CLEVELAND – As chairman of the Indiana Sports Corporation, prior to being name Vice President/Director of Athletics at Notre Dame in 2008, Jack Swarbrick led many of Indianapolis’ successful proposals to a wide array of athletic organizations, including the move of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to the Circle City.
Among the events he helped bring to Indianapolis were the Pan American Games in 1987, the 2012 Super Bowl in Lucas Oil Stadium and, ironically, the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four.
Although the task is tall tonight against undefeated and No. 1-ranked Kentucky, a victory by Notre Dame would send the Irish to Indianapolis to the event for which Swarbrick helped lay the groundwork.
“I was the lead in negotiating the follow-on deals,” explained Swarbrick Friday at Quicken Loans Arena. “I worked on relocating the NCAA to Indianapolis. Then several years later we did a follow-on deal, and that deal guaranteed Indianapolis a rotation of events, including Final Fours.
“This is part of that, so while it’s been reworked a little since I was there, this is a deal that promised a Final Four effectively every five years. Of the events we brought to Indianapolis over time, this was the biggest deal.
“If we were to make it there next week, it would be something really special in so many ways.”
Swarbrick was just down the hall from the interview room at “The Q” where moments earlier, Irish head coach Mike Brey had spoken to the media in anticipation of Saturday night’s clash with the Wildcats.
Brey had been told that ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg had said of him earlier in the day: “He’s so normal, he’s abnormal. The guy needs help.”
Asked how he remains “normal” and “grounded” in such an egocentric profession, Brey said: “Two things – No. 1, I always remind myself I’m a PE major and the history teacher on a daily basis, and I don’t stray too far from that.
“Maybe more important than that, it’s where I work. At Notre Dame, there is a clear mission. It’s different than other places, and I love it. I’m allowed to be the teacher so that some days I can be the loosest coach in America. It’s a combination of those two things.”
That comment prompted a brief chat with Swarbrick, who has supported Brey every step of the way since Swarbrick took over as athletics director in the middle of Brey’s 15-year run at Notre Dame.
TIM PRISTER: What does it mean to you to see Mike Brey having this success, and now getting the acclaim that you believe he deserves?
JACK SWARBRICK: There is enormous satisfaction in that. Whenever it happens to one of our coaches, I feel the same way.
I was saying to somebody that I think the most nervous I’ve ever been for an athletic event at Notre Dame – people think it was in Miami for the national championship…Okay, it might have been in Greensboro – but it was probably in Philadelphia and the (2013 men’s) soccer championship because you so wanted (head coach) Bobby Clark to get that done for the same reasons you feel about Mike. These guys are the perfect fits with Notre Dame. They’re educators and such positive influences on the lives of their kids.
Mike loves Notre Dame because it lets him be the teacher he wants to be. We love him because he is the teacher he is, and he takes that role so seriously. It’s such a great fit and it’s so great to see that recognized now. I can’t put into words how much it means to have everybody see what the people who are close to him know.
TP: You’ve heard the criticism directed toward Brey through the years. What is it about the guy that maybe people don’t know and that, from your perspective, people should have a greater appreciation for?
JS: (laughing) You’re right, I do hear the criticism. I get the letters. It’s all directed at me.
One, the fact that he wants the basketball experience for these kids to in and of itself have an educational value. For me, that’s the most important characteristic of a coach. We tend to talk about sports and education from the standpoint that sports lets you go some place to get educated. The sport activity itself ought to be part of the education, and the lessons you learn and who you do it with.
Mike believes that so much to his core that it’s what makes him a positive coach. He’s not a positive coach just because he’s a positive guy, which he is, but because he sees himself as a teacher. No teacher is going to treat his or her students badly. So that’s why his demeanor is the way it is and why his demeanor is so effective.
TP: For a major college coach in a high-profile, high-pressure environment, how do you explain his patience and ability to keep his role in perspective?
JS: You’ve got to have a fire to coach. You’ve got to be willing to lose it from time to time and really be emotional. What I care about with my coaches is that they know when they’re doing it, that there’s an intention to it, and Mike is always intentional about that. He’ll blow his lid, but he does it privately, which is part of it being intentional. (In other words) I know when I’m doing it, I know I’m doing it with somebody who can take it…that’s all part of being a great educator.
TP: People have told you in recent years that you need to upgrade at the coaching position with the men’s basketball program. By all accounts, you’ve never given that any serious consideration. Why?
JS: Because you’ve got to measure him against the norm. This week has offered evidence that there are probably more challenges to coaching in a way that fits for Notre Dame in men’s basketball than any other sport that we have.
The recruiting world, the whole nature of what basketball in America has become, makes doing that effectively at Notre Dame probably the biggest challenge any of our coaches have.
But he’s found a way to do that in the context of this incredibly challenging environment. There are a lot of bad things that go on, yet he has found a way to succeed and represent our place the only way we will allow it to be represented. That makes him a really, really extraordinary coach.