July 16, 2008

Welcome back, Jack

I think I can speak on behalf of everyone at WEISND and welcome Jack Swarbrick as Notre Dame's new athletic director. I had never heard of the guy until yesterday, but I became very excited once the information started pouring in about him. His credentials are off the charts, and the quotes from people around Indianapolis (people like Bill Polian and Tony Dungy) about Swarbrick are also very encouraging. If you haven't had a chance to watch his press conference yet, I suggest you go over to http://www.und.com/ and check it out. Great stuff, and he gives the impression that he is going to bring a new philosophy to the athletic department. Obviously, we have no idea what he will actually do as an athletic director and won't know what his legacy will be until he starts on the job, but there are some things I really like about this hire.

1) ND alum - Say what you want, but I think that hiring a person who "gets" ND and understands our place in the college sports world is important. Swarbrick is an alum, and he grew up at the knee of Notre Dame. He grew up knowing ND as an independent and a championship football team, so I trust him to do things with his ND background in mind. When you are representing ND, you are representing ND and no one else. No conference affiliations, no partnerships, no built in ties. ND is out there on an island, and we need someone who understands that principle. Kevin White didn't get that, and his efforts to lock us into bad contracts that paid less dollars than before (BCS) and bad schedules just for conformity (see the next 7 planned schedules) did a lot of damage to our reputation if you ask me. Kevin White jumped at the safe play for small dollars every time instead of holding out and thinking big (which would have led to bigger dollars in the end). It always cracked me up that Kevin White was out there saying "we need more revenue" when he was the guy who negotiated our BCS deal that cut our payout from $14 million to $4.5 million.

After listening to his press conference today, I get the impression that this isn't just another job for Swarbrick or a resume builder. He's not viewing the job as the next logical step in his career. Notre Dame is the pinnacle for him, and I like that.

Swarbrick gave the impression that he is going to listen to the alums and get their input. This is a great quote here:

"Then I want to reach out to our fan base. I want to travel, spend time with them. I want to greet them when they're here. I want to hear what they have to say. That passion is what fuels the success of Notre Dame. And I know some people get nervous about how passionate it can be sometimes, how it plays itself out. I welcome that. I embrace that.

The inconvenience of some posting on a blog you might not prefer to have is a much better situation than being at a school where nobody cares and nobody talks about you and nobody writes about you. I see the passion here as only a plus and I'm fully prepared to engage it."

Finally!! I know that college sports fans/alums are nuts, but it doesn't mean that you completely ignore them and call them "internet crazies" and create ludicrous strawman arguments like "our alums want to play 12 top 10 teams a year" even though no one is saying things like that. The alums and the fans are your constituency in college football, and I think they deserve a voice at the table when it comes to how Notre Dame runs its athletic programs.

Speaking as one of those "internet crazies," my feeling is that the fans generally want five things out of Notre Dame football:

1) Independence - We've historically only had a handful of close relationships in college football (USC, Navy, Purdue, Michigan State). I'd personally like to keep it that way.

2) Great schedule - ND football is known for taking on the best and playing a respected national schedule. Fans want to keep it that way and keep our reputation for playing a quality schedule. Not "12 top ten teams" as Heisler likes to say about ND fans, but a reasonable and balanced schedule with good games, medium games, and weak games against teams from around the country.

3) Tradition - Notre Dame football is all about tradition, and our fans/alums want to protect that tradition. ND fans love that you can go to an ND game and feel like you are going back in time. Wood seats, grass field, no Jumbotron, no logos on the field. When you go to the ND game, you go to WATCH THE GAME. I know, novel concept, but that's what makes ND football games so memorable. You cheer the team, discuss the game, and listen to the band. It's the best college football atmosphere in the country BY FAR, and fans/alums don't want it to change.

4) Excellence on the field - Fans want to win games, and they want ND to play well. Enough said.

5) Integrity - Fans want Notre Dame to graduate players and play by the rules.

