Jack Swarthout, a former University of Montana football coach and athletics director, has died. Swarthout, who had been battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma in recent years, died Saturday in Olympia, Wash. He was 85.
Swarthout coached the Grizzlies from 1967-75, and guided Montana to back-to-back 10-0 regular seasons in 1969-70. Both teams went on to lose in the Camellia Bowl, which crowned the small-college national champion.
"He was one of the classiest people I've known in my life," Pat Dodson, an assistant during Swarthout's tenure, said Sunday. "He was a great football mind. He surrounded himself with outstanding people. He's one of the greatest coaches that the Grizzlies ever had. What a loss."
Swarthout's final visit to Missoula came last November, when he was honored during a halftime celebration at the Northern Arizona-Montana game, won by the Grizzlies, 34-22.
"All of us lost a father in Jack; he meant a lot to all of us," said Robin Peters, a star defensive back for the Griz from 1968-71. "A lot of us are the way we are because of Jack."
"He was a great inspiration," said Montana athletics director Jim O'Day. "You could see how much he meant to everybody."
Before Swarthout took over, the football program had just two winning seasons in the previous 21 years. He finished with a 51-41 overall record at UM, ranking second behind Don Read in career wins. A former Griz player from 1939-41, Swarthout guided Montana to its first Big Sky Conference title in 1969.
"He was an innovator as far as head coaches at his level for his time," said Ron Rosenberg, a Griz linebacker from 1971-74. "He kind of took the position of CEO of the company. He surrounded himself with quality coaches and developed a nice program."
Swarthout was athletics director when the Grizzly program was the focus of a work-study scandal in the early 1970s. The program was accused of misusing government funds, but Swarthout and a number of staff members were never convicted of any charges.
"When we got hit with the work-study thing, we were honest," said Ron Nord, one of Swarthout's assistants at the time and a former head coach of UM's basketball team. "We were on trial, but we were innocent. It kind of spoiled (Swarthout's) whole thing."
Memorial services for Swarthout were pending Monday.
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