Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick didn’t give fans and media an exact blueprint of what he is looking for in Charlie Weis’s successor, but he did give some clues as to the criteria that he will be using during his first high profile coaching search as an athletic director.
Previous college head coaching experience
The first clue Swarbrick gave came when he said that Notre Dame is looking for someone with experience building a college program. “I think I will say that it is important to us to look first and foremost at people who have demonstrated an ability to build and sustain a Division I college football program,” he said in response to a question about what was important to him in the next head coach.
After hiring coaches with zero head coaching experience at either the NFL or collegiate level twice in the last three coaching searches, it looks like Notre Dame has learned its lesson and won’t be taking a chance on finding the next up and coming coordinator as they did with Bob Davie in 1996 and Charlie Weis in 2004.
This could mean that Swarbrick will not be looking to the NFL again as his predecessor Kevin White did in hiring Charlie Weis five years ago. That would make Jon Gruden, a long time fascination of many Notre Dame fans, seem like a long shot. It could also mean that we won’t have to sift through message board posts lauding the accomplishments of former candidates Greg Blanche (Washington Redskins DC) and Tom Clements (Green Bay Packers QB Coach).
Swarbrick’s comments Monday made it seem as though past college head coaching experience was crucial this time around. “It certainly helps to have the evidence that someone has been able to do it, that they have succeeded in building and sustaining a Division I program. That’s important,” he said Monday.
Considering how well documented Notre Dame’s defensive struggles have been this year, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Swarbrick expressed a desire for Notre Dame to play good defense moving forward.
“I don’t think you can afford to be that narrow in your approach to candidates,” Swarbrick said. “My personal view is that given where we play and who we play, we need to be able to play good defense. And if you look at the defensive rankings of the leading teams this year, there’s a correlation between BCS standings and defensive abilities, and so it’s important to us, but it’s not a limiter in terms of the background of the coach.”
The problem with the tenures of Bob Davie and Charlie Weis were that neither coach was ever able to find the right person to run the side of the ball they were unfamiliar with. For Davie, neither Jim Colletto or Kevin Rogers were able to build a strong offense for him. For Weis, he tried three defensive coordinators with Rick Minter (2005-06), Corwin Brown (2007-08), and Jon Tenuta (2009) but could never field a defense that ranked in the top 30 nationally.
Ty Willingham had experience on both sides of the ball prior to becoming a head coach and ironically had troubles on both sides of the ball during his time at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame can land a coach that will install a tough defense without hiring one that has strictly a defensive background though. Hiring a coach with a strong appreciation for the defensive side of the ball who will bring in a strong group of assistant coaches to build the defense would do the trick as well.
Take a look at Pete Carroll at USC. He had a strong defensive background, but built USC to where it is today thanks in large part to some dynamic offenses. He wasn’t an offensive mind coach, but he brought in Norm Chow as his offensive coordinator and he was able to compliment his skills nicely.
If Notre Dame goes after an offensive minded coach, whoever that is will need to bring a defensive coordinator that compliments him like Chow did for Carroll.
Must embrace the “student” aspect of “student-athlete”
The last clue Swarbrick gave Monday was the most obvious. Whoever replaces Charlie Weis must be interested in the student aspect of student athletes and take the graduation rate seriously. Notre Dame isn’t about to abandon its stance on the importance of academics in college athletics and the next coach will have to demonstrate that he is willing to take that seriously. While Notre Dame has an excellent support staff in place to help its student athletes with their studies, the head coach must instill the importance of academics to his team .
Finding a coach that embraces this isn’t something that Swarbrick sees as being a stumbling block in his search. “For people who value our approach to collegiate athletics and for people who are excited about being the coach that restores Notre Dame to a place of prominence in college football, I think they’ll be so excited to come, it’ll be an easy marriage,” he explained Monday.
Swarbrick sounded confident on Monday that he would be able to find the right coach for Notre Dame that matched up well with the criteria he has developed for his search. While there may have been some hurdles in the past that have hindered past coaching searches, Swarbrick doesn’t feel they exist this time around.
“I think for some of this period of time, there may have been some foundational issues. Were the facilities good enough? Could you demonstrate the ability to bring in the student athletes you need to win at this level?” Swarbrick explained. “I frankly think all of those have been addressed in various ways in recent years, and so I think the whole key is leadership.”
“I believe our ability to take the next step and return to a level of prominence is all about bringing the right individual in here,” he would add.
Swarbrick sounded like the man with plan who knew exactly what he was looking for in his next head coach. Let’s hope that is the case and that Swarbrick’s plan lands Notre Dame its next great head coach and that we aren’t sitting here in another four or five years wondering if Urban Meyer is finally tired of winning national championships at Florida.
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