Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s Vision Comes to Fruition

Jack Swarbrick - Notre Dame AD
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick celebrates after the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Duke Blue Devils 79-77 at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

When Auburn halfback Tre Mason was wrestled down at the Tigers’ 37-yard line, the clock came to a close and the Florida State Seminoles rushed to the field in exhilaration. The look of disbelief on the faces of Auburn’s players, shocked by the Southeastern Conference’s run of seven consecutive national championships finally coming to an end, was hammered home by the crowd’s euphoric and boisterous chants of “A-C-C! A-C-C! A-C-C!”

It took a Southern program to end a Southern conference’s dominance. And somewhere Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was watching, perhaps stroking a white cat as the chess pieces moved according to his cleverly devised plans.

Notre Dame’s partnership with the ACC, a collaboration Swarbrick spearheaded, begins in 2014.

And why shouldn’t Swarbrick look down upon his developing empire as though a Bond villain, even if he lacks the element of malevolence required for such a title? Notre Dame’s athletic director has done nothing but succeed since taking over the helm in South Bend, striking gold where his predecessor floundered.

The head coaching failures of George O’Leary, Tyrone Willingham and Charlie Weis were all under the tenure of former athletic director Kevin White, and all within a span of eight years. Swarbrick threw a bullseye with his first toss by nabbing head coach Brian Kelly from the Cincinnati Bearcats, a man who would win AP Coach of the Year honors in 2012 and lead Notre Dame to its first undefeated regular season in 24 years.

Swarbrick’s prowess has extended far beyond selecting a great coach, however. In addition to putting Notre Dame football back on the map, he’s succeeded in dragging the Fighting Irish program into the 21st Century.

Notre Dame now boasts a training table for its football team, a crucial element in player development and one that was present at nearly every other elite program. Notre Dame’s training table has a menu specially designed to provide maximum support to the strength and conditioning program, and the table is overseen by a nutritionist to ensure student-athletes are making proper meal choices.

Swarbrick’s modernization efforts have even involved areas long considered to be off limits by a powerful alumni base that strongly values tradition. In December Swarbrick announced a decision would soon be made as to whether Notre Dame would continue to use natural grass at Notre Dame Stadium – which it has done since the venue opened 84 years ago in 1930 – or officially switch to field turf. There are even whispers of a jumbotron being installed in the next round of proposed stadium renovations, a subject that has evoked anger from the fan base for years. Regardless of where one stands on these taboo issues, the fact Swarbrick is on the verge of installing features long considered impossible is a feat in its own right.

The 21st Century makeover has even included spicing up Notre Dame’s appearance by introducing a new golden helmet that more closely resembles the Golden Dome, and overall changes in uniform for the Shamrock Series, moves intended to draw the attention of recruits who enjoy the hourly changes Nike imposes on Oregon’s uniforms and apparel. The alterations to Notre Dame’s appearance are connected to its past by the Shamrock Series, an ode to the Fighting Irish’s historical barnstorming days. The series has taken Notre Dame to New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Dallas and an eventual battle for Irish supremacy at Fenway Park in Boston against Boston College, marking the first football game played in front of the Green Monster in 47 years.

[Related: Notre Dame Switching to Under Armour]

Despite completely overhauling Notre Dame’s structure and finding the coach of its future, Swarbrick’s Piece de résistance involved striking a partnership deal with the ACC. Notre Dame’s future as an independent was uncertain, with conference expansion on the verge of forcing its hand into membership. The challenge was to find a home for Notre Dame’s Olympic sports while maintaining the Fighting Irish’s independent status, a monumental task considering Notre Dame was in desperate need of access to a conference’s bowl tie-ins. As illustrated in 2013, with no bowl tie-ins and failing to qualify for the BCS, the Fighting Irish were left to fight over bowl allotments that conferences were unable to fill.

