Successful football coach Tim Sweeney leaves Derry for Baldwin
Wednesday, April 8, 2020 | 9:43 PM
Tim Sweeney had a big job ahead of him when he took over as football coach at Derry in 2013.
Consider it a job well done.
After bringing his alma mater from the brink of extinction to the WPIAL championship game at Heinz Field, Sweeney was named coach at Baldwin during a school board meeting Wednesday night.
The move was primarily motivated by family concerns, Sweeney said.
When he and his wife were dating, she lived in Bethel Park and he lived in Latrobe. When they got married, they settled in Bethel Park. Now, making the long commute from the South Hills to Westmoreland County with a 4-year-old son who’s just starting T-ball waiting at home was growing more and more difficult.
“I still want to be present as a father in my son’s life,” Sweeney said. “My wife knows the time commitment and wants to support me, but me getting home from Derry sometimes 9, 9:30 at night, it makes it hard. We toughed it out as a family.”
The decision was an emotional one for Sweeney. He describes himself as a “Derry guy at heart” and credits former Trojans coach Ron Polinsky and current athletic director Brett Miller for giving him his start in coaching.
“Derry was nothing short of fantastic, and the support that we got, the teachers in the school, that’s what made it so hard to walk away from,” Sweeney said. “What I’m going to miss most are the Derry players in that locker room. I know they’re going to continue to do well. I’m sure I’m going to have one person on Friday nights designated to text me the score of the Derry game. Hopefully I’m 2-0 on Friday nights with a Derry win and a Baldwin win.”
Sweeney’s bread and butter at Derry was running the ball and stopping the run with a tough, hard-nosed style of play.
He expects to see the same attitude at Baldwin.
“The similarities, with the Baldwin kids and the Derry kids, is toughness,” Sweeney said. “We were able to tap into the toughness of the Derry kids, and we’re hoping to tap into the toughness of that Baldwin community that I know is there.”
Sweeney said his opinion of Baldwin kids was formed through discussions with a friend, former Highlanders great Brian Gelzheiser. Sweeney and Gelzheiser were both Penn State linebackers, though not at the same time.
“I know Gelz is as tough as they come, and there’s a certain toughness that is in Baldwin,” Sweeney said. “Once we get a coaching staff on board, if that toughness rears itself as stopping the run on defense or running the ball on offense, we want to make sure we’re putting kids on the field that the community is proud of and represent the school district well and that are playing what I think people will observe to be a tough brand of football.”
At Derry, Sweeney wrote one of the most remarkable comeback stories in recent WPIAL history.
In 2013, the year before he was hired, the Trojans went 0-10. Miller said the idea that the program would have to be dropped crossed his mind.
By 2016, Derry was back in the playoffs after an undefeated regular season. By 2018, the team was playing in the WPIAL Class 3A title game at Heinz Field.
Sweeney went 49-18 in six seasons at his alma mater.
“We were 0-10. We had gotten beat handily, to put it lightly, in every game that season. Morale was at the lowest it possibly could have been,” Miller said. “When we got Tim on board, he didn’t have a lot of experience, but he had a lot of passion for coaching, specifically, Derry football. What we saw him do over the years was absolutely remarkable.”
Miller said he realized, as he watched the success of Sweeney’s program over the past few seasons and talked to the coach about his desire to work closer to home, that this day might be coming. His admiration for Sweeney remains.
“The success of the program kind of changed the culture of our school district,” Miller said. “It was just a different feeling day to day. When the football team was winning, there was a sense of pride that wasn’t there in 2013. There was a sense of accomplishment and a sense of belonging.
“Kids were very respectful, under his guidance, because they knew that they weren’t just going to be disciplined from a school perspective, but there were also expectations they had to live up to for him.”
Miller said he expects there will be significant interest in the vacant Derry job.
“We are only two years removed from a trip to Heinz Field,” he said.
Baldwin was in the market for a coach when Loran Cooley, who went 10-20 over the previous three seasons, left to take an assistant coaching position at Westminster.
The Highlanders went 5-5 and earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2013 last season. Athletic director John Saras called that a foundation upon which he hopes Sweeney will build.
“We want Coach Sweeney to take it to the next level,” Saras said. “Looking at his resume, he did that at Derry. It was a yearly trip to the playoffs. In 2018, he made his way down to Heinz Field. Those are the types of things we want to see. The foundation is laid. Now take it to the next level.”
Saras said he received more than 20 applications for the job. He said he was extremely impressed with Sweeney from the moment they first discussed the position.
“Loves football, but more importantly, loves teaching the game of football to student-athletes to be better prepared for life,” Saras said. “A highly qualified, highly intense candidate.”
Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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