Stadium College Insiders Brett McMurphy and Jeff Goodman graded the football and men’s basketball hirings of the current FBS athletic directors. These grades are based on the success of the coaches hired, difficulty of opponents in their respective conferences, bowl appearances, NCAA Tournament trips, conference titles and national championships won. The grades do not take into consideration any fundraising or building of facilities by the athletic directors. Also, each athletic director gets credit for a coach’s hiring at each school — even after the AD moves on to another university and the coach remains at the original school. Only hires made at FBS football programs or Division I basketball programs are considered.
Key: ** indicates that coach was likely to make 2020 NCAA Tournament if not for cancellation
Less than 16 months after being named Notre Dame’s athletic director, Jack Swarbrick was faced with making his first major hire: replacing football coach Charlie Weis after the 2009 season.
Swarbrick said the school literally “screened every Division I coach” against “about 13 criteria.”
Swarbrick, who had no experience as an athletic director, had targeted Brian Kelly, who had no experience at the Power Five level as a head coach or assistant.
And what a choice Swarbrick made.
In 10 seasons at Notre Dame, Kelly has led the Irish to nine bowl games, a BCS title game and a College Football Playoff berth. After 2016’s disastrous 4-8 season, Notre Dame has strung together double-digit wins in three consecutive seasons for only the second time in school history.
With Notre Dame an ACC basketball member, Swarbrick is Stadium’s choice for the best current ACC athletic director based on his career hirings.
Kelly has been Swarbrick’s lone hire between football and men’s basketball, but it was a critical one.
The Irish’s football program was struggling after a 13-year stretch of mediocrity under Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Weis (that’s not even including the George O’Leary debacle). In those 13 seasons, the Fighting Irish only had eight bowl appearances and lost seven of those eight bowl games.
“Our program was broken,” acknowledged Swarbrick. “At the top of our list of criteria [for Weis’ replacement] was, ‘Have you built a program?’ This wasn’t a matter of changing the scheme and bringing in a different philosophy. This was about rebuilding a program. That was No. 1 on our list and certainly Brian had a track record of doing that.”
Kelly’s head coaching career started at NCAA Division II Grand Valley State. He spent 13 seasons there — winning at a 76.7 percent clip — and capped it off with back-to-back Division II national titles in 2002 and 2003.
In 2004, he took over a Central Michigan program that had a losing record in eight of the past nine seasons. In three short years, he guided the Chips to their first 10-win season in 27 seasons.
He then left for Cincinnati, where he’d soon guide the Bearcats to the Orange and Sugar bowls, marking the school’s first major bowl bids. Under Kelly, Cincinnati also recorded three consecutive seasons with at least 10 victories for the first time in school history, including an undefeated regular season in 2009.
Swarbrick said Kelly had proven he knew how to rebuild a program.
Ten years later at Notre Dame, Kelly has won 71.3 percent of his games. He is only 14 victories shy from passing Knute Rockne as the winningest coach in Notre Dame’s storied history. Yet at the start of Kelly’s tenure, Swarbrick remembered an incident where he jokingly questioned if he made the right choice.
In December 2009, Swarbrick and Kelly had reached an agreement for Kelly to become Notre Dame’s coach. They were in New York but were driving separately to Westchester County Airport to fly back to South Bend. For several hours, Swarbrick and Notre Dame officials frantically tried to reach Kelly on his cell phone, but they were unsuccessful.
“We couldn’t get ahold of him,” Swarbrick said. “We panicked. We thought he had gotten cold feet or something else was up. We even had hotel security check his room, we couldn’t find him.”
Swarbrick finally arrived at the airport and Kelly was there. Kelly explained that his cell phone had died.
“It made me a little nervous, a guy that has to recruit had a dead phone,” joked Swarbrick. “But we got past it.”
During another point in the interview process, a meeting was set up between Swarbrick and Kelly at an Indiana hotel.
“It was arranged so I didn’t have to check into the room,” Swarbrick said. “It was already done under a different name. I just show up, get a key and go up to the room.”
