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Swarbrick readies Notre Dame for the future

- Associated Press - Friday, August 20, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IND. (AP) - Jack Swarbrick's comfortable and spacious office is flush with many reminders of Notre Dame's long history of athletic endeavors and excellence. For one, there's the picture of that 1913 team captained by an end named Knute Rockne.

That was the season the Irish unleashed a potent passing game to upset heavily favored Army, a victory that signified Notre Dame's emergence as a force in college football.

As a student in the 1970s, Swarbrick also recalls another landmark day when word broke that Ara Parseghian _ who led the school to a pair of national championships _ was leaving.

"That news shot through campus pre-text messaging days. It was like wildfire," Swarbrick said. "Just people running down dorm halls telling each other that Ara was stepping down."

Now in his third year as director of athletics at his alma mater, Swarbrick oversees a department featuring 26 varsity teams. And football still rules center stage on campus and for the school whose fan base spans the country.

"I think the passion is very similar, but it manifests itself differently because of the Internet," Swarbrick said, contrasting his student days of more than 30 years ago to the ever-changing technological landscape of today.

"People have a level of engagement that is very different. That's what you see the most. You could argue that the passion is pretty similar. People feel like they know so much about these young men. ... For us, my generation, they were just classmates. What we read about them, we read in the newspaper."

Swarbrick's been busier than ever. There's a new hockey building going up, and the school has announced future football series with Miami and Texas. And, oh yeah, eight months ago he helped hire a new coach in Brian Kelly who's expected to lead the Irish back to the forefront of the college football landscape.

The talk of conferences expanding and realigning enveloped athletics earlier this year. And although the additions and subtractions turned out to be mild compared to some projections _ Nebraska to the Big Ten being one of the biggest _ Swarbrick reiterated that Notre Dame wants to maintain its football independence.

"Our goals remain the same for reasons I tried to articulate," Swarbrick said.

Notre Dame is comfortable with its television contract with NBC, a partnership that began in 1991 and has been extended through 2015. It brings a reported $15 million per year for football, a figure that is under the $22 million Big Ten members reportedly get with the league's own TV network doing so well.

"It has zero to do with finances," Swarbrick said of the desire to stay independent. "It was all about the identity of this place and its tradition and heritage."

While realignment was making all the headlines and Notre Dame's status was discussed daily, Swarbrick heard from both sides about which avenue would be best _ should it have the option.

"Other than winning all our games every year there is never a consensus," he said. "Clearly the sizable majority prefers independence, but there have been a fair number of thoughtful letters from people" who thought joining a conference was a preferable alternative.

He said those opinions came in e-mail, regular correspondence and "people buttonholing you at the baggage carousel at the airport. I heard from a lot of folks."

Swarbrick had an extensive career as an attorney, served as chairman of the Indiana Sports Corporation from 1992-2001 and has been involved in numerous projects connected to college and Olympic sports. He was also instrumental in securing the Super Bowl for Indianapolis in 2012.

He quickly points to two black boxes on a shelf that contain the bid for the Super Bowl, one that he authored. It was a project he called "the ultimate political campaign."

After Charlie Weis was fired following last season's 6-6 finish, Swarbrick had another campaign of sorts. His responsibility was to find the right man for one of the most high profile jobs in American sports.

He set up a screening process and got input from players. He emphasized it wasn't about chasing a big name as much as it was about finding someone who fit the profile he'd established.

He also talked with Parseghian and got great insight from the former coach.

"For the football coach at Notre Dame, the basketball coach at UCLA, those iconic positions in the industry, you got to be careful," Swarbrick said. "You have to manage it in a way. You got to be willing to reach out and be creative.

"Ara said something that was really important to me as I was working through criteria. He said, 'I needed every year I had as a head coach to be able to coach at Notre Dame.'"

After the initial screening process narrowed the field to 18 candidates and then down to nine, Kelly emerged, a 48-year-old with nearly two decades of head coaching experience. "To find somebody Brian's age who coached for 19 years as a head coach is extraordinary," Swarbrick said.

Of course it didn't hurt that Kelly had transformed programs at each of his three previous stops _ Grand Valley State, Central Michigan and Cincinnati, where his 2009 team was 12-0 in the regular season behind a modern spread offense.

Now, Swarbrick will be watching intently when the Irish take the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Sept. 4 for their first game under a new coach _ one that Swarbrick brought to campus.

Finding down time can be difficult for Swarbrick during these busy days. He relishes any opportunity he can spend around college or Olympic athletes because they help him deal with whatever stress he might encounter. And they're never far away.

"There are days that are tough in this job," Swarbrick said, "but if I'm having a bad day, I walk out to practice."

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