The meeting between Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis in San Jose on Tuesday came down to one central issue.
"The meeting built around a single question, ‘What does each of us believe is necessary to produce a significant improvement in the program?'" Swarbrick said in an interview Wednesday night with Irish Eyes.
"Having completed my evaluation, I had a host of things that I thought would contribute and Charlie, of course, had his views of that. The focus of the two-plus hour meeting was to confirm that both us of had a shared vision and a shared notion of what it would take. Our analysis was remarkably similar and our views of what needed to happen were right on point."
In the wake of the loss to USC, Swarbrick said that he planned to meet with Weis on Monday, Dec. 8, but that was pushed up when his evaluations of the program approached a conclusion.
"I began the process for myself in earnest the week prior to USC, so I could use the California trip to really spend time going over what I'd collected. The information I got from a host of people both inside and outside the program and sort of organize my thoughts," he said. "As soon as I knew I was completing that in timely manner I looked for an opportunity for Charlie and I to get together."
He thought that it was important to get the decision out of the way so that everyone knew where they stood and continue doing their jobs.
"It's important because it impacts people. It has the potential to impact recruiting, there's no question," he said. "But I don't want our student-athletes to be on pins and needles. I don't want coaches and spouses and kids worrying about it, we needed to get it behind us."
Swarbrick declined to say if the meeting touched on the topic of changes to Weis' staff, only saying that the meeting covered a host of topics and was both broad and detailed.
"We discussed every element of the program and it's not about me making decisions, it's about having a common view of what we did and didn't need. It would be a mistake to focus on any one area," he said. "This was very broad and very specific in each of the areas. We talked about specific positions on the team, we talked about things related to academic support, we talked about X's and O's. It was all aspects of the program and as we went through each of them it was an analysis, ‘Where are we and what do we need to do to get better?'"
The athletic director also chose to keep whatever changes will be made private.
"We're not going to reveal any of those. Some of them will be obvious in the course of the next nine months, some of them maybe less so," he said. "It's really a plan internal to the team. The student-athletes will understand it, the coaches will understand it and of course my staff will understand it."
And while he would not say that a certain number of wins would be the threshold, Swarbrick is confident that it will be obvious if the changes are working.
"We have to be substantially better and that's not some edict from the athletic director, that's the way the players feel, that's the way the coaches feel and certainly that's the way the fans feel," he said. "Substantially better, we'll all know it. We'll know if we are a much better team and headed toward what we're all trying to build toward and that is a National Championship. We want to be on a path, on a trajectory where we can all have some confidence that we're going to be competing for a National Championship again."
Swarbrick denied reports that the University contacted any other coaches to gauge their interest in the job.
"Nothing," he said. "I didn't talk to anybody, no one associated with Notre Dame talked to anybody, I didn't hire anybody to, I didn't ask any third-parties to. We just simply didn't do it."
He also said that Weis' buyout, whatever the amount, played no role in the decision.
"It didn't," he said.
Critics have said that Weis is getting the chance that Tyrone Willingham never got, but that is not Swarbrick's problem.
"The fact of the matter is this was my decision and this is the only one I made. You can't divorce the fact that the person making the decision and the way they approach it and the standards they use might be different when the decision-maker is different," he said. "I had nothing to do with those other ones and what you've seen from me in this one is pretty consistent with the way you can count on me approaching these things. If I'm here the next time Notre Dame faces an issue like this, I'll approach it the same way."
Every athletic program undergoes an evaluation at the end of the regular season and he said that the next football review would not come until after the 2009 season.
While he did not make it without running it by University President Rev. John Jenkins, Swarbrick stressed that this was his decision.
"I think that's really important because, whether rightly or wrongly, I think there was a lot of past confusion or perceptions about how that worked," he said. "As we said when we had the press conference when I was hired here, when I was introduced: All decisions like this will be made based on a decision and recommendation made by me and reviewed by the President and that's exactly the way it worked here."
As an accomplished lawyer who helped in bringing the Super Bowl, Final Four and Lucas Oil Stadium to Indianapolis, Swarbrick has made tough decisions in his career, but none that garnered as much attention as this one.
"If we're evaluating it in terms of profile, it's definitely the highest one I've ever made because I don't recall before getting 40 voicemail message in one day about a single topic," he said. "What I don't like about it is the context in which it's made. It's made on the heels of a season that's not what we all wanted it to be so that made it difficult. When that happens you feel like you haven't met your obligations to the student-athletes and that's how I come at this thing."
But Swarbrick is the kind of guy who embraces challenges.
"On the flip side of it, it's what I like doing best. It's taking fairly complex, some would say tough, situations and analyzing them and trying to be strategic about it and come up with an answer. It's the thing I'm most comfortable with," he said. "Now, I understand that when you make decisions in this job you do it in a way that touches people who care desperately about your decision. I know that there are a lot of people who believe that a different decision would have been appropriate. Frankly, there are a lot of people who are very happy that the decision is what it is."
He is not bothered by the attention either.
"That's the nature of being here and I love it. It's the best part of it," he said. "People care, they're passionate about it, they want to write about it, they want to get online and write about. Of the problems that you can have as an athletic director, it's not a bad one to have because it means people care about your program and what goes on."