Man picking next ND coach never aspired to job
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – Jack Swarbrick’s goal when he returned to Indiana nearly 30 years ago with a law degree from Stanford was to become involved in the community, not be the person looking for the next Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy or Ara Parseghian.
He’s been a lawyer who served as competition director for the 1987 Pan Am Games; he was instrumental in bringing the NCAA headquarters and the 2012 Super Bowl to Indianapolis; and he was a finalist for the job as NCAA president in 2002. Now, he’s about to hire a coach for the most storied program in college football, a choice that will likely define his career.
Swarbrick believes he can find the right man to return his alma mater to the glory it hasn’t enjoyed since winning its last national title in 1988. He says it’s critical for Notre Dame and as well college football in general for the Fighting Irish to compete for championships.
“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 said.
Swarbrick began contacting candidates to replace Charlie Weis on Tuesday, although he won’t say who or how many. Nearly two dozen people have been mentioned in media reports, including Florida’s Urban Meyer and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Both said they are staying put. Others, such as Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly, have been evasive when asked about their interest.
Swarbrick will recommend who he thinks should be the next coach to the Rev. John Jenkins, the university president. Swarbrick recommended to Jenkins on Nov. 29 that Weis be fired. The announcement came the next day.
There’s no timetable for Swarbrick. His predecessor, Kevin White, took a week to hire George O’Leary after Bob Davie was fired in 2001. After O’Leary resigned five days later after admitting he didn’t have the master’s degree in education that he claimed, White hired Tyrone Willingham 17 days later. When Willingham was fired in 2004, Weis was hired 12 days later.
Indiana University athletic director Fred Glass, who worked with Swarbrick at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels, said he knows Swarbrick will do his homework and “look at all the usual suspects and some unusual suspects.”
Swarbrick has done a good job so far of keeping a lid on which coaches are on his wish list – a list he said he began compiling long before he decided to fire Weis. He said all athletic directors need to have such lists because they have to be ready when a coach quits or something else happens.
“You can’t afford to start thinking about it then,” he said.
He said he’s not a one-man search team, but he does try to make sure he’s the only one who knows everything that’s going on. That helps keep the search confidential. He reaches out to different people for different things. He laughs at media reports that he’s reached out to Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian for help, saying they are friends who talk all the time.
People who have worked with Swarbrick describe him as an intelligent, hardworking family man.
“He’s someone you want on your side,” said former Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan, a Notre Dame alumnus. “He’s a pro. He knows how to get things done. I’ve got every confidence in him. It’s not just based on a personal relationship, although that’s a part of it, it’s having seen him in action. He gets things done.”
University of Portland athletic director Larry Williams, a tackle at Notre Dame from 1981-84 who worked with Swarbrick at Baker & Daniels, describes the AD as a dealmaker who showed his competitive fire in his legal work.
“The deals he would craft, while he may want to paint them as being fair to both sides, I’d take the fairness on the side Jack Swarbrick was representing because the side that he was on was going to win,” Williams said.
The search has pushed Swarbrick to center stage in the sports world, but he said he’s been too busy to notice.
“I have a sense that there’s a lot going on, but I really don’t have the time to sort of sit and watch and read it,” he said.
He has shown he has a sense of humor, too. After presenting women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw a basketball and a bouquet after she earned her 500th win at Notre Dame, he drew applause from the crowd when he said to McGraw: “Five-hundred career wins here, you ever think about coaching football?”
Notre Dame coaches say they like Swarbrick because he is supportive but let’s them do their jobs.
“He’s not a crisis guy. He’s not a panic guy,” basketball coach Mike Brey said. “Our place is a place where it can become panic before it should or crisis before it should. I think when leadership handles it, addresses it, with poise in a non-crisis way, it gives everyone confidence.”
Williams said Swarbrick faces a huge challenge, saying it’s an “ocean he hasn’t swum in terms of hiring coaches and firing coaches, so it’s a new ocean for him.”
Swarbrick agrees it will be a learning experience.
“The ultimate lessons learned will be learned looking back in a year or two,” he said, “when we have some sense of whether I got it right.”
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Bloomington, Ind., contributed to this report.