March 10, 2017
By John Heisler
Maybe it's a simply a coincidence that the men's basketball teams from Notre Dame, Florida State, Duke and North Carolina are playing tonight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the semifinals of the 2017 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
Then again, maybe not.
In any event, the long list of athletics staff connections among these four ACC institutions is somewhere between interesting and amazing, even with Notre Dame in only its fourth year as a league member:
Begin with Notre Dame vice president and director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, a 1976 Notre Dame graduate. Two of his counterparts--Stan Wilcox at Florida State and Bubba Cunningham at North Carolina--are Notre Dame alumni and the third--Kevin White at Duke--is a Notre Dame honorary alumnus.
Swarbrick replaced White as Irish athletics director in 2008. Cunningham worked in the Irish athletics department from 1988-2002 (part of that tenure under White) in finance, facilities and external affairs. Wilcox was hired by White as a senior Notre Dame athletics administrator and then followed White to Duke.
White hired current Irish head men's basketball coach Mike Brey--and while in South Bend White watched current Irish assistant basketball coaches and staffers Ryan Ayers, Ryan Humphrey and Harold Swanagan play for Notre Dame.
White has a son Danny who currently is the athletics director at Central Florida but previously was a walk-on player for Brey and graduated from Notre Dame. Yet another White son is Brian, a Notre Dame graduate who is now a senior associate athletics director at Missouri.
Cunningham also played a role in the hiring of Brey and assisted in Humphrey's transfer to Notre Dame from Oklahoma.
Cunningham has one son, Matthew, who is a Notre Dame graduate, worked as an undergraduate with the Notre Dame Leprechaun Legion student support group and now is a business and finance graduate assistant on the TCU athletic staff. Another Cunningham son, John, is a current Notre Dame junior and a student manager for Brey's Irish squad.
North Carolina's women's tennis head coach, Brian Kalbas, is a 1989 Notre Dame graduate, monogram-winner and former assistant men's tennis coach. He lived in Alumni Hall, as did Cunningham.
Then there's Wilcox, a former Notre Dame basketball player who helped the Irish to the 1978 NCAA Final Four.
Throw in former Irish basketball standout and one-time Notre Dame assistant coach Gary Brokaw, honored tonight as Notre Dame's designated ACC Legend in Brooklyn. Brokaw knows virtually all these individuals.
Meanwhile Brey used to work for head coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and knows that program like the back of his hand.
Those other ACC athletic staffs also include a handful of administrators who previously worked at Notre Dame--including Carolina executive associate athletics director Larry Gallo (former baseball coach at Notre Dame), Carolina associate director of compliance Tom Timmermans (a former Notre Dame basketball player), Duke deputy director of athletics Nina King (a 2000 Notre Dame graduate and former Irish student manager and intern) and Nicole Jones, Duke director of marketing and promotions.
Don't forget Carolina associate athletic director Paul Pogge (a Notre Dame graduate and also a Notre Dame Law School graduate) and Duke football coach David Cutcliffe, who once was hired as quarterback coach at Notre Dame until health issues forced him to step away.
One more Brooklyn connection came in the form of Leo Ehrline, a Notre Dame graduate who serves as executive vice president and chief experience officer of the Brooklyn Nets and the Barclays Center--so he's been a key administrative contact this week for the ACC.
Got all those details straight?
The backstory is that, as the New York Times suggested today, the ACC in 2017 is bidding to be labeled the best basketball league ever (and threaten the record of 11 NCAA bids by the Big East in 2011).
And whichever team survives on the court to take away the ACC Tournament trophy Saturday night will do it with a fair share of Notre Dame connections.
In Brooklyn these days very few introductions are required.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings and lots of other feature content on UND.com.