Swarbrick struck a deal with the ACC that the Charlotte Observer described as “controversial” and “one-sided in Notre Dame’s favor” before ultimately concluding the arrangement was a “massive coup for the conference.” Notre Dame’s athletic director had successfully navigated the threat from conference realignment and struck gold in the process. The Irish secured a foothold for its Olympic sports and access to the ACC’s bowl tie-ins, making Notre Dame eligible for any ACC bowl as long as it has a record greater than, equal to, or within one game of, an ACC conference member. Even more impressive, while Notre Dame must share its revenue from ACC bowl tie-ins, all revenue earned from a potential playoff appearance belongs solely to Notre Dame.

One of the most underrated aspects of Swarbrick’s agreement with the ACC is a long-term affiliation with the South. Southern programs have won nine consecutive national championships, seven of which were from the SEC alone. Brian Kelly and his staff have worked diligently to increase the presence of Southern talent on the Fighting Irish roster, and partnering with the ACC will help Notre Dame secure access to fertile recruiting grounds, with 61% of Class of 2014 recruits from the Rivals 250 hailing from the South, and 32% from ACC Southern member states alone. The 21st Century of college football lives below the Mason-Dixon line, and Swarbrick has managed to make sure Notre Dame will play an integral part.

Should Notre Dame’s athletic director ever choose to hold a white cat while looking down upon his pawns as they move into position, there’s no arguing he’s earned the right to do so.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, as well as appeared on MSNBC as a sports contributor. In his spare time he takes his NCAA Football ’13 online dynasty way too seriously and alienates those around him by discussing football 24 hours a day. Scott can be reached at

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  1. Geeze you would think Swarbick and Brian Kelly are the greatest things the world has ever known. As far as I know FSU won the national title and not ND. ND has lost 4 or more games in 3/4 season under Kelly and got stomped in their only BCS game. And this is reason for praise? Field turf is long overdue with that horrible field and a jumbotron I could care less either way. How about a National championship or at least a BCS bowl win or whatever they are going to call it.

  2. Swarbick is a good A.D but for the most part he is reacting to what is happening in the A.Q. conferences, and reacting to them. When the PAC 12 and the Big 10 tried to form an semi alliance Swarbick said that with the chance in NCAA football there might be a time when Notre Dame would have to join a conference but alliance fell apart.
    With most conference’s going to 9 games it was harder for Notre Dame to get good teams to play.
    The ACC was under pressure from the Big 10 and the SEC so it was perfect time for Notre Dame to become part of the ACC. Which works out great.

  3. Storespook your setting the bar at 10 wins minimum seems appropriate.
    Certainly the schedule is solid, but it’s merely Notre Dame solid, and not inconsistent with the days of glory past. Were one to set the odds right now, you’d only favor FSU against us.

    We got comfortable in 2012 with the defense winning the games, and the offense along for the ride. This may be the year that we flip the script.
    But there is a lot of ordnance on the offensive side of the ball, and the offensive line is much better, , much better than in 2012.

    I find the resistance to field turf or whatever intriguiing. Once we expanded the stadium and then topped the West side with a press box big enough to blot out the sun (get it, block the sun on the grass,) it was a virtual guarantee that the turf would need to be enhanced.

    Some thought civilization would end with night baseball at Wrigley Field.

    Beano Cook thought that civilization would end once teams not from the PacX or Big X played in the Rose Bowl.

    Oh, well.

  4. Certainly some valid points made in the article. He also has made some decisions that are open to critique. As to football, I look forward to the upcoming season, especially hoping to see improvement in offensive production with now having the QB that fits this system we have been waiting for (albeit a glimpse in 2012). Following some of the posts regarding the field turf and jumbotron, the game has changed. If field turf is decided the way to go, I don’t think it diminishes the game. I wasn’t fan of uniform changes (Shamrock Series) either but it too is part of the changing trend as uniform stability has been one source of team identity. That too hasn’t diminished the game either. As to a jumbotron, it too is a trend in modern or renovated stadiums. I agree that crowd noise could be louder as ND stadium can be a quieter place to play. If you want your stadium to be a factor in “intimidating” opponents, it’s simple, start winning at home consistently and win convincingly would help re-establish that factor. As to the upcoming year, anything less than 10 wins, either involvement in the 4 playoff format or a high paying bowl (with a win over high ranked opponent), and a top 10 finish I think would be falling short. It’s time to either be there after 5 years or validate much of the criticism that has been posted about BK’s vision & leadership.