Swarbrick and Kelly met for about three hours. When the meeting concluded, Swarbrick — who was actually registered under the name “Mr. Smith” — stopped by the lobby to return the key.
“Very dramatically, the person at the front desk says ‘Well, Mr. Smith. I hope you enjoyed your visit today,’” remembered Swarbrick. “He was assuming I was having some afternoon tryst.”
Kelly began his Notre Dame coaching career in 2010 with a 23-12 win against Purdue. Then, the Irish promptly lost their next three games.
After all the buildup and anticipation, Swarbrick’s top choice had started 1-3. However, Swarbrick was not concerned.
“Our problems were deep, we knew it would take some time,” Swarbrick said. “We had to change everything. You weren’t just going to be able to flip the switch. It was going to take some time.
“I was quite comfortable with the progress we were seeing.”
Analysis: Since Jack Swarbrick became Notre Dame’s athletic director in 2008, he has hired one football coach: Brian Kelly. Swarbrick needed a replacement for Charlie Weis and identified Kelly, who had built his head coaching career at Central Michigan and at Cincinnati. Kelly now has been at Notre Dame for 10 years, and the difference between the Irish’s program before and after Swarbrick hired Kelly is staggering. The Irish have been ranked among the nation’s top seven teams in six of Kelly’s 10 seasons with nine bowl trips, including a College Football Playoff berth and BCS national title game appearance. As Swarbrick, a former attorney, may have said back in the day: The defense rests.
Analysis: At Cincinnati, Whit Babcock landed Tommy Tuberville from a Power Five school (Texas Tech) and that paid off with a couple of nine-win seasons and an AAC co-championship. At Virginia Tech, Babcock hired Justin Fuente, then at Memphis, with the challenge of replacing legend Frank Beamer. Fuente’s first two seasons were strong (19-8), but the past two years dropped off (14-12), including the Hokies’ first losing season in 26 years. Basketball coach Buzz Williams, hired by Babcock five years ago, did a remarkable job at a program in which the previous coaches had been mostly unsuccessful.
Analysis: Vince Tyra was hired in March of 2018 and quickly replaced football coach Bobby Petrino and interim basketball coach David Padgett. Tyra is a local guy who played baseball at Kentucky and was a businessman prior to his hiring. Tyra hired Chris Mack from Xavier in what was pretty much a no-brainer and it’s worked well thus far. He also brought on Scott Satterfield from Appalachian State in 2019. Satterfield went 8-5 this past season with an appearance in the Music City Bowl.
Analysis: John Currie officially hasn’t made a football hire, although he had agreements with Greg Schiano and Mike Leach to come to Tennessee until university officials halted those from happening. He made his second basketball hire with the addition of ETSU’s Steve Forbes, who he knew from his days at Tennessee. His only other hire was Bruce Weber while he was at Kansas State, which was solid. Weber has made five NCAA Tournaments in eight seasons and has also shared a pair of Big 12 regular-season titles.
Analysis: Blake James made a big splash, being able to lure former Georgia coach Mark Richt, a Miami alum, back to UM. In Richt’s second season in 2017, UM started 10-0 and was ranked No. 2 in the country. However, the season ended on a three-game losing streak and Richt abruptly decided to retire after the following season. James moved quickly and was able to land Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz as Richt’s replacement, even though Diaz had been officially introduced as Temple’s coach three weeks earlier. Diaz’s debut season had its share of ups and downs, ending with three consecutive losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech.
Analysis: Earlier in his career, Bubba Cunningham was able to identify some young up-and-coming coaches before they ultimately moved on to bigger programs. He gave Brady Hoke his first head coaching job at Ball State and hired Todd Graham at Tulsa after a one-year stint at Rice. For Cunningham’s latest hire, he opted for bringing in a much more successful, seasoned veteran in Mack Brown, who originally coached at UNC from 1988-97. The return of the Mack rejuvenated the Tar Heels’ program on the field and on the recruiting trail. Cunningham has yet to hire a basketball coach, but that could change when/if basketball coach Roy Williams ever decides to retire.
