Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick shot down any and all rumors about Brian Kelly being fired or leaving South Bend for another job on his radio show with Jack Nolan this week, and said things are operating as usual within the Irish football program.
"I certainly understand the sort of the engagement and the discussion of the program, but it’s been very much business as usual," Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick, who in an October comment to ESPN gave a vote of confidence to Kelly, said while he was disappointed with Notre Dame's 4-8 season, he evaluated the seventh-year Irish coach from a larger viewpoint. That viewpoint included 2015's 10-3 season, which Swarbrick said was a "remarkable" coaching job by Kelly after Notre Dame lost an unprecedented number of key players to season-ending injuries.
"It was an extremely disappointing year,” Swarbrick said. “Every player, every coach, myself, other administrators involved in the program, we all share the same view. There's no way around that conclusion. It's not bad breaks, it's not a play here or a play there, we didn't do what we need to do.
"But I think there’s a danger in overreacting to any one piece of information that you get in the course of evaluating football programs. That begins with — it looks one way from a this season perspective, but it feels a little different for me from a two-season perspective. I thought last year was one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen, and I’ve been around elite-level coaches for 35 years. I think to achieve what we achieve with the things we faced with the attrition of our roster, which was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, was a really remarkable year as reflected in the contributions that the players and coaches made to collectively achieve that year.
"This year we get a different result. You don’t ignore it, you certainly evaluate it and pay attention to it, but I don’t look at it in isolation. I look at it in the context of where the program is overall."
Swarbrick made clear that Notre Dame's academic violations brought to light by the NCAA's Nov. 22 report are not a factor in reviewing Kelly's status, pointing to there being no evidence of a lack of institutional control or a coach or academic advisor spurring the cheating that took place a few years ago. Swarbrick's vote of confidence to Kelly came four weeks to the date of the NCAA committee on infractions' hearing with Notre Dame, at which Swarbrick and Kelly were present.
"When in mid-season I made that comment I did about Brian’s future, I already had that information," Swarbrick said. "This wasn’t something new coming late into the season I had to factor in."
Swarbrick said he and Kelly had a discussion the day after Notre Dame's season-ending loss at USC, after which multiple reports surfaced detailing that Kelly had explored other coaching options outside Notre Dame. Kelly said he "absolutely" wanted to be back at Notre Dame immediately after the USC game and put out an early-morning statement a few hours later pushing back on those reports.
"I fully understood the background of those reports," Swarbrick said. "Brian and I had clear discussions about his intentions and his future, and of course he clarified those I think both at the press conference after the game and then when his subsequent statement went out."
When asked if Notre Dame's board of trustees could still step in and go over his head to fire Kelly, Swarbrick said "No, no. It doesn't work that way here."
So things are operating normally at Notre Dame, according to Swarbrick, even though end-of-the-season meetings are happening a month earlier than they normally do. Swarbrick said he'll meet with Kelly on Friday to discuss the future of Kelly's coaching staff, but doesn't expect massive changes beyond bringing in a new defensive coordinator. Whatever staff changes do come will flow from the new coordinator hire.
"I think we have a very talented staff of committed coaches and broader staff in the program," Swarbrick said. "So I don’t anticipate wholesale changes."