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Rich Swift, longtime teacher and football coach at Newark Memorial High, dies at 60

  • February 14, 2013

By Jimmy Durkin
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group

NEWARK -- Longtime Newark Memorial High football coach and athletic director Rich Swift died Wednesday, eight days after learning he had an inoperable brain tumor.

Swift, 60, died at his home in Fremont where he had been receiving hospice care since leaving the hospital Saturday.

"He was very, very important to Newark Memorial High School," said Pete Michaletos, the former coach at John F. Kennedy High in Fremont who hired Swift as an assistant coach in 1974. "He was a great coach, a great A.D., and just a great human being. He always put people first and always put himself second."

Swift had shown symptoms that he wasn't quite right in recent weeks, such as struggling to operate a remote control, which led to the tests that revealed the tumor. His death had become expected over the past week.

"It's been a few weeks where we were able to prepare ourselves and come to peace with the situation," Newark Memorial wrestling coach Tim Hess said.

A memorial service has not yet been scheduled.

"I'm honestly not sure where we're going to have a memorial," Hess said. "It's going to be overwhelming."

Hess wrestled and played football for Swift as a senior after Newark and Memorial high schools merged. Swift gave him his first coaching job and also served as the best man in his wedding.

Hess, who took over the Newark Memorial wrestling program from Swift in the early 1990s, said he and Swift "pretty much were inseparable for 32 years."

Swift was known as a man of faith and great knowledge who touched the lives of many as a coach and math teacher. An estimated 1,600 people came to visit Swift in the past week since his condition worsened -- some traveling from as far away as Alabama.

"He's a legend in his own time," said Mission Valley Athletic League commissioner Tom Breen, who was also a longtime administrator at Newark Memorial.

Breen routinely leaned on Swift both during his days as a vice principal and later as the league's commissioner.

"He is so knowledgeable when it comes to things in the MVAL, you get so dependent on him," Breen said of Swift.

"He always kept his cool. When he spoke, people listened. A lot of decisions were based on Rich's knowledge."

Swift was the longest-tenured high school football coach in the East Bay, having served for 35 years. His final season proved to be his best, with the Cougars delivering their first unbeaten MVAL season to win their first outright league title since 1983.

"It's huge now even more than ever," said Ralph Meredith, a Newark Memorial assistant football coach who has known Swift since 1975. "When we won this championship, you could see it. He hardly ever hugged us. This year was something special. I'm lucky to be a part of it."

Swift graduated from Mission San Jose High in 1970 and was a two-time MVAL and North Coast Section champion wrestler.

He graduated from Cal State Hayward in 1977 but began his coaching career three years earlier while still in college.

"I was told a fellow by name of Rich Swift wanted to get into coaching," Michaletos recalled. "At the time, he was working at the 7-Eleven right around the corner from Washington High. On a Saturday, I went by and talked to him and gave him a job."

After three years with Kennedy, he took over at Newark High, which later merged with Memorial High in 1983 to form Newark Memorial. He's the only head football coach the school has ever known.

Michaletos said he last saw Swift on Thursday. Swift was unable to speak.

"I was holding his left hand and tried to let go," Michaletos said. "He grabbed my hand again and kind of smiled at me."

Breen visited with Swift less than an hour before he died Wednesday afternoon and said he looked at peace.

"We had our moments of tears and will continue to have them," Hess said. "It was an honor and blessing to have been around him as long as I was. There are thousands of young men and women that he had a major impact on. I thank God that He brought that man into my life."


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