Confident in their program, Notre Dame moves forward after Brian Kelly

Sports

SOUTH BEND – The collective jaw drop could be heard around college football on Monday evening when word began to leak about LSU’s new head football coach.

Brian Kelly, who is the winningest coach in the history of Notre Dame football and has an 11-1 team awaiting a postseason game, took the job for a reported $95 million dollars over ten years with incentives that could sweeten the deal even more.

Just a week before, Kelly had dismissed the notion that he was thinking about another job outside of South Bend and had said before that he envisioned retiring with the Irish. But that all changed in what some saw as a shocking coaching move for the veteran coach.

But someone who wasn’t stunned by the move was Kelly’s boss back at Notre Dame, who believed such a move was possible thanks to things he’d seen at times over the past year. After all, Jack Swarbrick brought the coach to South Bend in December of 2009, so know one at the school knew him better.

“There’s just a sense you get when you work closely with somebody for 12 years that there’s a certain restlessness, and I could sense that. I could sense that in some conversations,” said the Notre Dame athletic director. “There was a Freudian slip or two along the way that sort of grabbed my attention, and whether that was intentional or not, you just felt like — it feels a little bit like somebody who might be open to a different opportunity.”

His instincts were correct, and there was Swarbrick at a news conference about 12 hours after the news broke that Kelly was indeed headed to Baton Rouge. He said that the outgoing head coach didn’t offer Notre Dame a chance to match the contract, only to say he was resigning and thanked him for hiring him 12 years earlier.

For a second time in his tenure as athletic director, he’s looking for a football coach, though he says the circumstances are much different than in 2009 when he dismissed Charlie Weis for Kelly. In the previous three seasons before that move, the Irish were 16-21 with just one bowl appearance.

“The circumstances could not be more different. Then I was in the process of trying to find someone to fix a very broken program, and in a circumstance where frankly a lot of people didn’t think this was a place they wanted to be because they didn’t think Notre Dame was committed or able to produce championship football teams,” said Swarbrick. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the difference I see today as I embark on another search. In my 14 years, this program has never been in better shape. We have never been in a better position to take the next step in building this program into a consistent contender for National Championships.

“I am excited with the opportunity to attract the next leader to do that.”

Who that new leader will be is still to be determined, but it won’t be Kelly for Notre Dame’s postseason since Swarbrick ruled out that possibility. He also said that the team will not name an interim head coach, letting the current assistants run the team for either a bowl or playoff game.

Swarbrick said one of the assistants would eventually be picked to make decisions during games as a head coach would and if an interim head coach was named, that person wouldn’t be in the running for the full-time job.

While not requiring any set criteria, Swarbrick stressed the need for the school to have a head coach who is a good “fit” for the school while also taking a “CEO” approach to the program and managing staff. Timing isn’t a major factor for the athletic director, either.

“It’s about the right candidate. When we find the person we think is the right one to lead this program and have the right conversations with him, that’s all that matters,” said Swarbrick when asked if he had a time in which he’d like to have the new head coach in place. “If that happens tomorrow or weeks from now, that’s fine. This is about getting the right person.”

It’s a quest that Swarbrick thought he might have had to undertake at Notre Dame before what transpired on Monday evening.

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