Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick says he was not surprised by Brian Kelly’s departure and that the search for a new head football coach will take a few weeks. He also said there is no timetable on how long it might take to find someone else as his replacement.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is not surprised by Brian Kelly’s departure, but he won’t put a timetable on the search for a new head football coach.
On Monday night, Brian Kelly notified Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick that he would be departing to become the head coach at LSU, although Swarbrick had suspected Kelly was planning to leave.
Kelly’s decision to leave Notre Dame after 12 seasons as coach “did not surprise” Swarbrick on Tuesday. Kelly did not try to receive a counteroffer from Swarbrick before departing his role, despite meeting with the Notre Dame players briefly Tuesday morning. Kelly signed a 10-year, $95 million deal with LSU on Tuesday, according to the school.
“When you work closely with someone for 12 years, you get a feeling that there’s a certain restlessness, and I could sense it,” Swarbrick said. “There were a few of Freudian slips along the road that drew my notice. Whether it was on purpose or not, you got the impression that it was someone who may be open to a new opportunity.”
Kelly’s departure was compared to Lincoln Riley’s move from Oklahoma to USC by Swarbrick, who said both coaches were eager for new challenges. The future coaching search at Notre Dame will not be like the one that hired Kelly 12 years ago to “repair a very damaged program,” according to the athletic director.
Swarbrick said that Notre Dame’s program is at its best in his 14-year time as AD, and that Kelly’s leaving does not indicate that he believes Notre Dame has achieved its peak. Kelly, the Fighting Irish’s all-time winningest coach with a record of 113-40 (including 21 wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons that were invalidated by the NCAA), has often said that winning national titles is the only thing that counts to the Fighting Irish. He guided Notre Dame to the BCS championship game in 2012 and to the playoffs in 2018 and 2020, but each time the Irish were defeated lopsidedly.
“I don’t perceive a gap [from national championship contenders] when I look at the squad that played the final part of the season,” Swarbrick added. “This squad, in my opinion, is in a fantastic situation. We’re one of the best four teams in the nation, in my opinion. I believe the results of our past four or five games speak for themselves. Right now, I believe we can play with anybody in the nation. Is it possible for us to improve? Always. Every team is capable of doing so. But we placed ourselves in a significantly different position for a lot of the things we sought for a long time. Youth, depth, and growth have all combined to put us in a very good position.”
Notre Dame is placed No. 6 in the final CFP rankings, and it has won seven of its last eight games. Swarbrick has yet to select an interim head coach and may not do so for the remainder of the season, including a playoff trip. Kelly will not be leading Notre Dame in the playoffs, and any interim coach will not be considered for the permanent job, according to Swarbrick. For the playoffs, Notre Dame will assign an assistant to make head-coaching decisions on game day.
Swarbrick says he will not hire a search agency and will begin the process later Tuesday, citing “a lot of communication” from possible candidates. He gave no timescale for the search, saying that Notre Dame could be ready to hire after the tournament.
According to sources, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, who has his club in contention for a postseason berth, would be a top contender for the Notre Dame job. Matt Campbell, the coach of Iowa State, and Marcus Freeman, the defensive coordinator of Notre Dame, are two more possible contenders.
“It all comes down to finding the appropriate individual,” Swarbrick added. “All that counts is that we locate the individual we believe is most suited to head this initiative and have the appropriate dialogues with him. That’s great whether it occurs tomorrow or in a few weeks.”
Coaches that understand and appreciate Notre Dame’s “unique” atmosphere, can manage staff, and develop athletes at a high level are what Swarbrick is looking for, according to him. He emphasized Notre Dame’s commitment to facilities, which includes an indoor practice field and a plan to improve the program’s primary operations facility “in the not-too-distant future.”
While Kelly’s departure isn’t ideal, Swarbrick said coaching changes are increasingly common after the regular season, particularly now that colleges are dismissing coaches early.
He said, “That’s a little bit of the dynamic today.” “Look, 12 years at Notre Dame is a long time. Brian’s presence for that amount of time was really beneficial, although it was a long time. And I’ve been thinking for a long time that there has to be an end in sight. We hadn’t discussed when it was going to happen. So it’s not surprising, both in the long run and in the short run.
“I believe this location is well poised to go ahead.”
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