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Opinion: In the Defense of Jack Swarbrick

By Patrick Byrne|Writer|Twitter @PatrickByrneIT

Photo Courtesy: Sports Illustrated

Full disclosure: I don't have a degree from Notre Dame, I'm simply a fan of the football team with some insight to offer. Jack Swarbrick is not my long lost uncle, nor do I have any affiliation with the man whatsoever. He's also not giving me a kick back for this article, although after reading it, perhaps he should (no pressure Jack).

Having said that, in this world of social media and knee jerk reactions, I feel it's important to take a step back and look at the whole picture rather than taking the narrow minded view so many have voiced over the past couple of weeks regarding the venerable Notre Dame athletic director. I've even seen many "fire Jack Swarbrick, save Notre Dame" posts making the rounds on Twitter, which is both misguided and the epitome of the narrow minded view I mentioned. Let's take a closer look at the man and the achievements that have taken place since he was hired. Rather than discussing national championships in fencing and the like, I'll be narrowing my focus to major sports and accomplishments. This certainly won't encompass all of them, but it's enough to make what I think is a strong case to not only appreciate the man, but covet his tenure at Notre Dame.

We'll focus on 3 items:

  • Facilities

  • Conference Affiliation and Positioning

  • Coaching Hires


Notre Dame stadium is one of the most recognizable and "holy" places in the sport. Few teams can boast as much history, and even fewer teams hold a special place in the pantheon of the sport. You've heard all this before; however, think about how difficult it is to keep the identity of a place like this as father time begins knocking on the door, wanting nothing more than to slowly turn it to ash. Then, consider how challenging it is to not only up-fit the facility, but do it in a compelling way to keep up with the other big dogs in college football. Jack Swarbrick was able to do just that. Think about the upgrades that have been made to ND Stadium under his watch:

  • Crossroads Project (4 multi use/classroom buildings affixed to the stadium)

  • Replaced grass with field turf

  • ND branding throughout the stadium & on the field

  • Scoreboard & ribbon display additions

  • Bar/restaurants/seating upgrades throughout

We can debate whether we like these upgrades or would want the stadium to go back to the way it was; however, all of this was done with what appeared to be the utmost care for the brand and overall mission of the university. Notre Dame is different, if you don't know that by now, you probably should jump off this ship and follow Brian Kelly to LSU. There is a bit of a "slow roll" attitude when it comes to change. The field turf and branding are a perfect example of this. Each year, a few more things are added to the walls or changed to enhance the stadium experience. All of it is done tastefully and without a ton of fan fare, it's simply there to ensure Notre Dame remains relevant within the sport without losing her identify completely. Who do you think drives this type of change? Sure, Brian Kelly may have asked for some of this, but it's Jack Swarbrick's job to get it done and ensure it's executed flawlessly.

Conference Affiliation and Positioning

Imagine any other team being able to tell a conference that they want to join in every sport except the one that brings in the most money. Then, imagine that team saying they want to play five conference games a year in the sport that brings in the most money but don't want to be a full time member. How the heck did this one get pulled off? I honestly have no idea, but Jack Swarbrick did it, and he was able to join an established Power 5 conference in a region of the country where Notre Dame needed to make additional recruiting inroads. Quite the coup, right? Except this is perhaps the most undervalued item on Swarbrick's resume. Imagine for a second that Notre Dame had stayed put, meaning, they made zero effort to join a conference. The basketball team would have likely ended up in the Big East while all the other teams would've been scattered across several conferences with zero continuity. It's the AD's job to consider the health of all sports, including football. By joining the ACC, Swarbrick was able to enhance the Notre Dame brand and presence in the south while providing a more than adequate landing spot for every sport under his watch. In the crazy world of conference realignment, I find it hard to believe any could top this one.

Let's pivot to the playoff and future conference realignment. Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner, is the most powerful man in the sport, there can be no debate here. And yet, whenever the 12 team playoff expansion is mentioned, Swarbrick's name is mentioned along with Sankey's almost every single time. Think about this for a minute. You have the AD of the mighty SEC, representing teams currently dominating the sport up against one man and one school, Jack Swarbrick of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame brand is elite, I already established this in a previous article. But outside of professional sports franchises like the Yankees, Cowboys or Manchester United, it's hard to think any one college football team would have enough weight or influence to get what they want, when they want it. Swarbrick has positioned Notre Dame to do just that, he's been able to keep the Irish relevant while staying true to the ideas the university upholds. Not a small feat by any stretch.

Coaching Hires

We'll keep this one isolated to football. Charlie Weis was fired by Jack Swarbrick. The contract and buyout he signed were not on Swarbrick's watch, but the actual payout was. For those who like to balk that he's "not willing to pay up" for a coach, you need simply look back at the ridiculous amount of money owed to Charlie Weis when he was let go. Swarbrick knew 6-6 wasn't good enough and saw no way forward where Weis would succeed. He was willing to eat the buyout and bring in the coach he wanted. Again, we can debate whether we like Brian Kelly or hate him for leaving and whether he was able to win enough big games, but the fact remains, the program was on a downward trajectory before he took the job and he left it way better off then he found it. This brings us to the latest head coaching hire in Marcus Freeman. Once again, Swarbrick showed he was willing to listen to the players and perhaps even the fans when making his choice for a head coaching hire. Who knows whether Freeman will or won't be successful, but for those of you who actually believe Swarbrick isn't willing to help his head coach by providing dollars for a buyout, you simply haven't been paying attention. There is nothing he has done in his tenure that would point to this being the case. He's a forward thinking man, and he understands the changing landscape and dynamics of the space Notre Dame needs to play in to win. I simply wouldn't believe he would have come this far with all the moves he's made to simply fold his pawn rather than continuing to drive forward.

Photo Courtesy: 247 Sports

As a fan, I'm thankful to have a driven leader who's willing to take calculated risks to help the team I cheer for win at the highest level. Those of you with your pitchforks at the gates wanting him to resign, broaden your focus beyond the Twitter rants and do your homework.

This man is on an island, a Notre Dame island. Like a pro golfer, a ship boat captain or a fighter pilot, he goes into battle alone. A majority of these battles he's won and won pretty handily. There's plenty more battles ahead and no doubt tons more scrutiny that will come his way. Take the long road to get there Irish fans and try to see what he sees, trust that "Captain" Jack Swarbrick will not only keep our ship afloat, but emerge victorious in the final battle toward an elusive college football national championship.


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