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.

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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.

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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.

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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 scottjanssenhp@gmail.com

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52 comments

  1. clubgitmo 6 years ago

    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.

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  2. Ron Hess 6 years ago

    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.

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  3. duranko 6 years ago

    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.

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    1. Storespook 6 years ago

      Yeah, if we can achieve a better playing surface, I guess I am not picky if it is real or a field turf.

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  4. Storespook 6 years ago

    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.

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  5. SVDomer 6 years ago

    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.

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  6. HURLS 6 years ago

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

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  7. JG 6 years ago

    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!!

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    1. Ron Burgundy 6 years ago

      WHAMMY……WHAMMY….WHAMMY!!!!!

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  8. Woody O'Hardy 6 years ago

    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.

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  9. oldschoollyons 6 years ago

    Your praise of Swarbrick for changing the helmets is especially good.

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