Last Saturday, West Chester football coach Bill Zwaan had just won his 200th game as a college head football coach. A big-time milestone, worth sharing. Zwaan didn’t have to look around much to see the one guy he’d shared them all with: Nick Sama had been on the sidelines for all 200, coaching the offensive line at West Chester and Widener before then.
“Before the game, we didn’t want to talk about it,” Zwaan said. “But after, we made sure we got a picture together.”
Their shared coaching history goes back to 1992 when Zwaan joined Bill Cubit’s staff at Widener as defensive coordinator. Sama was already there, a holdover from Bill Manlove’s staff.
“His experience not only as an offensive coordinator — when he became a defensive coordinator, learning to control the other side of the ball, that’s what made him a magnificent head coach,” Sama said of Zwaan. “His adjustments are spot on. He sees it from the whole perspective.”
Assistant coaches aren’t there with Zwaan just as figureheads.
“During the course of a play, he’ll say, ‘What happened to the right tackle on that play?’” Sama said. “I’ve got to give an answer.”
Zwaan is only the third local college coach any level to hit 200 wins at the local schools, following Manlove — who had 212 between Widener, Delaware Valley, and La Salle — and Andy Talley with his 229 at Villanova. If you widen it down to Delaware, add Tubby Raymond and his 300 wins. (Zwaan should be all right with that, since he played QB for Raymond at Delaware.)
For 21 out of Zwaan’s 23 head-coaching seasons, his teams had winning campaigns, with only 2010 and 2011 as blips. Or maybe it was a chance to reassess and reload. By 2013, West Chester was in the Division II national semifinal for the second time under Zwaan. He’d also coached Widener to the 2000 D3 national semifinal. Between the two schools, he has coached in the NCAA Tournament a dozen times.
During all 200 wins, Sama also taught ninth-grade Western Civilization at Unionville High. The switch from Widener to West Chester made for a quicker commute.
“You know what’s kind of interesting,” Zwaan said. “So my son’s now [West Chester’s] offensive coordinator. The one guy he calls Coach … Everyone else, he says, ‘Pat, what do you think here?’ But he always calls Nick Coach.”
Their history goes back past the quarter-century of victories, to a Catholic League playing field, 1971. Zwaan was Archbishop Carroll’s quarterback, Sama a linebacker from West Catholic.
Did Sama tackle Zwaan?
“I probably did, to be honest with you,” Sama said, noting how more recently, when he had time on his hands and couldn’t get out of the house during the pandemic, he found old canisters of film.
“I found the 1971 West Catholic-Carroll film,” Sama said. “You know what, I’m going to give it to him. West Catholic lost, 35-7.”
So it made more sense for Zwaan to have it.
“He’s laughing, said, ‘Hey, Sama, do you happen to know how many touchdowns we scored rushing that day?’”
Sama guessed five.
“Zero,” Zwaan told him. “I actually threw five touchdown passes that day.”
So they roast each other a bit, but no arguments all these years, Zwaan insisted, ever.
“He’ll tell the truth, how he feels about everything,” Zwaan said. “He’ll listen to everything I’ll have to say. He’ll make his suggestions. It’s always been that way.”
Those suggestions … Zwaan pays close attention.
“My thing as an offensive coach, we can only do things that the offensive line can do,” Zwaan said. “It may look good on the board, but if the offensive line can’t handle that, we can’t do it. So before we do anything, I’d say, ‘Nick, what do you think?’”
It’s a go if Sama says, “We can do that. We can handle that.”
“That’s been our relationship forever,” Zwaan said. “So I think he always feels like he had the last word to a certain extent. He always knew I was going through him.”
“The old coaches used to say, whoever has the chalk in his hands last wins,” Sama said. “Back when there were chalkboards.”
Sama said he learned from Manlove that players win games and coaches lose them. He’d held to that and believes Zwaan lives that. He says coaches aren’t allowed to eat a potato chip in West Chester’s locker room after road games until after all the players have left because there might be a miscount and players get fed first. Not a theoretical example. First game at West Chester after coming from Widener, Sama remembers seeing a coach grab a little bag of chips in a near-empty locker room. Zwaan saw it, told him they don’t do that, to wait.
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Sama sees Zwaan picking up some garbage on the locker-room floor. “You think Nick Saban is doing that right now?”
Here’s the bottom line. Aren’t those 200 at West Chester and Widener as important as the 259 Saban has rolled up at Michigan State, LSU, and Alabama? Zwaan isn’t a “look at me” type, but, watching the Penn State-Auburn game Saturday night, he did spend time texting a bunch of people who had worked for him over the years, sharing messages and memories.
“So many were heartfelt,’’ Zwaan said of the messages he got that night. “So many took it as a genuine accomplishment. That was kind of neat.”
As for the guy who first ran across Zwaan on a football field 50 years ago … Sama sees how it all added up to 200.
“He hates punting the football,” Sama said. “He is a go-for-it type guy. We play in some big games. It will be fourth-and-1 [at midfield], he’ll try things. He’ll suck them up and throw it deep.”
First, he might say, “Can the offensive line handle this?”
“We can do that.”