File Bishop Dwenger's Nick Fiacable hugs coach Chris Svarczkopf in the closing minutes of the Saints' 27-3 victory over East Central in the 2015 Class 4A state championship game.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017 1:00 am
Saints coach Svarczkopf, 62, retiring
Made his decision early in season
AUBREE REICHEL | The Journal Gazette
Career highlights for Bishop Dwenger head football coach Chris Svarczkopf:
Overall record: 149-49
State championship: 2015*
Semistate championships: 2002, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2015*
Regional championships: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2015*, 2017
Sectional championships: 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015*, 2017
* Shared with Ernie Bojrab
The winds of change began to blow relatively early in the season for Bishop Dwenger football coach Chris Svarczkopf, who announced his retirement from coaching Monday.
“We got a few games into (this season), and I realized that the energy level, what I was able to do physically and mentally, wasn't what it needed to be and it must be time,” said Svarczkopf, 62. “You really become emotional and you say, 'This is the last time I'll do this, this is the last time I'll do that.' Every game in the tournament meant that could be the last game.
“Win or lose, I'm glad the last season was going to be with this team. They cared about one another tremendously, they cared about the game, the school and the team. They did things right. You just loved all of them. It was very fortunate that this be the team that was going to be the last one that I'd be with.”
Svarczkopf, who is retiring with a record of 149-49, came to Bishop Dwenger as an assistant under Andy Johns in 2000 and took over the program in 2002. But the journey toward a 40-year coaching career began much earlier; his wrestling eligibility exhausted at Purdue, he wanted something to fill the time as a senior in West Lafayette.
“I changed majors half way through my college career thanks to Dr. John Lovell,” Svarczkopf said. “I met with him and did not have a career path that matched my strengths, and I met with him and he got me interested in teaching. Coaching went along with teaching, it was in my blood. My father (Frank Svarczkopf) was a teacher and a coach.
“I went over to West Lafayette High School and asked them if they needed anyone in their program to coach. They directed me to the junior high, and I coached linemen on the defense for just a wonderful person, Don Fairchild. He taught me so much in that first year that I was hooked. I continued to coach football and wrestling for many, many years and quit coaching wrestling within the last few years.”
The list of influences is even longer than Svarczkopf's coaching career.
“There's a picture in the den, it's a picture of my father,” he said. “He's coaching, it shows him talking to his team. He was a successful coach in Indianapolis at the high school and junior high level. He always told me that junior high coaching was where it was at. That's where the fire is either extinguished or lit. That's where the kids are more impressionable. He was a very influential person in my coaching career.”
The list includes Myron Dickerson, Dale Doerffler and Don Hunter at North Side and Johns, Fred Tone and David Watercutter at Bishop Dwenger.
“At Bishop Dwenger, when I put in for the job, the two people making the decision were both in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame, Tone and Johns,” Svarczkopf said. “You really better have your act together if you're going to follow that kind of tradition. It's been a challenge and rewarding to have those great people as mentors in my life.”
Although his influences in coaching have been great, the effect he's had on the football players that have come through the ranks has been just as great.
“Just going off when I first got to Dwenger, summer workouts with Svarczkopf leading it all, that's when I first recognized that he was something serious,” 2016 graduate Amaun Clark said. “There was something about him that I knew he loved Dwenger football and how the guys gravitated toward him.
“Everyone loved him. All the players, if you get to know him, he's one of the most amazing guys you get to meet.”
The lessons Svarczkopf preaches were put in practice in 2015 when he won a battle with cancer. He missed that season while undergoing treatment.
“I still remember the day when coach Svarczkopf brought us into the gym and told us what was going to be happening that season. From that day forward, we committed ourselves to dedicate our season to him,” 2015 graduate Nick Fiacable said. “He's made an impact on my life that will carry with me until the day I die. The lessons he taught us on the football field are lessons that help you as a football player but you can take them when you go to college, when you graduate and enter the workforce.
“How to be a man of faith, how to be a strong person on the football field, face difficulties, face failures, to find a positive in failures, to work and make yourself better and not get discouraged in yourself. You're going to fail on the football field, you're going to fail at some point. The true testament of a man is that a man of faith is going to get back up in his failures and make himself better, and stuff like that is going to carry with me the most.”
The moment is bittersweet for many involved in Svarczkopf's life, but ultimately the response has been positive.
“I'm happy for him and in retirement, you get to reflect on all the great things and the career he's had,” said Kurt Tippmann, the Snider football coach and Svarczkopf family friend. “He and his family can celebrate the success he's head and the thousands and thousands of lives that he touched.
“I'm sad that high school football loses one of the greats and somebody that's dedicated 40 years to developing young men. And it's something that thousands and thousands of young men have benefited from their working under coach Svarczkopf, and we'll lose one of the greats and that's sad.”
Since 2002, Bishop Dwenger has won 11 sectional, 10 regional and five semistate championships. That's including the state championship season in 2015 when Svarczkopf was undergoing cancer treatment.
“It was an honor to be able to share his program with me,” said Ernie Bojrab, the interim coach in '15. “Even though he was dealing with his cancer, he was an inspiration to the team and me. He was very meticulous with his approach to the program, very caring of the kids. He was certainly organized and brought a lot of passion to the program.
“I knew how much football meant to him, at the same time, having him without football in his life is unusual to think of. It was such a big part. I knew that he had his priorities straight: Faith, family, football.”