The end of an era

By Staff
Mike Self, FCT Sports Editor
Ask ten different people what they think of just about any high-profile figure, particularly a football coach, and you'll probably get ten different answers.
Opinions tend to vary like that when those expressing them have seen only brief glimpses (or, perhaps, have heard only secondhand tales) of the individual in question. Only a handful of people close to the individual are truly qualified to offer an informed view.
When it comes to Perry Swindall, I am not one of those people. I have had countless conversations with Swindall during my six years at this newspaper, but 99 percent of those were about football-which, as he would be quick to point out, is only a small part of his life.
However, there are a few things I can say with certainty about Swindall, who resigned on Thursday after nine incredibly successful seasons at Russellville.
Number one, he is a fantastic football coach. You don't win nearly 83 percent of your games (he stepped down with a 99-21 career mark at Russellville) unless you're a heck of a coach. High school football has always been about the running game, but the innovative passing attack Swindall installed at Russellville helped the Golden Tigers become a feared offensive juggernaut.
Russellville's 42-game region winning streak is an utterly amazing accomplishment, one that requires an incredible amount of focus, discipline and preparation. Those attributes are exhibited by teams who have great coaches.
The Golden Tigers lost three straight Class 5A championship games under Swindall, and his detractors like to criticize him for not being able to win the big one.
Hog wash.
Winning a state title requires more than just talent and hard work. A little good fortune goes a long way. Besides, Swindall won a state championship at Daleville in 1992, so the point is moot. Once you know how to win the big one, you don't just forget.
The second thing I know for sure is this: From a reporter's standpoint, Swindall was an absolute dream. He was accessible, forthcoming (perhaps too much so for his own good) and well-spoken. He didn't lose often, but when he did he never tried to hide from it. He always took time to accomodate the media, regardless of whether he really wanted to.
Finally, you don't have to spend much time around Swindall to recognize his sharp wit. He's a smart guy, and good-natured jabs are part of his persona.
I remember a few years ago when I first told Swindall I was a graduate of Hartselle, one of Russellville's chief rivals on the gridiron.
"Mike, I'm sorry to hear that," he said without missing a beat.
He also was well aware of my preference for baseball over football, and he enjoyed giving me a hard time about it. I was once part of a group of writers interviewing Swindall after another region win, and I asked him why his team had moved the ball up and down the field so well but had struggled to put it in the end zone.
He explained to me that play-calling options are more limited the closer you get to the goal line, and then he threw this in just for kicks: "It's a little more complicated than baseball. You don't just run from one base to the next."
Got it.
Ultimately, Swindall had fun talking to reporters, just like he had fun working with kids, fun winning games, and fun coaching football at Russellville. I think one of the main reasons he's leaving now is because the fun is gone.
Swindall stopped short of saying he was burned out at Thursday's press conference, but he did say he was in dire need of a change. I think he grew weary of certain aspects of his job at Russellville, and it was, as he said, 'time for a change.'
Swindall talked like a man who might be planning to step away from the game for a while, but I expect him to be a head coach somewhere next season.
So what's next for the Golden Tigers?
The head coaching position at Russellville has to be one of the most attractive in the state, provided a coach can handle a little scrutiny and extraordinarily high expectations. The job pays well, the facilities are first-rate, the community is football-crazy, and the program is in great shape.
The Golden Tigers have the pieces to contend for a state title next season, and there's plenty of talent on the way up from the lower levels.
Swindall's successor, whoever that may be, will be stepping into a great situation.
I just hope the new coach is equally tolerant of baseball-loving sportswriters from Hartselle.