Brian Kelly’s departure from Notre Dame to coach LSU may have surprised many people, but Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was not one of them.
Swarbrick addressed Kelly’s decision to leave the Fighting Irish and take a 10-year, $95 million contract with the Tigers in the SEC. He acknowledged that he could see Kelly’s departure coming.
“I was not surprised,” Swarbrick said at a news conference on Tuesday morning. “There had been enough in the weeks leading up that gave me a pretty strong sense that there might be other things that were attracting Brian.”
Swarbrick wasn’t exactly privy to the other offers Kelly had on the table. Nor did Kelly attempt to leverage them into a bigger contract at Notre Dame.
Swarbrick said Kelly informed him that he was going to take the LSU offer. There wasn’t a chance for Notre Dame to match the deal, and Swarbrick was grateful for that. Why? Because he could feel a natural endpoint in the relationship between Kelly and the university coming.
“Look, 12 years is a really long time at Notre Dame, and we were incredibly well served by Brian here for that period of time,” Swarbrick said. “But it’s a long time and I have contemplated for some period of time that there had to be an endpoint coming. We hadn’t talked specifically about when that was but in both a long-term perspective in the near term, this wasn’t a surprise and I think this place is perfectly prepared to move forward.”
Still, replacing a coach like Kelly, who is Notre Dame’s all-time winningest coach with 113 victories, will take a lot of work. And Swarbrick is just getting started in his efforts to find a replacement, despite his inkling that Kelly might leave.
“I’ve had a lot of outreach,” Swarbrick joked before acknowledging that he would be diving into the search in the coming days.
Swarbrick doesn’t have an exact candidate in mind. He explained he doesn’t keep a list of potential coaching candidates as some ADs across the country do. Instead, he’s looking for certain characteristics to identify the Fighting Irish’s next coach. Two stand out above all else.
“Fit at Notre Dame is No. 1,” Swarbrick said. “This is a unique place. And it is important that you understand and appreciate the uniquenesses.”
“Increasingly the role of college football head coaches is a CEO role,” he continued. “And so, clearly understanding your approach to building and managing staff becomes very important.”
Additionally, Swarbrick noted that Notre Dame isn’t navigating a rebuild as it did when it hired Kelly before the 2010 season. That will make the new hire’s job a bit easier, as the coaching staff can focus on recruiting and player development.
But what about the short-term? The Fighting Irish still have an outside chance to make the College Football Playoff, and if not, they’ll probably play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. So, what’s the plan?
Well, it doesn’t include Kelly. Swarbrick announced that he will not coach Notre Dame in its postseason appearance.
“We will have our current coaching staff, I hope, largely intact and we’ll designate the person who has to make the jump ball calls, like how to use timeouts and the coin flip,” Swarbrick said. “But we’ve got a great staff. We’ve got great coordinators, so I’ve every confidence that we will be fully prepared for what I hope is the CFP game — but if not, I’m certain will be a great New Year Six game — and Brian will not be part of that for us.”
Swarbrick and the athletic department will name an interim coach soon. However, he noted that the interim coach will not be a candidate for the job, so that throws a wrench in the theory that defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman could be elevated to interim coach and eventually become the successor to Kelly.
As such, Freeman’s name will be one to watch. And if he isn’t given the interim title, that may indicate that the team is considering the 35-year-old for its coaching vacancy.