If you look at those five things that fans want, what is so bad about any of them?? Why did White and Heisler go out of their way to demonize ND fans during their reign at the top when fans were only asking for five very simple things?? Independence, great schedule, keep the tradition, win games, do it the right way. Why would you not want the input of your fans when they are just looking to protect ND's great legacy?? ND fans saw that the things that made ND football special were being eroded by White and Heisler, so they spoke up about it. Instead of reaching out to the fans and keeping their interests in mind, Heisler and White basically shunned the fans and labeled them "internet crazies." Good times!! When ND fans saw that Ty Willingham was running the football program into the ground (which they were 100% correct on), they spoke up about their concern. While I don't expect the athletic director to cater to the fans at all times, Kevin White's vehement defense of Willingham and thinly veiled shots at the fans during that time showed me all I needed to know about his term at ND. He couldn't have been less interested in getting the views of ND fans.

Swarbrick is an alum, and he's already on record saying that he's going to engage with the fans and get their feedback. If he does nothing else in his tenure at ND, this alone would be a major improvement.

2) Big Thinker - If you look at Swarbrick's history, this guy is a "big think" kinda guy. He has taken on HUGE projects in Indianapolis that would almost appear impossible on the surface and actually succeeded in getting those ideas implemented. He was instrumental in bringing the 2012 Super Bowl to Indianapolis, and he was a key figure in getting the NCAA to move their headquarters to Indy. While those projects aren't related to running an athletic department, I like that he is a big picture guy who takes on big challenges.

If you equate those qualities to the ND job, Swarbrick is the kinda guy I want making the big decisions in the future. Decisions like our BCS contract, our future schedules, and where we fit into a possible playoff.

By the way, credit to Father Jenkins for thinking outside the box with the Swarbrick hire. I know he doesn't have any experience as an athletic director, but his skills might be better for the ND job than your standard athletic director. When he is saying that "ND is going to be leading the way in college sports," I believe him.

3) Basketball fan!! - Cmon, you didn't think I was getting through this post without bringing up ND hoops, did you?? Swarbrick has a history of bringing Final Fours to Indianapolis, he grew up in Bloomington, and he attended ND during our basketball heyday. I get the impression that he's a big college hoops guy, which is always a plus with me.

As far as I'm concerned, ND is the biggest sleeping giant for college basketball in the country. With our academics, tradition, and nationwide recruiting reach, we should be the Duke of the Midwest. The fact that we have only been to one Sweet 16 in the last 20 years is an embarrassment if you ask me, and I would like to see Swarbrick make a huge commitment to the basketball program. Give Coach Brey what he needs. Brey is doing a great job putting together a quality program, but he needs some help from the athletic department to get this program to the next level. Open up the checkbook for assistants, get the new JACC updates done (or just build a new arena already), and build a new practice arena. The facilities projects for ND basketball should be a top priority.

4) Dead ringer for ESPN senior writer, John Clayton -

It's uncanny!! If Swarbrick doesn't already have the nickname "The Professor" around the office at Baker & Daniels, then let WEISND be the first to get that one going. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but it's definitely something. I'll take it. Heck, I'd take John Clayton as the GM of the Bengals tomorrow over the collection of misfits currently running things, so it can't be all bad to look like John Clayton.

5) Great name - Jack Swarbrick. He's got one of those names that just sounds like he's going to get things done. Can't you picture other ADs around the country muttering a Newman-esque "SWARBRICK!!" every time he outwits them??

Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. Swarbrick really impressed me today in his press conference, and I hope he has great success at ND. We have no idea how he will perform, but I like what he brings to the table.

Oh, and when Georgia and Alabama come calling later this summer, these two words would make every ND fan happy: ANYTIME, ANYWHERE


mcanfield10 said...

Nice post and great job resurrecting the blog.

Like Keith Smart from the baseline, you guys are on point.

Jimmy said...

I completely enjoy his name - JACK SWARBRICK. There's a lot going on there. White fulfilled what his name insinuates - bland and cookie cutter, find ways to be good, but not at the forefront of anything. I'm not trying to knock White for the many great things he did on campus and as an ambassador for ND, but there was SOO much more he could have done.

Now, SWARBRICK comes in like a swashbuckling pirate of an AD, ready to take on all comers. Capt. Jack Swarbrick sounds like a Disney character in Pirates of the Caribbean VII. He can certainly navigate us through the tricky waters that college athletics is drifting into.

As a friend pointed out, Swarbrick spells "Brick Wars." Tell me an AD who wants a part of that in a negotiation.