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Offensive coordinator Dan Swanstrom during football practice on Sept. 8. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

After a difficult season for Penn football in 2021, Dan Swanstrom, the newly hired offensive coordinator, returned to Penn this February and has since worked day in and day out to revitalize a Quaker offense that struggled mightily throughout last year. 

In January 2022, Swanstrom was named the new offensive coordinator of Penn football, leaving his five-year tenure as the head coach at Ithaca College. Swanstrom wears over 15 years of collegiate coaching experience under his belt, and has been applying that wisdom to the Quakers’ offense.

“There's something new every single day, and you're always constantly learning,” Swanstrom said. “As I tell the players all the time, you just try to learn, you try to do your best, [and] if you make a mistake, just don't make the same mistake twice. And that's basically all the things I want to do within my coaching and my profession.” 

Swanstrom began his collegiate coaching career from 2006-2008 at the University of Redlands, where he helped lead the team to a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship win in 2007. From 2008 to 2013, he coached at Johns Hopkins, beginning as quarterbacks coach, and eventually taking a position as an associate head coach.

During his time at Hopkins, the Blue Jays claimed five Centennial Conference titles and four of his players were named conference player of the year. During that tenure, he also worked at different Ivy League camps, until becoming a quarterbacks coach from 2014-2016 at Penn.

“When I had the opportunity to get the job, and coach the quarterbacks here, that was just an amazing experience,” Swanstrom said. “We didn't have a great year in '14, but we had great years in '15 and '16. I was around great players, and our quarterback was tremendous, and I worked with great people, and it was just awesome.”

At Penn, Swanstrom helped lead the Quakers to two Ivy Championships in 2015 and 2016, where he worked with Alek Torgersen, a two-time first team All-Ivy selection. Torgersen went on to sign with the Atlanta Falcons in 2017.

Swanstrom's work led to an opportunity to become the head coach at Ithaca College. Swanstrom was at Ithaca for five years, through which he turned the trajectory of the program around. Within his first season with the Bombers, he led them to a shared Liberty League regular-season title. He left with a record of 32-11 (.744), earning the highest winning percentage for any coach that coached for more than one season. 

Penn football head coach Ray Priore, meanwhile, was looking to update the coaching staff following a season in the Quaker offense ranked last in the Ivy League for both scoring and total yards, and second to last in rushing and passing yards.

“Every year, I think you always want to self-examine your program; everything we're doing from top down — from myself, to everybody within the organization that we have. Players, coaches, everything,” Priore said. “I felt that we just weren't as productive and efficient on the offensive side, and I knew I was gonna make a change.”

Swanstrom's success at Ithaca drew the attention of Priore, and the previous connection to Penn set Swanstrom as the clear contender for the position.

“I just watched how he was able to take that program, which was perennial — a very, very talented program — but was not doing very well,” Priore said. “He really got them back up to being a national contender, and when I had the opportunity, I just had to ask him if he was interested in the position.”

With the documented shortcomings of the Penn football team last season, Swanstrom felt he could return to Penn and make meaningful contributions. 

“I just felt the opportunity to come back to Penn and to contribute to this offense, and I knew Coach P very well. I know that family-like atmosphere that he has here,” Swanstrom said. “I knew I could help the program and ultimately, that was the decision I went with, and I'm excited to be back.”

Since Swanstrom’s arrival, major changes have already been evident in strategy and morale within the team. 

“Dan has done a great job of being efficient with our time,” Priore said. “His system, which I'm very, very familiar with, puts our players in the best positions possible to have success on the football field.”

More than just his system, according to Priore, Swanstrom has been a leader and has been instrumental in bringing and instilling confidence in the players.

“This didn't happen this past summer, this happened when he got here in February,” Priore said. “He is very serious, very on top of it, a tremendous leader in that fashion.” 

Swanstrom also sets great trust in the process. He has not been expecting immediate results, especially as he heads into his first season in his current position.

“We're very understanding of what we're trying to do here as a coaching staff, as teachers, as educators, as our commitment to excellence within the program, which we define as incremental improvement every single day.” Swanstrom said.

With a lot of change both on the roster and staff, and even throughout the Ivy League, nothing is yet guaranteed. Currently, the goal for Swanstrom is to improve the Quakers incrementally day by day. Each game will be a unique challenge, an idea the team is well aware of, according to the new offensive coordinator.

A large percentage of the team stayed on campus over the summer and has trained with Swanstrom for several months consistently now. Coming out of fall camp, everyone has stayed relatively healthy and the offense has four out of five starting linemen returning accompanied by starting quarterback,sophomore Aidan Sayin. 

“[This] bodes well for the offensive kids,” Priore said. “And I think they have been playing with a lot of confidence in practices.”

Swanstrom’s offensive system and his ability to put players in impactful positions will be showcased and tested this Saturday at Penn football’s season opener, where the Quakers face Colgate University in a matchup at Franklin Field.