  5. Wow, I’m just a fan of Notre Dame sports. I used to watch ND football highlights at 6am (PST) back in the 60’s. I honestly haven’t thought about turf or a giant scoreboard much. I don’t care much either way. I guess if either will help ND win or secure top notch recruits, I’m for it. Sorry if that goes against the grain, but I enjoy seeing ND WIN.

    However, as for turf, if a significant number of players started getting hurt…I would want it pulled out. Heck every high school in my area has turf. I believe it is becoming the norm in the sport.

  6. Jack “Dr.Evil” Swarbrick? Good imagery… It’s the Austin Collinsworth : Austin Powers relation that needs monitoring.

  7. I was reading all of these comments and got very sleepy.

    I woke up in some Japanese family’s rec room and they would NOT stop screaming.

    GO IRISH and…..WHAMMY!!

  8. OK have to say this: Swarbrick is a genius!

    The heck with the rust belt….align with the sun belt. Go coast to coast and be completely unique. Only ND can do this. We are not in a regional conference and we are centrally located. It keeps us unique.

    The man has a vision and is a genuine leader.

    Great job, Jack!

    Woody (ND 76)

    PS Fix the turf…go artificial. Get Jumbotron. No brainer.

  9. Okay, Burgundy.

    I know Wes Mantooth (greatest movie name of all time)

    YOU are no Wes Mantooth.

    And ND did play on Thursday night, against Vandy in Nashville, mid-90’s?

    1. Dorothy Mantooth was a saint, but that’s beside the point. Correct, September of 96. Don’t get your argument as the duck claimed it was against BC.

    2. There’s been a lot of fighting in the comments here. I don’t know who yet, but I’m taking somebody’s mother to a steak dinner and then never calling her again.

  10. Burgundy, you have the leather bound books, riddle me this:

    What think you of someone who brags about educational credentials and degrees and yet becomes bumfuzzled by “it’s” and “its” and uses them, well, not Strunk and Whitely????

    And O Burgundian one, as a moralist, is that a case more for scorn or pity????

      1. I am still ready to go. Burgundy, you fit the Will Farrell character well.

        duranko, you need to quit attributing words and intent to my posts. I’ve never bragged about anything on this site. Other than using examples of experience to save five to ten stupid replies as to why I might have an opinion, I wouldn’t brag on a sports website or any website. If you misread, from whatever distance away, then that is your problem. And you’ll see I never attack anyone personally unless they attack me first.

        But my offer stands duranko and in fact I’ve sent an email to Kyle to offer a solution. I’m within driving distance of the stadium. I’m sure there is a parking lot available.

        Interestingly you’ve never answered the age question or indicated if you’ve had any association with the university other than deciding you are a fan. Lecturing alums or others who have experienced the University really turns all your rants on yourself. You are indeed the pot calling the kettle black.

        Insult all you want but it’s obvious you might as well be a USC or Miami fan. You could just as easily represent those schools.

        I’d love to hear you lecture me in person.

  11. I would like to expand on my serious objection to the use of instant replay in college football. The primary purpose of any intercollegiate education is discovered in the root word “educere,” or to “lead out” the young woman or young man out of the girl or the boy who enters. Some believe it is primarily the transmission of knowledge; I do not. It is to prepare the person for the remainder of life in all of its diversity.

    That is why instant replay is out of place for college. In business, in family, in life, in commerce, in community you do not get “instant replay” to yield justice. The larger element of maturity is to deal with outcomes and not to argue with them or seek to correct them. The most emotionally mature people understand this. Therefore, to enable college players and the fans that watch them to seek some sort of immediate filmed “justice” is a red herring. disingenuous, and undermines the very import of a collegiate education.

    Gamblers? Hah!! “If you’re in the game for 20 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, then YOU are the patsy!”

