Swarbrick discusses recent head coaching hires
Joe Everett | Tuesday, August 28, 2018
In the second of three stories detailing The Observer’s interview with Jack Swarbrick, the Notre Dame athletic director discussed five separate head coaching hires made within the current calendar year, and how each new head coach combined an excellent resume with a deep knowledge and appreciation for Notre Dame values and culture. The first hire of the year came in January, when the athletics department was tasked with replacing the legendary Bobby Clark, who coached Notre Dame men’s soccer for 17 seasons, and who Swarbrick considered a wise, veteran presence among his team and within the department as a whole.
“Everyone here, not just the soccer team, missed Bobby greatly,” Swarbrick said. “He was the department’s sage. He brought a lot of wisdom to this place, helped shape its culture — he was the coach most of our other coaches would go to for advice. So we’ll miss him greatly, and he built Notre Dame soccer into a great program, including a national championship win.”
Swarbrick ultimately chose to hire Chad Riley, a former Notre Dame soccer player and assistant head coach, and said that after a nationwide search, Riley has proven to be the right man for the job.
“It was interesting — we conducted a broad national search, had a lot of great applicants from around the country, some connected to this place and some not, and through that process Chad emerged, and emerged definitively,” Swarbrick said. “He’s hit the ground running. He had great success at Dartmouth building his own program. We didn’t hire him because he came from Notre Dame, we hired him because we thought he was the best coach in the country.
“It is a tough, tough assignment to follow somebody like Bobby, especially when you played for him and coached with him, because there are elements of what Coach Clark did that you want to maintain, but you’ve got to establish your own program. You have to strike that balance and I think Chad’s doing it very well.”
In the same vein of legendary coaches and their successors, Irish women’s tennis head coach Jay Louderback announced his retirement in early May after leading the program for 29 years. Swarbrick commented on the veteran coach’s departure, but also said he is looking ahead to a bright future for the program under new coaching hire Alison Silverio.
“This is a very interesting place, because there’s such passion and attachment to it,” Swarbrick said. “So I’ve been in the unusual position of replacing coaches like [former cross country coach] Joe Piane, [former swimming coach] Tim Welsh, Jay Louderback — people who have been here for 30-plus years. The program is identified with them. Would’ve loved for Jay to have stayed longer, but it was the right time, given his family dynamics, to step down.
“Again, a national search, really pleased with the candidate pool … but we were really impressed with both what Alison had achieved but just her enthusiasm and her sort of intuitive understanding of this place and what it represented and what it stood for. As a player she’d been on a championship team and coached at the championship level … so felt very fortunate to get her to come join us.”
Swarbrick chose to address the final three remaining coaching departures this past year by promoting assistant coaches, all after carefully considering first and foremost their championship pedigrees but additionally their already-established familiarity with the program. After Jim McLaughlin stepped down due to health reasons, Mike Johnson was promoted from associate head coach to head volleyball coach. Nate Norman and Matt Sparks were also promoted within the women’s soccer and cross country/track and field programs, respectively, and Swarbrick explained that while each hire had its own uniqueness, all three were natural fits.
“Jim’s [resignation] was very unexpected,” Swarbrick said. “The timing was unusual for the normal sequence of coaching changes. We felt very fortunate because when we had conducted the search the last time when we hired Jim, Mike had been the runner-up. If Jim hadn’t taken the job we would’ve offered Mike the head coaching job. So given the unique timing that we faced there … it made sense to elevate Mike.
“In the other two cases, it was a broad national search, and [Norman and Sparks emerged]. We had enormous interest in both positions, great candidate pool, and Matt and Nate both earned the job on their merits — what they’ve done in their careers and how they came through the interview process. There’s undoubted importance of having a sense of this place and its uniqueness and how it works, but having said that, that’s not the only reason to hire a coach.
”You want the best coach you can find — one that can lead, educate and win national championships — and we think we found them in those coaches.”