“Bob Sweeney will always be the father of ESU volleyball.”
— Former player Ev Nicholas
Pennsylvanian Bob Sweeney, who was inducted into four halls of fame as a volleyball coach, died November 27 at the age of 80.
“His legacy is still alive,” longtime Penn State men’s coach Mark Pavlik said. “The fact that men’s volleyball, and specifically East Coast men’s volleyball, are where they are today is because of Bob Sweeney.”
Sweeney, who coached both men and women at his alma mater, East Stroudsburg State, served as the president and treasurer of the EIVA (Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association). He is not only in the EIVA hall of fame, but the annual EIVA Coach of the Year award is named for him.
“This is not easy. Coach Sweeney was a father figure who taught so much more than volleyball to his players,” said Rob Causton, who played for Sweeney, was a men’s assistant at East Stroudsburg, and has been a women’s assistant there since 2015. “He taught us to be athletes with excellent character.
“He had a great, dry sense of humor. Always level-headed, never too excited or upset. A great role model for athletes and coaches. I remember playing in a very tight match and hearing his inspiring words “there are 900 square feet over there, just find one.’
“He was so well respected by everyone he ever met. I am a better person for knowing him.”
Sweeney went into the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1995, the East Stroudsburg University Hall of Fame in 1996, the AVCA Hall of Fame in 2005, and the EIVA hall in 2012.
Sweeney was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and was a star basketball player at Scranton Central High School. He played basketball and tennis at East Stroudsburg. After graduating in 1962, he got a master’s degree at Temple University in Philadelphia.
At East Stroudsburg, he compiled a 354-204-10 record from 1977 to 1994 on the men’s side before retiring in 1994. He also had a 365-199 career mark coaching the women from 1976-93.
Sadly, East Stroudsburg no longer has men’s volleyball. The program was discontinued in 2009.
Longtime North Carolina women’s coach Joe Sagula, who starred at New Paltz and played against Sweeney’s teams, noted how many coaches came out of East Stroudsburg because of Sweeney’s influence.
“He was a student of the game,” Sagula said. “He always volunteered to be on any committee for men’s volleyball. He really grew the game.”
Dave Denure, who knew Sweeney for nearly 50 years, coached with him and later became the coach at NJIT.
“He was a great people person,” Denure said. “His best skill was he knew how to get people to work together.”
Current Arkansas State coach Santiago Restrepo, an All-American player for Sweeney in 1986, followed Sweeney as the coach at East Stroudsburg.
Sean Byron, now the women’s coach at Marist, played against Sweeney when he was a standout at Springfield, replaced Restrepo at East Stroudsburg. He noted that Sweeney — like so many in volleyball — was a disciple of the late Mike Hebert.
After he retired, Byron said, Sweeney still came into the gym occasionally to watch practices and he stayed on the school’s faculty until 2007.
Akron women’s coach Tom Hanna got his first job coaching for Sweeney in 1991.
“The biggest thing for Coach was he an under-the-radar figure in growing men’s volleyball in the East. It was always about the league and never about his program.
“He never coached in a final four but one of his proudest moments was presenting the (NCAA championship) trophy to Penn State (of the EIVA) when they won in 1994.”
Sweeney did more than just coach.
He was a ski instructor, served as the head of an area parks and recreation department, and with his son, Brad, was the co-owner of Chamberlain Canoes, which offers trips on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania.
“It is with pride that I state how fortunate I am to have played under the tutelage of coach Bob Sweeney. He was a good coach and a much better human being,” said Ev Nicholas, who is from St. Lucia and graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1992. “He was quirky, had a great sense of humor, loved volleyball and being around his players.
“As a foreign-born student, coach Sweeney welcomed me into the Warrior volleyball family as if I were his own son. He was warm and thoughtful, fair and challenging. He expected and demanded the highest level of respect and integrity from his players.
“He gave me, like many more before me, a chance to be a part of the institution that he built.”
Special thanks to Miami (Ohio) Valley Phoenix coach Pete Wung for his help with this story.