Analysis: Boo Corrigan was hired last year at NC State to replace Debbie Yow and has yet to make a hire in Raleigh, although he did make two hires while at Army. He plucked Jeff Monken from Georgia Southern, and Monken has been terrific in turning around the program — specifically the past four years with a 34-18 record. Corrigan elevated basketball assistant Jimmy Allen in 2016 when Zach Spiker left for Drexel, and given the degree of difficulty with the job, Allen has been solid.
Analysis: Patrick Kraft was just hired at Boston College, replacing Martin Jarmond, who left for UCLA. Kraft spent six years as athletic director at Temple, where he hired three football coaches: Geoff Collins, Manny Diaz and Rod Carey. Kraft had the unenviable task of finding a replacement for Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor. He went with Collins, the then-defensive coordinator at Florida. Under Collins, Temple managed consecutive bowl bids before he left for Georgia Tech. Kraft hired Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz on Dec. 12, 2018. However, 18 days later, Diaz left to return as Miami’s head coach. Two weeks later, Carey was hired. The Owls went 8-5 in Carey’s debut season.
Analysis: Dan Radakovich has surprisingly only made two major hires in his career with both coming at Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson went to nine bowls in 11 years and was a quality hire, while Brian Gregory was 10 games under .500 and was fired after five seasons and no postseason berths. Dabo Swinney had already been the head coach at Clemson for four years when Radakovich arrived and Brad Brownell was also a holdover.
Analysis: Heather Lyke came to Pitt after a five-year stint as Eastern Michigan’s AD. Lyke’s most significant hire at EMU was football coach Chris Creighton. Before Creighton arrived, the Eagles had only one bowl appearance in 39 years and experienced 20 consecutive losing seasons. In Creighton’s last four seasons, the Eagles have been to three bowls and had two winning records (the school only had six in the previous 41 years). At Pitt, Lyke hired basketball coach Jeff Capel with the task of rebuilding the program after two brutal seasons under former coach Kevin Stallings.
Analysis: Kevin White’s hiring resume is underwhelming at best and most of that can be attributed to a poor string of football hires in South Bend. It started with the George O’Leary fiasco, which lasted just a few days. Then came Ty Willingham, who was 21-15 in three years. The final one was Charlie Weis, who started strong, but went 16-21 over his final three seasons. White’s best hire came on the basketball side with Mike Brey, who has been a fixture and gone to 12 NCAA tourneys in 20 years. He has yet to make a basketball hire since arriving at Duke in 2008, but will obviously have to make a difficult decision when Mike Krzyzewski steps down.
Analysis: Todd Stansbury has been an athletic director for a good chunk of two decades and, remarkably, has only made one hire between football and men’s basketball. That was Geoff Collins a year ago at Georgia Tech. Collins replaced long-time coach Paul Johnson and he’s tasked with overhauling and changing the option-based offense that Johnson utilized for 11 seasons. In the first year transitioning away from the option, Tech struggled to a 3-9 record.
Analysis: David Coburn was given the permanent job in May of 2019 after serving as the interim AD since August 2018. He just made his first hire with the addition of Mike Norvell, who came over from Memphis after four seasons and a Cotton Bowl appearance last year. Coburn was previously the chief of staff to FSU President John Thrasher from 2012-2018 and has a lengthy legislative background in Florida.
Analysis: John Wildhack, a former ESPN executive, was hired by his alma mater in July of 2016 and hasn’t made a football or basketball hire yet. But with Jim Boeheim turning 76 this November, he’ll have an important one on the horizon. Football coach Dino Babers enters Year 5 this season with a 23-26 overall mark.
Analysis: In October 2017, Carla Williams became the first female African-American athletic director at a Power Five school when she was hired at Virginia. She has not made a major hire yet, and with the Cavs’ recent success in football and basketball under Bronco Mendenhall and Tony Bennett, respectively, she probably won’t need to anytime soon.