InsideNDSports – New AD Pete Bevacqua shares his vision for Notre Dame’s next national title

Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series profiling new Notre Dame athletic director Pete Bevacqua, who officially succeeded Jack Swarbrick on March 25.


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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The golf clubs gathering dust in the corner of Pete Bevacqua’s temporary office In the Joyce Center are more a reflection of both his ambition and the reality of the job he’s now officially a week and a half into, as Notre Dame’s athletic director, than South Bend’s fickle weather.

Not that there’s any windows to check on such things in the otherwise modern and spacious digs he’ll vacate this summer when AD Emeritus Jack Swarbrick moves on, with the placement of the big-screen TV behind his desk being one of the features he won’t miss.

An eight-month on-ramp/apprenticeship gave the 52-year-old Notre Dame grad and father of three plenty of time to forget how to play golf well, forge important campus relationships — including his soon-to-be new boss, president-in-waiting Rev. Robert A. Dowd — and set priorities for the immediate future and a distant one fraught with a college landscape that feels like it’s taken up residence on a fault line.

New Notre Dame athletic director Pete Bevacqua is confident ND will win a national title soon under current head coach Marcus Freeman (pictured). (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

A persistent question that occasionally wafted his way during his months as special assistant to the Notre Dame president on athletics came at him more directly on Tuesday in a 1-on-1 interview with Inside ND Sports.

A question he sometimes asked himself when he was on the outside looking in.

Why has Notre Dame not won a national championship in football since 1988, the year before Bevacqua enrolled as an ND student?

“Now, I happen to think we should have won one in ‘93, but we can debate that forever,” he said with a laugh.

It’s actually a stated regret of sorts for the 70-year-old Swarbrick that it didn’t happen under his watch, a run that started the summer before the fourth year of the Charlie Weis Era (2008), as football milestones go, and officially closed on March 25 — near the halfway point of current coach Marcus Freeman’s third set of spring practices.

“Because of Jack, we’re really well-positioned to make a great run here over the course of the next decade and beyond,” Bevacqua said. “But we don’t want to wait a decade. We want to win a national championship now.

“I’ll say that ’til I’m blue in the face. And every year that goes by that we don’t — not to get overly dramatic — but it eats a piece of your soul.”

Why it’s more than a desire but rather a pragmatic likelihood in Bevacqua’s mind is, again, largely due to how Swarbrick evolved the program during his almost 17-year reign. That’s both on campus and as someone who shaped college football nationally. The latter includes serving as architect of the 12-team College Football Playoff that debuts this December and will be deployed for at least the next two postseasons.

And that’s why Bevacqua doesn’t spend a lot of time on the “why not Notre Dame” for the last 35 seasons, and ;why Notre Dame’ feels almost inevitable in the not-so-distant future to him.

“Not only do we want to win a national championship, we HAVE to win a national championship,” he said. “I think sitting here in 2024, we’re now officially in the second week on the job, I’m inheriting a football program that’s a lot different than the one Jack inherited.

“So, I don’t think it’s necessarily anything anyone did wrong. And we have competed for it a couple of times over the past 10-plus years. So, I’m not really delving and focusing on the past. I’m focusing on where we are now and in the future. And I would tell you it’s an absolute priority for the athletic department and it’s an absolute priority for the university.

“I think not only do we have to win a national championship, I think it’s imperative that we win one with Marcus Freeman as our head football coach.”

Freeman enters year three in that role, a historically defining season for Irish coaches, from the immortal to the forgettable, with a 19-8 record, including 10-3 this past season.

“I think he’s an unbelievable coach,” Bevacqua said. “I couldn’t be more excited about him and how he fits in here so perfectly at Notre Dame. His staff, I think, is as good or better as any in the country in terms of who he’s surrounded himself with. I think we have the talent where we can compete with anybody in the country, week in and week out.

“I think we kind of talk about the great triumvirate of facilities. When you think about the stadium, the indoor practice facility [Irish Athletics Center], and our football operations facility, I think two of the three of those are as good or better than anywhere in the country. And it’s no secret we’re going to do a new football operations facility.

“And that’s a priority, and that’s something I think is coming close to a really positive outcome. Not to say anything that’s premature, but we feel very good and strong about where we’re headed with that facility.”

That would be an updated expanded version of the Guglielmino Athletics complex, which opened in 2005.

“I think first and foremost, when the Gug was constructed, it was state of the art.” Bevacqua said. “The most succinct way to say it is we’ve just outgrown it. When you think about how our staff has grown two-fold in terms of assistant coaches, support staff, everything that goes into running a premier college football program, it’s just changed.

“The use of technology. Recruiting purposes. Every element we’ve just simply outgrown, and so we know we need a new facility, and that is a university priority.”

What we’ll be prioritized above all in that space is what’s already being prioritized in closer quarters.

