Head coach of the West Chester University Golden Rams football team, Bill Zwaan, sat down with me after the team’s first victory against Bentley for an interview recounting his twenty years as the head coach of the Rams.
20 years as a head coach — how does this school differ from Widener, and how has the school changed since you’ve first come here?
“I think West Chester has changed a lot in the last couple decades. It looks a lot different than when I first came here, not only in the new buildings, but there are obviously a lot of new students as well.
The true difference between Widener and West Chester — and I feel that they’re very similar schools, for me — at Widener, the administration helped us get to where we wanted to get to, and we had support from the president down. One of the reasons I came to West Chester was to get to a scholarship school. Widener was a private institution, so they didn’t have that for me to use. I wanted to get to another good program because I had been part of one at Widener, and I also wanted to get the same administrative support I had at Widener and that has all been true here.
Before I took the job [here at West Chester University], I sat down with then-president Madeline Adler and told her ‘this is what we do at Widener— before I come here, I want to feel that you know football is important,’ and she promised me she would, and all the ensuing presidents have since.
It’s much easier to work for a school that supports you and your players.”
In the past 19 years, you’ve seen plenty of faces come and go. Can you describe that process?
“It’s been that way my whole life, even back in my high school coaching years. You coach kids for four years, and then they’re gone. One thing I try to do is get to know the kids as quickly as possible — who they are, what they’re about — and I want to get them to where they want to go.
I want to push them to try and achieve their goals. No matter how out of reach they may seem, I want to encourage them to try, whether that’s an accounting job in the city or playing football in the Canadian Football League. That number one goal, however, is to get that degree. It doesn’t matter what they’re gonna do later on, they’re gonna get that degree. And we’re always harping on that the most.
A lot of kids come here with football coming first and academics second, but they find when they flip it, it builds their entire character, makes them better people and keeps their focus on the football field. It brings a smile to my face when I see that flip switch, and I realize, alright, he gets it now. This has happened so much over the years that I feel like it is part of the accomplishments of the program.”
Is there any other lasting impact you like to leave on students as they prepare to graduate?
“Years ago, I sat down with the Athletic Director of Widener and asked what exactly it is we want to achieve with our students. We want our students to succeed. That’s what we want. So, I want all my players to have a great experience here. Now, for different students that means different things. I feel like winning helps make that experience better, so even though it’s not the only thing, it’s a major part of it. At the end of their careers here, I want all my players to say, ‘I loved what I just went through. It was a great experience. I enjoyed every piece of it; I enjoyed the games; I enjoyed the offseason; I enjoyed the camaraderie; I enjoyed the coaches, and I enjoyed West Chester.’
That’s the overall thing, and part of that great experience is winning games, playing championships, big crowds and having fun while we’re doing it.”
Speaking of getting those wins, you surpassed Glenn Killinger’s win total last season — on Homecoming of all games — how did that feel in the moment when you crossed that milestone?
“There’s a building named after Glenn Killinger here on campus, you know? It’s a little like Knute Rodney at Notre Dame. There are people who are icons at their particular colleges, and Glenn Killinger is one here at West Chester. Now, a lot of students don’t know him, but all of us in the athletic department know who he is. So, when you break that record of a true icon, there’s no question that it’s very exhilarating.
However, there are so many people who are involved in breaking that record: all my assistant coaches — many of whom have been with me since day one here — the kids who played, the administration who has backed me up. So, as neat as that whole thing is, it’s a group accomplishment, and I’ve had great people who I’ve worked with who helped me get there. I wanna make sure those people feel the same way I do about it. Football is the most ‘team’ of the team sports.”
How did you try to involve Killinger’s philosophies into your style of coaching when you first came here?
“The Killinger Foundation raises money for scholarships, and when I first came here, the people who worked at that foundation talked about him a lot, including his son. So, right off the bat, I started hearing about him and learning more about who he was and what he stood for. We took a lot of the things I learned about him and instilled it into our philosophy. Since so many of the kids may not know about him, having that as part of my philosophy is like handing him down, and I hope they’ll be able to hand that piece of Glenn Killinger down to the younger guys and to their lives in general, at least to a small degree.”
Do you have any personal philosophies outside of what you got from Killinger?
“You learn from everybody, starting with your parents and going through your teachers, and coaches I’ve learned under and who I’ve watched on TV. There’s tons of things I’ve learned that I would definitely implement myself, and then there’s tons of things I would never implement. As a coach, you have to be ready to be consistently learning. I sat down a few years back and wrote down everything that’s important to me in coaching: how I want my coaches to treat my players, how I want my players to see me and more. Every year before we start practice, as a staff we go over all those things so my guys can be an arm of me and preach to the players what I want to be taught.”
Zwaan’s 20th season and the Rams’ 100th season will continue next Saturday against Bloomsburg University.
Joseph Gill is a fourth-year English major with a minor in Journalism. JG923276@wcupa.edu