Swarbrick discusses Kelly, expectations for the football program and Shamrock Series
Elizabeth Greason | Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Editor’s note: This is the first story of a three-part series featuring a wide range of topics covered in The Observer’s interview with director of athletics Jack Swarbrick. Today’s story focuses on the the state of the Irish football program following the 2016 season and Swarbrick’s expectations for its future.
“Brian [Kelly] will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year.”
Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick’s words to ESPN.com from October 2016 will ring true come Sept. 2, when the Irish take the field against Temple in the newly renovated Notre Dame Stadium. While the vote of confidence for his head coach drew criticism at the time, Swarbrick said it is not something he regrets in the slightest. However, with a new slate of coaches underneath Kelly this season, Swarbrick is looking for a different result from the team’s 4-8 debacle of season in 2016.
“You’re always looking for ways to improve your program. Sometimes you’re looking for ways to improve it off a very bad season and sometimes you’re looking for ways to improve it off a good season,” Swarbrick said. “When you’re looking for ways to improve it off a very bad season, you make more changes and you look at more things. And that’s what we did together. I’m very optimistic based on the changes we have made and what I see at practice every day that those changes will bear fruit.”
And in Swarbrick’s mind, some of the changes that have been made to the football program — to the team mentality — have already begun to bear visible fruit, as the shift that has been made in the program’s culture over the course of the offseason has been a measurable one.
“The change in the culture is the thing that I can already see and evaluate and feel very good about,” Swarbrick said. “I love the leadership among the team, I love the way they’re working and the attitude, so that piece of evidence is already in, if you will.”
Two of the leaders of the team, captains and likely early-round NFL draft picks Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, both offensive linemen, were named to the AP Preseason All-America team Tuesday. Nelson, a senior, was named to the first team, while the graduate student McGlinchey made the second team. But despite the pair’s preseason accolades and success on the field, the team as a whole still has something to prove, coming off its first losing season under head coach Brian Kelly.
“What we have to see on the field is a team that is more disciplined, makes fewer mistakes and closes games out more effectively,” Swarbrick said.
But Swarbrick is looking deep into the future, past the 2017 season, at the moment. Over the summer, he announced two two-game series that would be added to the Notre Dame schedule: one with SEC opponent Arkansas, which will take place in 2020 and 2025, and the other with Wisconsin in 2020 and 2021. The Wisconsin series also marks the first two Shamrock Series games announced since it was left absent from the schedule this season. Notre Dame will set up its home-away-from-home first at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and then at Soldier Field in Chicago.
“I wouldn’t call it so much a reboot of the Shamrock Series. The only change we’ve made relative to the Shamrock Series is a realization that we probably can’t do it every year. There will be others announced for future years as well. So, there will be some years where we do it and some years where we don’t,” Swarbrick said. “This one’s a little different because we’re going to spread it across two games, one of which we have home broadcast rights to and the other one we don’t, so it will feel a little different. But otherwise it will be like a traditional Shamrock Series.
“We do those and we continue to do them, again, for the reason of promoting the University. We don’t just take a game to a city, we take the University to those cities and we enjoy doing that. We think it’s good for Notre Dame. In addition, as I indicated at the press conference, this is a great experience for the young men on the team and from a competitive perspective, it’s the sort of game we need to be scheduling.”
But for Swarbrick, the Shamrock Series is not the only exciting part of the two new series on the schedule. The main driving force behind them was the desire to give the Irish the strength of competition they need in order to remain competitive, which, he noted, is one of the main draws of remaining independent.
“We’re trying to make sure that for purposes of evaluating our resume at the end of the year, we have games against the major conferences whenever possible,” Swarbrick said. “ … I recognize that from some perspectives, people believe we’re over-scheduling. Too many hard games. Part of being independent is stepping up to that challenge. If you’re going to be independent, I think you have to schedule along these lines and we want to stay independent.”