PHILADELPHIA - After 11 seasons coaching the linebackers at the University of Pennsylvania and 35 seasons as a collegiate football coach, Cliff Schwenke announced his retirement this week.
"It's time," Schwenke said of his retirement. "This has obviously been a great experience. We have great kids here at Penn, everyone works really hard, and we've won a lot of championships here in the last 11 years. So it's been a great ride. It really has been. But its time."
"Cliff will be hard to replace," head coach Al Bagnoli said of Schwenke, whom he met when the two were graduate assistants at the Universityat Albany in 1975. "He really has a wealth of technical experience and brought such a hard, rugged, determined and old-school approach. It was a great balance for our staff.
"Cliff also had a wonderful relationship with the kids," Bagnoli added. "The linebackers loved playing for him because he was straight with them. He demanded the very best from them. He’s been blessed with good players, but he really inspired those guys to play hard and got the best from them. If you look at all the kids who have gone through the linebacker position and how they have produced throughout their careers, I think it speaks volumesabout Cliff as a coach."
Coach Schwenke’s enduring career of more than 30 years began full-time with a position as the linebackers coach at Brigham Young University in 1976. Over the next several years, the 1973 University of Bridgeport graduate alternated between training linebackers and defensive linemen at five different schools before arriving at Penn in 1999. His 11 years as a Quakermarked the second-longest term Schwenke had with one team, exceeded only by two stintsat Holy Cross that totaled 13 years.
Schwenke’s tenure with Penn was extremely successful, yielding 23 All-Ivy linebackers and four Ivy League championships. His contributions to the team were immediately noticeable, as Penn claimed Ivy League titles during Schwenke’s second, third and fourth seasons as the coach of the linebacker unit. His work was the definition of thoroughness and consistency and it helped to transform the University of Pennsylvania into the Ivy League adaptation of Linebacker U. Schwenke’s effort with the linebacking corps led Penn to finish 10th in the nation or better in rushing defense seven times this decade, including 2001 and 2002 when Penn’s performance against the run was the best in the FCS.
Most recently, Schwenke’s instruction helped the Quakers' linebackers anchor a unit that led the nation and total defense and the Ivy League in rushing defense in 2009, allowing the opposition to score only one touchdown on the ground all season. At the center of the Penn linebackers' success was Jake Lewko, who became Schwenke’s first and last Ivy League Player of the Year and first-team All-America honoree. Lewko also joined the likes of Joe Anastasio and Ric San Doval as one of nine different Penn linebackers to receive first-team All-Ivy honors under Schwenke.
Schwenke will retire to his home in Sicklerville, N.J., where he resides with his wife, Paulette.
A preliminary search for Coach Schwenke's replacement has begun.