Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is confident that the right man can bring Notre Dame back to its place of prominence in college football. It's up to Swarbrick to find that right man.
Swarbrick, who took his current job after the 2007 season, cannot be blamed for the Charlie Weis era. Perhaps he should have cut the cord on Weis a year ago, but when the Irish were 6-2 this season it seemed like he'd made the right call to give Weis one more chance. Swarbrick cannot repeat the fumbles of the last four hires, which included Bob Davie, George O'Leary, Ty Willingham and of course Weis.
Swarbrick said tonight that there will be no search committee, and that he alone would recommend the next hire to school president Rev. John I Jenkins. He's developed a set of criteria for the ideal candidate, but he would only divulge one item on that list: the next coach has to have "demonstrated the ability to build and sustain a Division I college football program."
That means a college head coach, or someone unlike Davie or Weis. You can rule out some of the long-shot NFL candidates, like Jon Gruden or Brian Billick. Swarbrick's choice of he word "sustain" is interesting in relevance to Cincinnati's Brian Kelly. He has certainly built programs at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, but has Kelly been at either place long enough to say he has sustained anything?
Swarbrick said he didn't want to narrow the search by focusing on someone with either an offensive or defensive background. But then he added, "My personal view is, given where we play and who we play, is that we need to be able to play good defense. If you look at the defensive rankings of leading teams, there's a correlation between the BCS standings and defensive abilities."
I wrote last week that there's no reason why Notre Dame can't have great success again if it hires the right coach. The facilities, resources, fan support and money all are there. Some dispute that because the Irish haven't won a national title in 21 years or been in the mix for one really in 16 years. Swarbrick said all major sports franchises, from the New York Yankees, to the Boston Celtics to the Dallas Cowboys, have experienced lean times in between championship runs.
"The whole key is leadership," he said. "I believe our ability to take the next step and return to a level of prominence is all about bringing the right individual in here.
"This is a drought. And I have every confidence we will end the drought."
Swarbrick defined success as competing for a spot in a BCS game every year. He knows what he wants from the next coach and what he expects that coach to accomplish. It's now up to Swarbrick to find that right guy.