ATWATER — Kevin Swartwood has resigned as the head football coach at Buhach Colony to take an associate principal job at Merced High.
Swartwood’s resignation became official on Wednesday night with the Merced High School Union Board of Trustees approved his hiring at Merced High.
Swartwood took over a struggling Buhach Colony program in 2006 and built it into a Central California Conference power, winning three straight league titles from 2010 to 2012. The Thunder made three straight trips to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 2 semifinals during that run.
Buhach Colony was 51-38 during Swartwood’s eight years there, including a 34-5 stretch from 2010-12.
“I really loved it here,” Swartwood said. “It was an awesome run and that made it a hard decision to leave. I had applied for the associate principal job and I was fortunate enough to get it. I’m starting right away on Monday.”
Kevin Navarra, who was named a co-head coach last year, will take over as the Thunder head coach.
Navarra has been coaching for 20 years. He coached eight years at Atwater and moved over to Buhach Colony when the school opened in 2001. He’s spent the past four years as Swartwood’s defensive coordinator.
“Last year when Swarty approached me about becoming co-head coach I knew he would eventually go,” Navarra said. “In my mind I was thinking two or three years at the time. But I feel I’m ready.
“When I met with the kids I told them I’m not going to try to be coach Swarty. If I try to be somebody I’m not it’s going to hurt the program. I’ve got to be myself. Being his defensive coordinator these past four years, I’ve learned a lot from him about dealing with players, coaches, parents and the community.”
Swartwood began his coaching career in 1980 as the junior varsity coach at Livingston for a year before a stint at Atwater as an assistant. He was then hired at Merced and served as offensive coordinator for Mark Speckman, helping lead the Bears to back-to-back section titles in 1989 and 1990.
When Golden Valley opened in 1994, Swartwood was hired as the school’s first athletic director, where he still coached football in some capacity for 10 of his 12 years there.
In 2006 he took over a Buhach Colony program that had never had a winning season.
“There was no tradition when I started here,” Swartwood said. “It took a while to build that up. My first year here was our first year in the CCC and we took a lot of beatings. I’m proud of how far we’ve come to be able to compete year in and year out.”
Navarra said the program needed a coach like Swartwood when he came on board.
“I think we’re going to miss his overall leadership and stability,” Navarra said. “Prior to him we had head coaches that dabbled in other sports. Swarty came in and he was football 365 days a year. That was the direction we needed at the time.”
According to Swartwood, his greatest accomplishment was helping send roughly 25 players on to four-year schools to play football.
“That’s one of the things I’m the most proud of,” Swartwood said. “It started in Year 1 when we sent Ronald Carter and Chris Kelly to schools in Oregon. Every year we’ve had two or three guys, including eight in 2012.”
Don’t expect major changes in the Thunder program under Navarra. Buhach Colony will still run the fly on offense with assistant Jerry Dietz serving as offensive coordinator.
“It’s something we’ve established through our youth program,” Navarra said. “We run the same offense and defense through all seven levels. My feeling is if it’s not broke don’t fix it.”
Sun-Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at (209) 385-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org.