Murray State (Kentucky) University Hall of Famer Reggie Swinton is ‘out to prove a point’ as Forrest City (Arkansas) head football coach

FORREST CITY, Ark. – Two of Reggie Swinton’s biggest life decisions involved moving east.

Three decades removed from the first venture, the Little Rock native has set his focus on turning around a struggling Forrest City football team as Swinton was officially named the Mustangs’ head coach in a school board meeting held Thursday evening.

After positions at Little Rock’s Central and Southwest did not work out – the former being Swinton’s alma mater – earlier in the year, Swinton had no choice but to start all over in looking to become a first-time head coach at the high school level. Former Pine Bluff Dollarway and University of Arkansas football standout Carl Kidd, a friend of Swinton’s, was who initially recommended Swinton to Forrest City’s administration. Swinton was first contacted by the school on March 29, then he applied the following Tuesday. Swinton was offered the position three weeks later following an interview and he verbally accepted shortly thereafter.

“I am where I am supposed to be here in Forrest City,” Swinton said in an exclusive interview with Natural State Sports. “It means a lot to me because someone believed in me and it always feels good to be wanted. I hate that it did not happen in my own city.”

Life-Changing Decision Led to Historic Results

The wisdom Swinton, 48, gained from his experiences the first time he moved away from home after graduating from Central in 1994 played a major role in his decision to take the job at Forrest City, a one and a half hour drive from Little Rock.

As a heralded player for Hall of Fame Coach Bernie Cox and the Tigers in the early nineties, Swinton was set on going to Northwest Arkansas to play for the Razorbacks. When that did not work out, Swinton instead went to Division I-AA (now FCS) Murray State (Ky.) University, coached by fellow Arkansan – and Central High alumnus – Houston Nutt.

“This [at Forrest City] is kind of like when I was trying to get on with the Razorbacks, I wanted to be a Razorback so bad, but somebody else wanted me more than what they did,” Swinton said. “I had to go where I was appreciated and wanted.

“As we all know, me going [to Murray] turned out to be a really great move.”

Great is an understatement.

Swinton was a star wide receiver and returner on special teams for the Racers from 1994-97 and his accomplishments were forever immortalized when he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2022. Swinton was also inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame that same year, the first MSU football player to receive that honor. In 40 games at MSU, Swinton hauled in 153 receptions for 2,528 yards and 20 touchdowns. In 1996, Swinton became the first Racer wideout to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season and helped them finish a combined 22-3, including 16-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play, during the 1996-97 seasons while catching passes from Texarkana (Ark.) native Mike Cherry. Cherry was also inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame in 2022.

The on-field success Swinton experienced with Nutt only covers a small fraction of their relationship that mirrors one of a father and son. The first interaction between the two was when Swinton came to one of Arkansas’ camps prior to his junior season in the summer of 1992. Nutt was coaching wide receivers for the Hogs at the time, a position he held from 1990-92. That was the beginning of a bond that has remained ‘special’, a word Nutt is famous for uttering on many occasions.

“They [at Murray State] used to call me the Coach’s Pet because Coach Nutt took care of me different,” Swinton said. “We were both from Central High School and had that connection.”

Naturally, Nutt was the first call Swinton dialed when the Forrest City job really came into consideration. Swinton’s mind was spinning in different directions and Nutt, as he always has, shot his former pupil straight.

“I told him what I had going on in my obstacles with the job, so I asked him how I would live in Little Rock and coach at Forrest City,” Swinton said. “He said ‘you can’t’ – if you do not move there, then do not take the job. He told me that I have to buy in and be embedded in the community because if I do not buy in then they are not going to, so go there with the intentions of building a dynasty.”

Learning From Legends

Swinton left Murray before graduating to enter the 1998 NFL Draft. He was not selected, but signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent. He suited up for 11 other teams in multiple leagues through the 2005 season that also included the original, and very short-lived, XFL in 2001.

A large portion of Swinton’s highlights as an NFL player came during his tenure with the Dallas Cowboys. While there, Swinton played under Dave Campo first, and later Bill Parcells, between 2001-2003, though he was traded to the Green Bay Packers in late September of the 2003 season. Swinton did most of his damage in ‘The League’ while playing special teams, completing his career with 6,230 total return yards and four touchdowns, along with 493 yards receiving, plus two scores, on 41 catches.

He credits a plethora of players – that includes NFL all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith – and coaches who have made a significant impact on his life and playing career. However, when it comes to coaching, Swinton singled out three names in which he bases his philosophies – Nutt, Parcells, plus former Razorback quarterback Ron Calcagni.