  12. Brad, I believe we can look at a respected Main Board poster, Bob Drake.
    Bob attended ND in the Leahy years, and his insights are myriad and valuable. One of my favorites is his contention that the ’47 Irish were the greatest ever.

    But Bob, who knows a thing or two about Notre Dame traditions, supports
    an electronic scoreboard (I prefer that description to Jumbotron)
    And I think Bob may be in sync with his contemporaries.

    It is the younger “faux” traditionalists who howl and scream.

    It’s like being in Basic training in the Army and about 10 days in some
    rookie just like you are starts yakking about “Well in this man’s Army…..

    It’s actually just young’uns trying to seem wise and impress their elders
    with fabricated loyalty to non=essential traditions.

    Try this approach-If playing at night in ’88 was ok for Bo and Lou then it’s okay for me.

    In sum I don’t really believe it’s the older fans, especially not the ones with glaucoma or macular degeneration. It’s the young phonies.

  13. Ron your list is fine on Bama, but I would add one other thing.

    Their abandonment of playing games in Legion Field. Birmingham is close to the center of gravity of the state’s population and it is a revered venue. Of course, Dan Devine’s Irish, fueled by Scott Zettek and Phil Carter hung a 7-0 beauty on Bear’s Tide there in 1980. That made Bryant 0-4 against ND.

    The objection to a jumbotron or field turf is laughable. Ever since the stadium expansion in the 90’s THE SUN DOES NOT SHINE ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD FOR VERY LONG IN AUTUMN. DUH!!! Once you prevent nature from doing its work, you must come up with a substitute.

    As far as the faux purists, I’ll call their bluff.

    Give up your cell phone on game day.
    do not post or look at the internet from 72 hours before until 72 hours after the game.
    Once instant replay, of which I disapprove, was added to the game,
    tv screens, whether HAND HELD or on a large electronic scoreboard became inevitable, just a matter of time.

    NOTRE DAME’ BIGGEST TRADITION IS CHANGE: Rockne’s scheduling, Rock playing in Yankee Stadium, building Notre Dame Stadium which was a knock off of Michigan’s Stadium, scheduling USC, admitting women, Rockne’s box,
    Leahy’s move from the box to the T formation.

    Rockne and Leahy would slap these fake ersatz neocon sniffy, effeminate,
    pouting phony traditionalist silly for this garbage. Slap them SILLY!

    Plus, I can always use more tickets. Let the ones who will desert Notre Dame for an improved field or electronic scoreboard leave, en masse. Mo’ tickets Mo tickets, Mo tickets.

    Notre Dame’s Catholic emphasis is the #1 value. Ask UCONN. Ask Ernest Jones. Once you get NOTRE DAME’d in the most essential way, it ain’t going away!!

    1. faux purists? That sounds tough in blog land, but comparing cell phones to sports tradition is just stupid.

      And explain why it’s a bluff. Really how old are you? 25? Maybe?

      Those of us faux purists who you insult even though you never attended a class at Notre Dame, we prefer careful change.

      My previous post attacks specifically, artificial turf and the jumbo tron. I’ll add the crappy canned music they have now. I think they could have a replay board that works, but a jumbo tron that has been discussed in the past is just too much of a distraction. I was at a cowboy’s game few years ao in that new stadium. Pretty sad place to watch a football game. If you need a jumbotron stay home.

      And I’ll always be anti turf.

      “Rockne and Leahy would slap these fake ersatz neocon sniffy, effeminate,
      pouting phony traditionalist silly for this garbage. Slap them SILLY!”

      I say, duranko, if you think Notre Dame needs fake turf and big tv’s then maybe you are the pouting phony domer.

      Maybe Rockne or Leahy would slap you silly.

      But if not, let Frank and company know and we’ll set up a meeting and I’ll slap you silly. As an alum, I’d love to make you wish you never heard of Notre Dame.

      1. I’ll buy a ticket but first I’m gonna need the tale of the tape. Can you both submit your height, weight, reach, age, current meds, AARP cards, year of last tussle and how many packs of smokes per day.

