Love John Swofford or hate him -- and many NC State fans do because of his ties to that school down the road in Chapel Hill -- there's no denying his role as the face of the ACC and the driving force behind the conference's growth and success over the past two-plus decades.
Under his leadership, the league has grown from a compact nine-team league to a 15-member mega-conference spread out along the entire length of the Atlantic Coast and west to Kentucky and Indiana. It was his foresight and preemptive action that not only helped the ACC survive the chaos of conference realignment, but come out of it stronger than ever.
But now, he's decided to step aside.
Thursday, the longest-tenured commissioner in the ACC's 67-year history announced he will retire after he helps the league negotiate its way through the coronavirus crisis this coming athletic year.
That immediately raises the question of who will succeed Swofford as only the fifth commissioner in conference history.
It's an incredibly important hire as the ACC and college sports in general head into an uncertain future fraught with issues such as shrinking athletic budgets, the name-image-likeness debate and concerns over racial equality.
It's a time that calls for someone young enough to appreciate and understand the changing nature of college sports, but experienced enough to not become overwhelmed by the complexities of the job. Someone who understands and embraces the changes that are taking place, but is also aware of and reverent to the traditions of the ACC's past.
Someone like, say, NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan?
Yes, he's only been with the Wolfpack for just over a year. But he's got plenty of experience as an administrator, having spent the previous 11 years running the athletic department at Army. He's young enough to embrace new ideas and continue the ACC's tradition of long-term stability in the game. He also has the perspective of having previously worked at league members Duke and Notre Dame.
If anybody knows what it takes to run the ACC, it's Corrigan -- whose father and namesake, the late Gene Corrigan Sr. -- was the commissioner Swofford succeeded in 1997.
It is not known whether Corrigan would be interested in the job, especially so soon after taking over his current position.
If not him, here are some other potential candidates who should get serious consideration to follow in the line of succession that also includes pioneering commissioners Jim Weaver and Bob James:
- Michael Kelly: Swofford's former lieutenant, Kelly spent five years as the ACC's senior associate commissioner for football, broadcasting and communications. His most significant accomplishment was transforming the ACC Football Championship Game into the success it has become by moving it from Jacksonville to Charlotte. He is so respected, that he was tabbed as the first COO of the College Football Playoff. The 49-year-old is currently the athletic director at South Florida.
- Carla Williams: An impressive young administrator whose leadership as the athletic director at Virginia earned her distinction as the Women Leaders in College Sports Administrator of the Year for all NCAA Division I FBS programs in 2019. Not only have the Cavaliers excelled on the field under her watch -- winning national titles in men's basketball and lacrosse while earning their first Coastal Division championship in football -- but she is also overseeing a $180 million master plan to improve facilities. She would also bring a fresh new perspective to the ACC as the first African-American female commissioner of a major college sports conference.
- Jack Swarbrick: This would be something of a longshot, since the Notre Dame AD is 66 years old and is entrenched in a job he's held for the past 12 years. But no one outside the current commissioners of the Power 5 conferences has more juice with the NCAA than Swarbrick and besides, there's precedent to administrators coming from Notre Dame to lead the ACC. It's the same path to the commissioner's job Corrigan took in 1987. Besides, what better way to get the Irish to finally join the ACC in football than to have their former AD in charge of the league.
- Bernadette McGlade: Like Kelly, McGlade has a history with the ACC, having served as its top women's basketball administrator from 1997-2008. She is credited with growing the ACC women's basketball tournament from an afterthought into a major event. She also has the unique advantage of already being a conference commissioner, having run the Atlantic-10 for the past dozen years.
- Dan Radakovich: Having served tenures as athletic director at both Clemson and Georgia Tech, Radakovich would be a welcome choice to those fostering the long-standing belief that there's a North Carolina bias in the league. Under his watch, Clemson has become a model of athletic success, not only on the football field but for the state-of-the art facilities it has added in recent years. Radakovich is so respected that In 2012, he was named by NCAA president Mark Emmert as one of 10 ADs to serve on an advisory commission charged with making recommendations for the future of NCAA rules and policies.
- Karl Hicks: Hicks works for the NCAA since last October as its managing director for regulatory affairs, a position in which he provides strategic director to enforcement, eligibility and membership affairs. He previously served as the ACC's senior associate commissioner for men’s basketball operations before leaving in 2014 to take an administrative position at Florida State.
- Debbie Yow: Okay, so this is a stretch, especially since she just retired as NC State's athletic director last year and might not be interested in taking on such a big job. But let's face it, if you want someone with the resume to handle the rigors of the job and the personality to shake things up, Yow certainly would be an intriuging choice.
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