Althletic Director Jack Swarbrick details his path back to Notre Dame
Notre Dame President John Jenkins and Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick have had a lasting impact on the university. One conversation over dinner brought the two together and changed the course of Notre Dame Athletics.
"I never wanted to be an athletic director," Swarbrick said.
It's a shocking statement by one of the most successful athletic directors in college sports
One dinner with Notre Dame President Father John Jenkins changed Swarbrick's mind.
"I told my wife immediately after we had dinner together, Father John and I, and I said 'I still don't know if I want to be an Athletic Director but I want to work for him,'" Swarbrick said.
Which is coincidental because Father Jenkins wasn't sure he wanted Swarbrick either.
"Just as I wasn't sure if I was interested in the job, he wasn't particularly interested in me either. Several people had encouraged him to talk to me and I think he was checking it off his list," Swarbrick said.
"I went into that dinner thinking I don't know if this is a serious candidate, you know, he doesn't have any experience," Father Jenkins said.
The list was long. Swarbrick was one of about 30 candidates in a very publicized search.
And Swarbrick did not have any athletic director experience.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude from Notre Dame, he attended law school at Stanford and became a practicing lawyer in Indianapolis.
A career that would lead him into the world of sports.
His professional career started in the 80s serving a variety of leadership roles for the Olympics, Pan American Games, and World Gymnastics Championships before branching out and bringing the NCAA headquarters to Indianapolis in 2000, and a Super Bowl to the Circle City 12 years later.
"You're always looking at who are the best people in this field. Who are the best ADs? Jack was not an AD, he had no experience in college athletics, so he was definitely kind of off the beaten path. But I kept talking to people, Miles Brand at the NCAA and various people and they'd mention him. I knew he was a Notre Dame grad, graduated the same year and I called him and I said, 'Jack, we don't know one another but I'd love to talk to you about this,'" Father Jenkins said. "So I said 'Look, Jack, let's go to the Morris Inn. There's a private room. You go in there, I'll go in there. And we'll just have a dinner together.' And so we did."
Over dinner that list of candidates quickly narrowed.
"I was impressed with Jack's intelligence. I was impressed with his values. I was impressed with, you know, he got Notre Dame. He understood what it is and what's special about it and we talked about various things. And I remember my thinking evolving during that dinner thinking, 'This is a great guy. He could be a great leader of athletics at Notre Dame.' And the very fact that he was not the normal path candidate made him even more interesting in a way. That he could think outside the box. So, that dinner for me, also was very important. I moved from kind of skepticism at the start to sort of interest in the middle, to excitement at the end," Father Jenkins said.
That one conversation was the start of Swarbrick's impact on Notre Dame.
"I'm not usually as right as I was that evening, but much of what we discussed came to fruition," Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick was named the 11th athletic director at Notre Dame on July 16, 2008.
With Swarbrick leading athletics, he guided one of the country's most powerful brands into new endeavors.
Notre Dame got a spot in the ACC conference, while maintaining football independence and a multi-million dollar contract with Under Armour.
Swarbrick has also taken an aggressive media approach for Notre Dame developing the university's own media service called Fighting Irish Digital Media.
But it's working alongside Father Jenkins that's important to him.
"It has been one of the great benefits of the job ever since, the ability to work with Father John," Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick and Jenkins continue to have a great working relationship more than 10 years later.