“Those are the three coaches that I pattern my style after,” Swinton said. “I took everything I learned from them and put it into one box.

“I coach like Houston Nutt, I am a hard-ass like Bill Parcells and I use a lot of Ron Calcagni’s terminology that I learned.”

Swinton also mentioned Coughlin, as well as Mike Holmgren, both of whom are Super Bowl winners, as ones who helped teach him team management.

Like Nutt, Calcagni has played a major role in Swinton’s life and playing career. A Youngstown (Ohio) native, Calcagni won 25 games playing quarterback for the Razorbacks from 1975-78 and had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League.

Swinton’s first-ever coaching job was at Arkansas Baptist College in 2007, where he led the wide receivers and special teams, then spent the next four years on Calcagni’s staff at Pulaski Heights Middle School.

Per Swinton, Calcagni also initiated the conversation that led to Swinton signing with the Dallas Cowboys in August of 2001. Calcagni was the offensive coordinator for the Arkansas Twisters during Swinton’s lone season that same year with the now-defunct (but occasionally rumored to return) Arena League squad that was based in Little Rock.

Coaching With A Purpose

Swinton has made his mark in coaching with the Elite Arkansas Lions AAU organization, which he started in 2013, that has sent a multitude of its players to the college ranks. Swinton mentioned that it was an emotional meeting when he announced to his players and their parents that he was leaving for Forrest City, but the team will continue to be in great hands under Kevin “Squeaky” Wright.

Among Swinton’s lengthy list of accomplishments was earning his college degree last summer. Coming out of Murray State, Swinton’s only focus was to make it in the NFL. It took about a quarter of a century for his mindset to change, but it did once he realized a degree was required to have a job like the one he just recently accepted.

“I never really understood how important it was to have a degree, my goal in college was just to play in the NFL,” Swinton said. “When the Central (head football) job came open it triggered some things. I got my degree, but did not get that job or the Southwest job.”

Swinton is currently working on earning his Master’s Degree.

Despite making it to the highest level as a player and holding coaching positions in multiple facets of the game, the glaring reality is that Swinton has never led a team under the bright Friday night lights. Like his blazing 4.23 forty-yard dash speed that he utilized to blow past defenders, Swinton responded to that without skipping a beat.

“I may not have Friday experience, but I have Saturday and Sunday experience,” Swinton said. “I have been around Bill Parcells, Mike Holmgren, Houston Nutt, Tom Coughlin – I think that speaks volumes as to where I have been and what I have learned.”

Swinton also sent out a message to anyone who has passed him over or has doubts.

“I do not hold any grudges or ill will, but I am out to prove a point,” Swinton added. “I am the type of person when I am doubted and people think I can’t do something is when I thrive the most. It is just another obstacle that I am climbing.”

Same But Different

The Mustangs have a tough hill to climb as the program has won a total of only four games post-COVID. Having already watched film, Swinton mentioned that his new team has many impressive athletes that stood out, but he also believes that a lot of the struggles he noticed can be corrected.

Forrest City’s team slogan, “Same But Different.” (Photo submitted)

“They have a load of talent,” Swinton said. “But, from watching the film I just did not see a lot of discipline. They looked like they were out of shape, bending over in the second quarter and tired. My first job is to get there to build that culture and change their mindset.”

Swinton pointed out that he admires the way University of Colorado Coach Deion Sanders, widely known as ‘Coach Prime’, has brought heavy national attention to his program in Boulder. Between a combination of being in the often-overlooked Arkansas Delta and having been an under-the-radar player, Swinton plans on borrowing some ideas from Coach Prime to assist in putting the Mustangs on the map.

“When you bring in kids and give them hope the way Coach Prime did, they are going to play harder for you,” Swinton said. “I have already made contact with some scouts and my goal is to get as many kids to the next level as possible.”

Additionally, Swinton will be adding a couple of previous colleagues to his staff as Mike Nichols and Marquis Boyd were two Swinton mentioned, both of whom helped Swinton coach the Lions.

Now that pen has been put to paper, Swinton is on a mission to bring immense success to not just a football program, but a school and community that gave him the chance he so desired almost exactly 30 years prior to when he faced a tough decision regarding his college career.

“The parallel is really the same,” Swinton said. “As far as the Razorbacks, I got recruited when Coach Nutt was there. When he left, my uncle and I had to continue to reach out for them to recruit me. Here, I made the contact to get on with Central and Southwest, but then Forrest City reached out to me.”

As Swinton settles into his next move east, this time a little closer to home, Forrest City begins its hopeful journey north when Swinton’s inaugural squad takes the field for the first time in a benefit game against Bauxite on August 22.

(Cover photo courtesy of Murray State University)

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