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Swarbrick doesn’t name interim head coach, expresses confidence in football program

| Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick addressed questions regarding both the immediate and long-term implications of the recent Brian Kelly news. The press conference lasted about 30 minutes. Prior to it, Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins issued this statement for immediate release:

“On behalf of the University of Notre Dame, I want to thank Brian Kelly for a wonderful 12-year run as our head football coach,” Swarbrick said. “He led our program to great success and we wish him and Paqui [Kelly’s wife] the very best. Notre Dame Football is one of the most storied programs in the nation and our next coach will continue a winning tradition that reflects the University’s values.”

Swarbrick expanded on some details, but some key decisions have not been made at this point.

“Twelve years ago, this week, I was involved in a search for a new coach for the football program, and twelve years later, I find myself in the same role,” he said. “But the circumstances couldn’t be more different. 12 years ago, I was looking for a coach to fix a broken program. In my 14 years, this program has never been in better shape.”

Certainly, coming off of five straight 10-win seasons, the football program is thriving. However, the lack of a head coach throws things into disarray, and solutions will need to be found soon.

Swarbrick not stunned by Kelly news

While the news surprised many fans, Swarbrick mentioned throughout the press conference that he wasn’t shocked by Kelly’s decision. Whether it was to save face for a program that is trying to maintain its status among the country’s elite or the truth, Swarbrick stuck to his guns. “There had been enough in the weeks leading up that led me to believe there were other things attracting Brian. I was not surprised.”

Swarbrick noted that several “Freudian slips” from Kelly indicated to him that the former Irish head coach was open to new opportunities. He also said that Kelly had not discussed specific conversations with universities prior to Monday. Despite that, Swarbrick put more emphasis on moving on, rather than lingering on the recent developments, throughout the press conference.

“It’s not Brian Kelly’s culture – it’s the culture built by the 118 young men on that team. Nothing they built will be diminished or lost as we move forward.”

Swarbrick won’t name interim, embarks on coaching search

Swarbrick got this one out of the way early, and he reiterated the point throughout the press conference. “I feel less of a need to have a designated interim coach,” he said. “The staff is structured so we don’t need one. But if we feel a need to put someone in that position, they would not be a candidate for the job.”

Swarbrick went on to say that any naming of an interim coach would be strictly in an operational capacity. It would be someone to make the “jump ball decisions.” This is particularly interesting with a potential Playoff appearance approaching for the Irish. Notre Dame needs a couple of results to fall their way this weekend to have a chance at cracking the top four. However, even if that happens, Swarbrick offered few details as to their plan. But as far as coaching in a bowl game, Swarbrick was sure to highlight and then reiterate that “Brian won’t be a part of that.”

In regards to the long-term solution, Swarbrick said he had not reached out to anyone, although he has received a lot of interest. He said, rather than keep a list of people, he has a list of characteristics. At the top of that list? The fit at Notre Dame is the crucial element.

“It’s important that you understand and appreciate the uniqueness. That’s a critical element,” Swarbrick said. “Clearly understanding your approach to building and managing staff. What’s your approach to playing the game, what’s your style,” he said of some of the key characteristics he was looking for in the next Notre Dame coach.

Marcus Freeman Up Next?

The initial expectation was that the purpose of this press conference would be to name current defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman the interim head coach, although it became clear that wasn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, reports are beginning to surface that Kelly is trying to bring Freeman to Baton Rouge with him. The attempt promises to make him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in college football. LSU also seems to be aggressively pursuing Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.

Rees has been completely silent amidst the news. Freeman’s only action remains a retweet of Nolan Ziegler. The 2022 linebacker commit stated that he was still committed to the Irish. Notably, when asked multiple times on Tuesday whether head coaching experience was a necessary qualifier for consideration, Swarbrick refused to give a straight answer. “I don’t want to put a boundary on that.”

Freeman looks to be the popular choice among recruits and players right now. The Irish’s top commits for each of their next two classes, linebackers Jaylen Sneed (2022) and Drayk Bowen (2023), are among a host of recruits to tweet their support for hiring the current defensive coordinator as the next head coach.

Given the outcry for a Freeman hire, and how fast LSU appears willing to move to bring Notre Dame’s top coaches down South, Swarbrick may need to make a decision faster than he indicated in Tuesday’s press conference.

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About Aidan Thomas

A junior marketing and ACMS major at Notre Dame, I've countered the success I've enjoyed as a New England sports fan with the painful existence of a Notre Dame football fan.

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