In a bold move for the leadership of the Notre Dame athletic department, the University has eschewed the traditional paradigm of hiring athletic directors at major universities and instead conducted a search focused on the requirements of the position and identifying a candidate that fills those needs.
The previous director, Kevin White, was very good at some aspects of the position and very poor at others. Kevin White was excellent at promoting Olympic sports and building top notch facilities. Where he suffered, however, was in leveraging Notre Dame's unique position in the negotiation of agreements with other entities. The BCS negotiations, scheduling negotiations (Nevada and SDSU), control over ND's image through Adidas and NBC - all areas in which Notre Dame has seen it's bargaining position eroded over the course of Kevin White's career.
Enter Jack Swarbrick.
Indianapolis was hardly the hotbed of amateur sport before Mr. Swarbrick appeared on the scene. Due to his prowess at negotiation, now Indianapolis is the home of the NCAA, has a long-term deal with the Final Four (hosting once every 5 years through 2039), hosts the Big Ten tournament (beating out Chicago, a larger market and home of the Big Ten offices), and will be home to the 2012 Superbowl. He was a finalist for the presidency of the NCAA, and open athletic director positions at Arizona State, Ohio State, and Indiana - all schools which he did not have a connection to.
For some insight on the import of this hire, look no further than this excerpt from the Indianapolis Star article dated April 27, 2005:
Swarbrick, a partner at Baker & Daniels, is not a college sports administrator. He said he is not looking to leave Indianapolis, either, but responded to an inquiry by Arizona State president Michael Crow .
"For ADs, the relationship with the president is everything," Swarbrick said. "There are very few of these that I would consider. As I got to know him and understand him a little better, I was intrigued.
"My impression was borne out. It's a university that's going to do some great things under president Crow. At the end of the day, it wasn't right for me."
Swarbrick said sports can exist as a central part of a university's educational mission. Public perception is that sports, specifically big-time football and men's basketball, are merely an entertainment adjunct.
If Swarbrick were to become an athletic director, "it's because I really want to change that paradigm," he said.
I wanted Orsini, as I stated earlier, but I must say that for the first time in a long while, I am truly impressed with the way the University handled this process.
Swarbrick has a long history of success with not only Olympic sports, but also negotiating with athletic conferences and big time football. As an alum, he understands the needs of this University. As a long time veteran of big firm life at Baker & Daniels, he has shown an impressive work ethic. He has proven to be a shrewd negotiatior even when he lacks leverage.
At Notre Dame, he will not lack for leverage.
In fact, this hire is in many ways the same hire that Jenkins made when he hired Coach Weis - tireless worker, brilliant mind, a true Notre Dame man.
There are many things that he will need to fix when he arrives at the University, and like all humans, there will be weaknesses that will appear as time moves forward. However, I am confident that time will show that this was a great hire.