Tuesday, July 15, 2008

100 Days

To: Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Director of Athletics
From: Mike Coffey, ND alumnus and semi-random blogger

Dear Mr. Swarbrick:

Congratulations on your new position. As someone used to inefficient action coming out of South Bend, your hiring has come as a breath of fresh air to me and I hope portends a new methodology under the Dome.

I realize as an alumnus, you probably have a closer understanding of Notre Dame's position on things than an outsider would. But you've had your own life to lead the last couple of years and may not be familiar with how things have been going in ND sports lately. Some things have been good, but other high-profile things have not been.

Presidents often are judged by their first 100 days. Presumptuous as it may be, as someone who has watched ND athletics closely for the past decade, I'd like to suggest some actions you can take in that period which could reverse recent and long-standing problems and get the alumni and fanbase energized.

First, break out the cell phone, because there are a couple calls you might think about making.

The first call is to Joel Maturi, your counterpart at Minnesota. He's a fellow alum and was at least considered for the chair in which you're now sitting, so I imagine you'd have a lot to talk about. But while you're on the phone with him, remind him our name had come up as a potential opponent for the first game at their new stadium on September 5th, 2009, and you'd like to further the discussion, especially if it means a return game by the Gophers to South Bend in a couple seasons.

The second is to Cary Groth, your counterpart at Nevada-Reno. Explain to her the unique opportunity you have to set something up with Minnesota, but the scheduled game we have with them is holding things up. Obviously something can be done, be it a buyout check or a postponement, right? The tail doesn't wag the dog on these things, and there must be a mutually-advantageous resolution here.

Next on the docket is a conference call with Ron Mason and Morgan Burke, the AD's of Michigan State and Purdue, respectively. Jim Delaney, the Integer commish, can sit in if he wants to, provided he keeps his phone on mute. Explain to these fine gentlemen how much Notre Dame values our relationship with them ... in fact, tell Mason he should stay on the line after the call so you can work out a home-and-home basketball contract. But unfortunately, continued dates in September isn't going to work for either of our series long-term. The first one who agrees to move games to late October or early November gets a 16-year home-and-home contract. The one who comes in second will be put in a rotation with some other Tier 2 schools. If both of them agree, by all means, try to accommodate them.

Once you're off the phone, show us the money. As big a reputation as Kevin White had as a moneymaker, it seems a lot of that was done via selling off portions of the schools at which he worked. When it came to relationships with donors, it was a ham-fisted mess. One-off projects benefited from windfall donations, sometimes as a result of tragedy no one would ask for. But the big projects, like the Joyce Center redo and the still-to-be-funded ice rink improvements and hoops practice facilities, either came in horribly late or continue to wither on the vine.

Previous AD's knew how to relate to the folks who had deep pockets and sell them on the importance of athletics to the Notre Dame community. Those bridges must be rebuilt. I don't know you well enough to know if you're a schmoozer by nature, but if you're not, you need to find someone who is and put them in a position in oversight of athletics fund-raising.

But while you're hiring that person, don't be a afraid to trim a little fat. Seems you can't swing a dead cat around the Joyce Center without hitting an assistant athletics director in charge of men's room toilet paper or something. Division I athletics is big business, to be sure, and I don't advocate overworking anyone. But a little multitasking goes a long way. Go through the employee list and start weeding out the duplication. Not everyone who departed in Kevin White's wake needs to be replaced, and a penny saved is a penny earned, after all.

Not all of this is guaranteed to work, but there's no harm in trying. At the very least, it'll be a warm-up to the next NBC and BCS negotiations, where the rubber truly will meet the road.

ND athletics needs a new and bold direction. Your CV indicates you're a good candidate to provide it. Like so many others in ND history, you're being given an opportunity to seize greatness. It would be great if you took advantage. Or at least interesting.

Thanks for your consideration, and welcome home.

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