Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick is backing football coach Brian Kelly, squashing any rumors about a potential early exit plan for Kelly, who just finished a 4-8 season in his seventh campaign with the Fighting Irish and who is only a year into a six-year contract extension that will take him through the 2021 season.
"I certainly understand the engagement and the discussion of the program, but it's very much business as usual," Swarbrick said on his radio show, which was released Friday on YouTube. "We have a whole series of things we do at the end of the year. We conduct exit interviews with every senior. We do some statistical analysis. Coach Kelly's meeting with every member of the team over a three-day period to talk to them. Obviously he meets with staff. Then him and I come together at the end of that process to sit down and talk about what we need to change, what's next, what the plans are for the upcoming year, so in that sense, it's been absolutely business as usual from our perspective."
Kelly said after Saturday's regular-season finale, a 45-27 loss at USC, that he wanted to return for 2017. Shortly after that news conference, both ESPN and Yahoo! Sports, citing sources, reported that Kelly was seeking other potential options.
Kelly then issued a statement at 3:37 a.m. ET Sunday reiterating his commitment to Notre Dame.
"We talked about it," Swarbrick said. "I don't want to make it sound like I didn't know the answer to that. I did know the answer to that. We had a discussion on the night after the game when the reports came out, and I was sort of -- I fully understood the background of those reports, and Brian and I had 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 in the subsequent statement that went out."
Swarbrick said he was not under any pressure from the school's board of trustees to make a coaching change, saying that is not how the dynamic works.
He also spoke publicly for the first time on the NCAA's decision to order the Irish to vacate all 21 of their wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons, which was announced Nov. 22 in addition to other minor penalties in light of an investigation of a student athletic trainer engaging in academic misconduct with several football players.
Notre Dame has said it would appeal the order to vacate the wins.
Swarbrick, like Kelly had said earlier, sees the on-field disappointment and the NCAA matter as independent factors when evaluating Kelly's job.
Swarbrick had given Kelly a vote of confidence in an October interview with ESPN after a 2-5 start -- remarks that came one month after he and the school had been informed of the eventual sanctions.
"I understand why people say that [the NCAA penalty should factor into Kelly's evaluation]. I draw a different conclusion, and I think it's important to note that while that felt like news publicly, I had all that information," Swarbrick said. "The nature of this NCAA proceeding was that you agreed to the underlying allegations and the fact basis. The only thing that was an issue was the penalty. So in midseason when I made the comment I did about Brian's future, I already had that information. This isn't something new coming in late in the season that I have to factor in. I knew it."