Schwartz was born just outside Baltimore, Maryland, and attended Mount Saint Joseph High School, an all-male Catholic school, where he played football. Schwartz was a four-year letterman at linebacker for the Hoyas of Georgetown University, where he earned his degree in economics. He received Distinguished Economics Graduate honors at Georgetown and earned numerous honors in 1988, including Division III CoSIDA/GTE Academic All-America, All-America, and team captain.
Schwartz got his start in the NFL doing research for Bill Belichick on the Cleveland Browns staff in the mid-1990s. Schwartz served as the Tennessee Titans' defensive coordinator from 2001-2008. During his time with Tennessee, Schwartz was considered for several different NFL head coaching openings. He was a candidate for the San Francisco 49ers' head coaching position in 2005, but the job went to Mike Nolan. In January 2008, he interviewed for head coaching positions with the Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons. Adam Schefter reported on January 15, 2009 that the Detroit Lions had decided to hire Schwartz as head coach.
The 2009 season was Schwartz's first as Detroit's head coach and he posted a 2–14 record, with victories coming against the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns.
In 2010, Schwartz saw his Lions begin the season with a 2–10 record, but they finished with four consecutive wins against the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings.
In 2011, the Lions returned to the postseason for the first time since 1999, clinching a playoff berth following a 38–10 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Detroit would go on to be eliminated in the first round by the New Orleans Saints.
The Lions started the 2012 season with a 4–4 record, but they then dropped their final eight games to end the year at 4–12. They finished in last place in the NFC North, as every other division member won at least ten games. Following the season, Schwartz and his staff led the South Team to a 21–16 triumph in the 2013 Senior Bowl.
The Lions started the 2013 season with a 6–3 record and gained control of the NFC North, the Lions proceeded to drop six of their next seven games to end the year at 7–9. Schwartz was fired on December 30, 2013, following five seasons as head coach.
On January 24, Schwartz was hired by the Buffalo Bills as the defensive coordinator. In 2014 Schwartz's defense was one of the top defenses statistically in the NFL, and led the league in sacks. During the 2014 season, the Bills went 4–0 against NFC North opponents, which Schwartz had coached against for the previous five seasons. On October 5, 2014, the Bills defeated Schwartz's former team, the Detroit Lions, by a final score of 17–14, in Detroit. Schwartz was carried off the field by his players after the game. Some Lions players, especially Golden Tate, were upset by Schwartz's decision to be carried off the field against his former team. The Bills ended the season fourth in the NFL in points and yards allowed per game with 18.1 and 312.2, respectively, while ranking third in takeaways with 30. The Bills also finished with their first winning record in ten years at 9–7. Despite the success, head coach Doug Marrone resigned at the end of the season and new Bills coach Rex Ryan decided to bring in his own personnel, rather than retaining Schwartz.
For the 2015 season, Schwartz took a consulting position with the NFL's officiating department to provide a coach's perspective on officiating decisions. On October 6, Schwartz declined the opportunity to replace Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
On January 19, 2016, Schwartz was hired by the Philadelphia Eagles to be their defensive coordinator.
Schwartz and his wife, Kathy, have twins Christian and Alison, along with a younger daughter, Maria.
NFL head coaches under whom Jim Schwartz has served:Bill Belichick, Cleveland Browns (1993–1995)
Ted Marchibroda, Baltimore Ravens (1996–1998)
Jeff Fisher, Tennessee Titans (1999–2008)
Doug Marrone, Buffalo Bills (2014)
Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles (2016–Present)