Two months ago, Dan Swanstrom was on a bus to Ithaca to coach the University of Pennsylvania football team to victory in the Ivy League Championship at Cornell University. Now, he is stationed on the South Hill, preparing to lead the Ithaca College football team into a new league and a new era.
Swanstrom, who was previously the quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, was hired as the football head coach Dec. 12 to replace Mike Welch ’73, who coached the team for 23 seasons.
“I always wanted to be a head coach; it was just a matter of when and where,” Swanstrom said. “I wanted to make sure it was a good fit for myself and that I was heading in the right direction, a place that can win and be successful and attract the right type of kids.”
He brings with him experience at three universities, where he coached top players and championship-contender teams. Swanstrom grew up in Texas and began playing the sport in the fourth grade. He said football is a big part of the culture in Texas and that he admired the older players in his community, so he wanted to begin playing as early as possible.
Swanstrom played quarterback at Rhodes College, where he was a two-time captain, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a Gagliardi Trophy finalist.
“My favorite win was when we beat Trinity University the year before they played the national championship game and lost to Mount Union,” Swanstrom said. “We won at home in overtime, so that was a pretty unique win for our program and what always sticks out from my playing days.”
After graduating with a degree in history, he played in the German football league before transitioning to coaching.
“I would have liked to continue to play, but 5-feet 10-inch quarterbacks aren’t too popular,” Swanstrom said. “This was kind of the next thing, the next step, the next progression for me.”
He began his coaching career at Stratford High School in Houston, where he was the head coach for one season. During that year, he coached quarterback Andrew Luck, who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts. Swanstrom said he knew right away from watching Luck that he was going to play in the NFL one day.
Swanstrom then moved on to the University of Redlands in Redlands, California, where he was the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach from 2006 2008, and to Johns Hopkins University, where he was a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator and associate head coach from 2008 to 2013.
He has spent the past three years as the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach at the University of Pennsylvania, where he developed quarterback Alek Torgersen into a serious NFL contender. Torgersen competed in the East–West Shrine game Jan. 21, an annual all-star game featuring some of the top players from across the country.
Swanstrom said each of his past coaching experiences has influenced him and turned him into the coach he is today.
“I think the biggest thing for me is the head coaches I’ve worked for,” he said. “I’ve worked for some of the winningest head coaches at any level. I’ve been a part of a lot of successful programs and a lot of successful coaches. You just take a little bit from each one of them and blend them into your personality, and hopefully, it comes out to something pretty successful.”
Susan Bassett ’79, director of intercollegiate sports, said Swanstrom proved he was the best candidate for the job during the hiring process.
“At every stage of his career, Dan has elevated the success of the programs of which he was a part to championship–level performances,” Bassett said. “He is committed to the scholar–athlete ideal and has proven that excellence in academics and athletics are compatible endeavors. Dan Swanstrom emerged as the right person at the right time to lead Ithaca College football.”
Swanstrom will be inheriting a team that went 5–5 last season and will be losing 21 seniors, including senior quarterback Wolfgang Shafer and senior defensive lineman Rob Barbieri.
Swanstrom had a formal meeting with the team Dec. 13, before the students left for winter break, to introduce himself to the players. Junior Jordan Schemm said he was impressed with his initial interactions with Swanstrom.
“His resume speaks for itself,” Schemm said. “He seems very determined and no–nonsense with his approach to coaching, so I think he’s definitely ready to get going and get started right away.”
Swanstrom officially began his duties as head coach Jan. 1, and so far he said he has been working to build the future of the team.
“We are just recruiting like crazy, that is all we have been doing right now,” Swanstrom said. “Once we get our feet underneath us established with the recruiting, we will move into the football part.”
The players will begin offseason workouts soon, and Schemm said that is when they will really begin preparing and getting ready for a new season.
“My expectations for him as a coach is the same for whoever the coach is,” Schemm said. “We were 5–5 last year, so my expectation is for him to come in, lay some groundwork, put together a strategy and a game plan, but ultimately get us to the point where we can go out there and execute his game plan.”
Swanstrom said his goal is to make his team the best it can be.
“Our goal is to win the conference,” he said. “How we go about accomplishing that is just going through the process of being an accountable, hardworking team, taking it one step at a time through the process and trying to go 1–0 each week and re-establish everything from there. We’ll see how this thing comes together, and we’ll see what we got because this is still very much a work in process.”