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.
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.
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
"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. When O’Leary resigned five days later after admitting he didn’t have the master’s
degree in education that he claimed, White took 17 days to hire Tyrone Willingham. Willingham was fired in 2004, and 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.
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
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 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."
Check out recent posts on Swarbrick and Weis from The Score, IBJ.com’s sports-business