Jack Swarbrick talks legacy, AD transition process in exclusive interview

Published: Sep. 9, 2023 at 10:59 AM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Our Countdown to Kickoff crew recently sat down with Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick for an exclusive sit-down interview.

The outgoing AD talked about a lot with Chuck Freeby and Terry McFadden, including his legacy, what scheduling for the Fighting Irish will look like as conference realignment continues, and how the changing of the guard is going as his successor, Pete Bevacqua, is transitioning from chairman at NBC Sports to Swarbrick’s role in South Bend.

“How will you be remembered by others when you leave your job?”

Swarbrick: I don’t know that I could point to one moment so much as restoring the program generally. Getting it back in a position where we’re nationally competitive, where we can be among those at the start of every season discussed as a CFP (College Football Playoff) potential. And so, I feel so good about the foundation of the program — never better than I do right now with Marcus (Freeman) and what he’s got in place.

“Now, of course, the CFP has been ever changing since you took over as well. Now with conference realignment, how difficult was it to keep Notre Dame independent? And how difficult has it been to help form this new College Football Playoff with 12 teams?”

Swarbrick: Well, everything about the rapidly changing dynamics in our industry has frankly been to the benefit of Notre Dame. I don’t think our independence has ever been more valuable or more secure. It distinguishes us more and more. I tell our coaches all the time, ‘Double down on our distinctiveness’, and they do. And so, I feel great about where we’re positioned. I’ve always identified three things central to our independence. One is a home for our Olympic sports, and we have a great one in the ACC. Secondly is a fair path to the playoffs, and with the expanded playoffs I feel even better about our path. And the third is a media partner who is committed to broad broadcasts of Notre Dame and of contract that helps us compete nationally. I’m optimistic about the third, and the other two are in place.

“Are you at all concerned about scheduling in the future with these mega conferences that they might not want to play Notre Dame?”

Swarbrick: Not in the least. Never say never, but in my 15 years I’ve never had a situation where when I called the school and said, ‘Would you be interested in playing us?’ and they said no, ever. And so, I think there’s great interest in playing Notre Dame, great interested in visiting here. It’s a great experience for the teams that come here.

“What day will be your last one on the job? Have you decided on a date yet?”

Swarbrick: It’s up to our boss, Father John (Jenkins). It will definitely be post-football, and we’ll see about the winter sports calendar.

“Probably sometime in 2024, correct?”

Swarbrick: Oh, definitely in 2024, yes. If I had to guess, it’ll be towards the end of the winter sports season. I’d like to get through the Final Four, but we’ll see.

“How do you mentor Pete? You talked about how you had a mentor at some time. How do you go about teaching him the job? Because there’s probably so many things that become innate to you that maybe you forget to pass them along.”

Swarbrick: “Mainly by having Pete participate in as much as I can. This has to be learned by doing. I can’t sit down and list everything that I’d like to transfer to him. But when we do enough things together, I can say, ‘Oh yeah, I need to tell you about this.’ We spend a lot of time in our days together, various meetings. Now there’s some things I do just myself because of the nature of the meeting, but generally speaking, where we’re doing a lot of it together.”

“And I imagine once you’ve left the role, if Pete wants to text you or give you a phone call, you’ll be there?”

Swarbrick: “I will be happy to do that. But I’ll tell you what, given the length of this succession opportunity, I don’t think he’ll have to do that very much. I mean, we’re really transferring information and experiences really effectively because we have the luxury of this period of time. I mean, I can’t think… occasionally places have appointed coaches in waiting, right? Which typically doesn’t work out very well. But this, I’m not familiar with anybody doing this before, and it’s really worked well.”

“Was that your idea or Father John’s?”

Swarbrick: “Father John and Jack Brennan, the chairman of our board. But I fully embraced it. I was so pleased because frankly I didn’t have that opportunity, given the circumstances in which my predecessor left to go to Duke. And so, I really embrace this notion. And you know, I kid about it all the time, and Pete always points out it’s all too true. But I say one of the things I do now is anything I don’t want to do, I give it to Pete.”

Our Countdown crew also asked Swarbrick about why now is the time he decided to step away. He told us it was his age, saying a mentor of his told him that every job has an expiration date, and that the university felt as he turned 70, it would be the right time to start making that change.

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