“In terms of sports science and recovery, we’re at the top of the pyramid,” Bevacqua said. “We’re doing everything ahead of the class in terms of sports science and recovery. When you think about [associate AD for sports performance] John Wagle coming on to our staff.

“When you think about the new addition of [director of football performance] Loren Landow, it’s just kind of revolutionized the way we’re approaching sports science and recovery for our football team — and all of our sports. Sports science is about every single one of our sports and every single one of our student-athletes.

“There will be a better, bigger, more-modern home for all of those things to occur on a day-in and day-out basis. Things change. I mean, we had to update the stadium, and to Jack’s credit, look at Crossroads. I think it’s a model of success.

“I was here in the Loftus days, and we’re still using Loftus, but think about the IAC and how beautiful that is. I was in there a few weeks ago when we had Pro Day. And to hear the NFL scouts say, ‘Wow, this is such an amazing facility.’

“So, we have these really best-in-class facilities. We need that for our football operations facility, and we’re going to make that happen.”

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He then starts to stack the other reasons he sees enhancing Notre Dame’s chances at finishing a season at No. 1, including a couple of facets that were originally feared to work against the Irish.

“The aggressive nature — but in a Notre Dame way — we’ve shown in the transfer portal and NIL,” he said. “I don’t shy away from NIL. As I’ve said to the leaders on campus here regardless of how you feel about NIL, Notre Dame was an early proponent of the concept of NIL, NIL is here and it’s not going away. And you have to do it as aggressively and strategically as anyone else in the country.”

He then went on to cite the leadership of Ron Powlus — the deputy athletic director in charge of football (and the national champion men’s lacrosse team), Notre Dame’s recently consummated media rights deal with Bevacqua’s former employer — NBC Sports. and the expansion of the College Football playoff — whether it stays at 12 or expands to 14 in 2026, as expected.

“It allows us to maintain our independence,” Bevacqua asserted. “You want to win every football game that you play, but for Notre Dame to make the playoff in the four-team format, you kind of enter every season, ‘Boy we’ve got to go undefeated.’

“And again, you want to go undefeated. Marcus Freeman, if he were sitting here, ‘it’s undefeated or nothing. Right?’ That’s how he’s wired, but it’s good to know that the percentages and the chances of Notre Dame being in the College Football Playoff are greatly enhanced with that move from four teams to 12 or 14.”

Bevacqua was not a bystander in the negotiations to extend the relationship with NBC, which began during his time as an ND student, back in 1991.

“I was definitely in the middle of it,” he said. “It could have been potentially awkward, but NBC wanted to get the deal done, and Notre Dame wanted to get the deal done. So, it’s not as though NBC was wishy-washy or we were.

“ Here’s a relationship that has worked for three-plus decades. Everybody from top to bottom at NBC and everybody from top to bottom at Notre Dame wanted to renew the deal. It wasn’t like it was some difficult negotiation process. It was an easy meeting of the minds. We knew what their priorities were. They knew what our priorities were. It was an easy deal to get done.”

And one that, combined with the school’s revenue share from the ACC Network, puts Notre Dame in the same economic ballpark, — Bevacqua confirmed — as revenue-producing titans, the SEC and Big Ten teams.

“We’re at the top of that mountain and as strong as any conference on a per-team basis in the country,” Bevacqua said. “And we needed that. We needed to be there.”

Perhaps most reassuring, especially to those who have cursory knowledge or less of ND president Rev. John Jenkins’ successor, Father Bob Dowd, is that he’s in lockstep with Bevacqua on their vision for Notre Dame football and how to get there.

“I had never spent significant time with Father Bob before coming back to campus,” Bevacqua said. “I obviously knew who he was, as one of the key leaders at Notre Dame, but I spent a lot of time with him this year, even before he was announced into the role.

“And he and I now meet every other week, and we talk frequently. But we have a pretty standard, on-the-schedule meeting, where I’m sitting with him and kind of going through key priorities for the athletic department, challenges, getting his advice on moves we’re thinking about making.”

Last week they invited Freeman to the meeting, over lunch.

“It’s so important that the two of them build a great relationship,’ Bevacqua said. “What I’ve been pleased with in my time with Father Bob, much like Father John, he absolutely knows that athletics and Notre Dame football is part of the DNA of this university.

“It has absolutely contributed to the enormous success that Notre Dame has had as a national and international university. He doesn’t shy away from that. He doesn’t apologize for that. He embraces that.

“That’s music to my ears and so important to our future success.”

Coming Thursday, Part II: Embracing the chaos of a rapidly changing college sports world, assessing the new student-athlete model, Notre Dame athletics’ relationship with the academic side of campus, football scheduling — including the future of the Shamrock Series — and more.

Rev. Robert A. Dowd will become Notre Dame's president on July 1.

Rev. Robert A. Dowd will become Notre Dame’s president on July 1. (University of Notre Dame photo)


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