  14. If some of these new changes cause some older fans to lose interest, so be it. Maybe then Notre Dame stadium will once again be a home field advantage. Maybe now fans can actually stand up and cheer. Right now it’s one of the quietest college stadiums.

    1. I second this point. The idea that Notre Dame Stadium exists for those who see it as a country club or a cocktail party needs to end. It’s laudable that opposing teams marvel at our campus and the stadium’s rich history. But the fact that no school — not MSU or Tulsa — worries about playing before our stadium crowd needs to be changed.

  15. C-Dog we need a new field. I’m tired of seeing these huge chunks of grass come flying on practically every play once we have played a few games on it. ND needs to put in field turf or find some way for the roots of real grass to stay in the ground and deep so someone doesn’t get seriously hurt.

  16. Sorry Ron, you be wrong, they played BC on Thursday, during Weis’s tenure. Jimmy was battling the flu, and we got beat.

    1. Erroneous, Erroneous on both counts. Here are the dates for ND vs BC games during the Weis era.
      October 13, 2007 = Saturday
      November 8, 2008 = Saturday
      October 24, 2009 = Saturday

      Anymore unfactual things you’d like to say??

    2. Perhaps you utilize a Mayan calendar or have missed several leap years which has caused you to view Saturdays as Thursdays. Completely understandable.

  17. As to synthetic grass, the decision should be made by players/coaches. They’re the ones who have to deal with what we’ve got now, and what we have isn’t working. If they want it, then it should be implemented….

    1. It’s not working because they don’t want it to work. The field condition was not an issue under Weis. Nor before Weis. Do you have some rocket science answer why the knowledge of grass management would have devolved from 2008?

      Funny how MSU went back to grass.

      1. Why would they not want it to work? I could care less if they play on clay but I can tell you what they played on against BYU was embarrassing not a quality surface.

      2. Right, in the past couple of years, the grass has been horrible. My point is that it was not an issue previous to BK.

        And if I’m going to be called effeminate and a faux purist for wanting grass by a bunch of pseudo Domers who think turf or other copy cat gimics will magically get ND the national championship, I’m going to defend my position. Win with your own identity instead of chasing gimics of other programs.

  18. @C-Dog, a few years ago, ND played BC in a Thursday night game. I don’t remember Rockne/Leahy putting players on trains to play in the middle of the week. Rockne, despite his sainted image, was a business strategist, he scheduled games and flacked ND, in order to optimally market the product. If you, or any one else, thinks that ND became a national power based on novenas at the grotto, then, it’s time to ignore folks such as you…

    1. Notre Dame has only played BC on a Thursday night in the Liberty Bowl back in ’83.

      Might want to check your facts or define what you mean by a few years ago.

    2. So you think that ND is going to become a national power based on gimmicks? I’d say maybe you need to check that out.

      Notre Dame became a national power by focusing on winning all of it’s games. Or rather winning the next game.

      Where’d you come up with the grotto stuff? That’s about as close to what I said as Moscow is to Washington DC.

      Turf is for babies.

      @duranko, it’s obvious your connection with Notre Dame is only through the football program and you have no other real connection to the University.

  19. Also, a jumbo tron and turf at ND would lead me to believe they have abandoned the traditional mission of sports at the University and lead me to conclude that Notre Dame football is no longer that Old Notre Dame that we cheerED for. I would lose interest.

    Grass hasn’t been a real issue until Brian Kelly came along. The university has mostly maintained excellent grass accoroding to it’s own expectations.

    Next thing someone will suggest is that the way to a National Championship is to dress the cheerleaders like the Dallas Cowboy cheeleaders except in some Irish strumpet green.

    Meanwhile, Alabama hasn’t changed much. Just a few national championships in the last decade and an acceptance of elite status. Several schools have tried the gimmicks and several haven’t. While it might be as exciting, the self respect and identity of the schools who have avoided the crap, is in tact.

    1. In general, I agree tradition is important to maintain.

      I think the general look and feel of the stadium should be maintained.

      However, I do think the field situation should be looked at if it’s impeding our play or worse, leading to injuries of players.

