be.

He wants people to be proud of being alumni of the oldest community college in California, and through his first 16 months on the job, he is well on his way to accomplishing just that.

“I would love it in 20 years if former student-athletes are coming back and not only watching but supporting our programs. I would feel very good,” Swain said.

“I don’t foresee anything being named after me or anything like that, and honestly, I think if you do your job and are able to look in the mirror and know you did the right thing, that is satisfaction enough,” Swain said. “My legacy would be, let’s take it from good to great.”

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