Notre Dame Football: Grading Jack Swarbrick Through His First Three Years
In May 2008, Notre Dame partook in a phenomenon known as addition by subtraction without even trying. It occurred when former athletic director Kevin White announced he would be leaving South Bend to take the same position at Duke University.
This was a minor blip on the radar of sports and it didn't particularly send shockwaves through the Notre Dame fan base, but it should have. It was the equivalent of Dorothy's house landing on the Wicked Witch.
White's tenure at Notre Dame was a complete disaster. He gave Bob Davie a five-year contract extension and then fired him less than a year later. He then hired George O'Leary only to have O'Leary resign days later.
White then tapped Tyrone Willingham, who floundered so much in recruiting that he essentially put Notre Dame on self-imposed probation (2011 is the first year ND has been at the 85-scholarship threshold since before Ty arrived).
After firing Willingham in 2004, he botched the pursuit of the hottest coaching commodity on the market (Urban Meyer) who also happened to list Notre Dame as his "dream job."
Meyer landed in Florida while Charlie Weis was chosen to lead the Irish. After a blazing start to his first season, White handed Weis a new, beefier 10-year contract despite the fact he'd coached just six games and won only four of them.
How do you grade Swarbrick's first three years?
When White left town, Notre Dame was fresh off its worst season in 45 years and, thanks to White's knee-jerk reaction, financially handcuffed to Weis for another seven seasons.
In July 2008, Jack Swarbrick quietly took Kevin White's place as athletic director. In the almost three years he's been on the job he's had to deal with quite a bit. How has he done thus far? Let's rate all the major moves he's made at this point of his tenure.
Neutral Site Games Scheduled: Army (at Yankee Stadium), Maryland (in Washington, D.C.), Miami (at Soldier Field), Temple (in Philadelphia)
All four of these games were solid additions to the schedule. The showdown with Army was the first football game ever played at the new Yankee Stadium and proved to be a huge success based on ticket sales, exposure and atmosphere.
The renewal of the "Catholics vs. Convicts" series with Miami rekindled one of the best rivalries in the history of the sport. Add two nice filler games in major East Coast cities, and you have to call this part of scheduling a success. Grade: A-
New Series Scheduled: Texas, Northwestern, Wake Forest, BYU
The series with Texas is a monster event with arguably the second biggest brand in college football.
Putting Northwestern back on the schedule is a big deal more because the Wildcats agreed to play the Irish in November, which is a huge break from the norm of Big Ten policy. It helps debunk the myth that Notre Dame won't be able to find anyone to play if they don't join a conference.
Wake Forest and BYU are a lot like Maryland and Temple: they provide ND some face time with solid teams (yes, I just called Temple Football "solid" and no, I don't know what's going on) in different parts of the country. Grade: A
The Firing of Charlie Weis and Hiring of Brian Kelly
Charlie needed to go. He did plenty of good while at Notre Dame, but the atmosphere was completely toxic by the end of his final campaign, so Swarbrick made the necessary move.
The dignified and classy way in which he let Weis go was admirable. The stealthy, broad coaching search he conducted in the following weeks was downright masterful.
After watching Kevin White completely botch two coaching searches, it was refreshing to see Swarbrick handle the situation in such an effective manner.
He dropped off the grid and interviewed almost a dozen coaching candidates without the media figuring out who they were. How is that even possible in today's 24-hour sports news cycle?
Only time will tell whether Brian Kelly succeeds, but the manner in which Swarbrick arrived at his selection was brilliant. No one knows who else was offered the job, but if higher profile candidates like Bob Stoops or Urban Meyer actually said no, it wasn't played out in the headlines of ESPN.com like it was the previous two searches.
There's a very high probability that both those coaches were approached and ultimately said, "thanks, but no thanks," but when all was said and done, the appearance was that Notre Dame got its first choice in Brian Kelly.
Whether that was reality didn't matter; the perception was ND finally "nailed" a coaching search, and that's something the program desperately needed. Grade: A
The Abandonment of the 7-4-1 Schedule
Kevin White made the decision to shift Notre Dame to a schedule that consisted of seven home games, four road games, and one neutral site game each year.
This completely handcuffed Notre Dame's ability to find quality opponents because the Irish are locked into six opponents every year (three home, three away amongst Southern Cal, Stanford, Navy, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue).
The lack of flexibility meant the Irish couldn't offer the promise of a home and home series simply because there was no way to fit it in the schedule. The reality is there aren't many teams willing to schedule a series if they'll all be road or neutral site.
This led to schools like Tulsa and Western Michigan having to be plugged in to fill holes in last year's schedule.
Swarbrick made it clear that the 7-4-1 would have to change, and he made moves to do so very quickly. Moving forward, Notre Dame will adopt the 6-5-1 format that allows them the necessary flexibility to find opponents across the country. Grade: A
The Navigation of Conference Expansion
There were plenty of people who thought the time had finally come where Notre Dame was going to be forced to join the Big Ten.
With Texas ready to jump to the Pac 10 and the Big 12 and Big East on the verge of implosion, Swarbrick went behind the scenes to restore sanity and calm the seas to protect Notre Dame's independence.
Weeks after Texas decided to stay in the Big 12 and bring the conference realignment wheel to a screeching halt, it was leaked that Swarbrick was one of the main influencers during the entire process.
He kept an open dialogue with Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds throughout the negotiations and made sure that Notre Dame's relationship with the Big East stayed strong to protect the Olympic sports. Much like his coaching search, he somehow found a way to stay undetected in his efforts.
In the end, he successfully maintained Notre Dame's independence and likely was one of the biggest players in the proceedings, even though the media didn't pick up on it until after the fact.
Final Grade: A
Swarbrick has done a phenomenal job since he took the job. He's gone to work undoing a lot of the damage Kevin White caused and has positioned Notre Dame perfectly moving forward, no matter what "seismic shifts" occur.
He's someone who understands Notre Dame and the value of its football brand, something White never seemed to grasp.
The entire athletic department will be in great hands as long as Swarbrick is the one leading the way.
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