      If new turf is designed to look similar to the current field, and it leads to improved play and less injuries, then I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

      I think it all rides on the justification. Change just to look glitzy would not be ND. But if the reason they are changing something that helps the play on the field or safety, I’m all for.

    2. It would be such a shame it you lost interest, i’m not sure any of us could go on.

      As far as Alabama is concerened, here is a list of changes that you have somehow forgotten have taken place there:

      1998: East Upper deck added along with Jumbotron which at this time was largest in collegiate sports.
      2006: North end zone expansion. Skyboxes added and two large screens placed in each corner of the endzone.
      2010: South end zone expansion. Additional skyboxes added and the entire stadiums av system was upgraded.
      The field markings and endzones have been redone and redesigned in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

  20. By the way, training table existed under Holtz in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Anyone want to inform us when training table ended? It was always in the second floor of South Dining Hall and featured best known nutrition of the day for the players.

    Just testing to see if your information is accurate.

    1. I’m not aware of Holtz having one. Perhaps he did, but I haven’t seen anything that indicated he had a training table.

      Either way, Swarbrick gets credit for being the first to introduce it to ND or for bringing it back if Holtz did indeed have one.

    2. Just because you type something doesn’t make it true. There was no training table under Holtz. If you don’t believe me that’s fine but I’ll take Lou’s word as the truth. From a recent interview:
      Notre Dame didn’t accept transfers, didn’t redshirt players. Notre Dame wanted players to graduate in four years and they did.

      “I can’t tell you how many great football players had a year left,” Holtz said. “We didn’t have an athletic dorm, didn’t have a training table, had terrible facilities that they didn’t want to improve because they didn’t want anybody coming to school because we had a better weight room. They wanted you to come there because we had a better education.”

  21. Overall this is a well written article, but it does miss a very important point. Notre Dame is not nor every should be a brand. Notre Dame is a Catholic institution in which athletics and academics are carefully woven into the fabric of developing Catholic Christian souls.

    Notre Dame’s athletic department serves the University. It is not an entity in it’s own right nor should it be. If it acquires that level of power, then Notre Dame will be like every other University and worse than some. Notre Dame should never let that happen.

    Joining the ACC in all sports other than football but having some affinity toward the ACC is a good thing because of he ACC’s academc prowess. Many ACC schools bost the nations upper tier academic programs. And since the Big East essentially imploded, for sports other than football, there was no other decent choice. The Big Ten would have forced research that is contrary to Catolic teaching and Notre Dame just shouldn’t partake. So the ACC is a great choice.

    But to characterize these moves seems the way written in this article, puts Swarbrick and Notre Dame in a more draconian light and should cause concern if the persepctive reflects the motivations of Swarbrick and the University.

    1. Without the football team this is a catholic school in the middle of nowhere that nobody would have ever heard of.

      Besides, you know how much money it costs to develop those Christian souls?

  22. I agree in general about Swarbick. He’s made some moves that some find controversial, but I think he’s struck a balance between maintaining a tradition and looking to the future.

    The ACC deal highlights that the best. He still maintained independance for ND football while finding a home for the other sports. I know some football fans out there short-sightedly don’t give a hoot about ND’s other sports, only football, and would have stood their ground. But Swarbick is the athletic director, not the football director. It’s his job to consider all ND’s athletic programs. And the ACC appears to be on an upswing in football. They’re no longer content to be the ugly stepsister to the SEC. That can only help ND in the long run.

    And as a ND basketball fan too, I’m excited to see ND play in the ACC (though their paltry 1-3 record thus far is a huge disappointment, considering they beat Duke earlier in the year). And the ladies have dominated thus far.

    I still reserve some judgment on BK. I think the hiring was a good move. For the first time since Davies was coach, ND appeared to get the man they wanted. No O’Leary or Meyer misses this time. I have a hard time believing a coach who put Cincinnati on the radar can’t succeed at ND. But next year will tell the tale, since he’ll have his QB back. I gave BK a pass this year because Rees was not the ideal QB for his system, which is so important in football.

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