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Notre Dame Basketball

Niele Ivey Embracing Opportunity to Return as Notre Dame Head Coach

April 23, 2020

It might have been a challenge for any other program to replace a Hall of Fame coach after 33 seasons, but for Notre Dame, it was easy. 

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick knew who he wanted to replace Muffet McGraw and Niele Ivey always knew she wanted to be the head women’s basketball coach at her alma mater. 

That day came recently as McGraw announced she was stepping down on Wednesday and 18 minutes later, Notre Dame released the news it had its next women’s head basketball coach. 

“I'm not sure there was ever a question Niele would be sitting in this chair today representing Notre Dame women's basketball,” Swarbrick stated on Thursday afternoon. “It was merely a question of when. I'm not a big fan of coach in waiting designations, but in a sense, she became a coach in waiting back when Muffet handed her the ball more than 20 years ago and asked her to lead the team as a point guard. 

"She was a coach in waiting when she became the head of recruiting for Notre Dame women's basketball. She was a coach in waiting when we made her the associate head coach several years ago.” 

There was no other candidate for Swarbrick and it was just a matter of Ivey agreeing to take the job. 

"No,” Swarbrick stated when asked if there was another candidate. “As I indicated, we identified as the likely succession plan I'd say two years ago now. As long as Niele remained interested and available, whenever Muffet made that decision, this was the path we were going to move in. 

"Subject to Niele agreeing, of course. She was a good negotiator. She didn't make it easy. She made it fair." 

Conversations with Ivey about taking over for McGraw started two years ago, but the call from Swarbrick offering the job was still a surreal moment for the former Notre Dame point guard. 

"I was shocked just because you never can prepare for the moment,” Ivey explained. “To have Jack Swarbrick call me and offer me the position was a dream come true. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. I was so ecstatic and so happy. I was filled with love, joy, tears and goosebumps because when I think of Notre Dame, I think of the excitement and the experience I had here as a player and coach. 

"To be able to come back to my alma mater - a place that has given me so much, it was a pretty much a no brainer for me. I feel so much gratitude for him to give me that opportunity. Opportunities mean everything." 

Ivey has taken advantage of every opportunity she has received, including the last year serving as an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzles. And even though she left the Notre Dame program, it was a move Swarbrick supported 100 percent. 

"When the Grizzles opportunity came along, we thought it was the perfect sabbatical,” stated Swarbrick. “We loved the notion of Niele seeing a different program, learning from the NBA's level of expertise and bringing that knowledge back." 

Those lessons will now be tested as Ivey steps into her new role, but it’s one Swarbrick has full confidence in as McGraw was Ivey’s biggest fan. The two had spoken about the future of the program annually and Ivey’s name always came up. 

“Coach McGraw identified Coach Ivey and that wasn't news to me,” Swarbrick said of his annual conversation with McGraw. “I attended enough practices and saw enough interaction with the student-athletes to know Niele was a future head coach and hopefully, a future head coach at Notre Dame. 

"Coach McGraw talked about it for a while without any sense of when Coach McGraw would step down. This was her decision recently made. Knowing that we talked to Niele about this possibility. She and I talked a lot over the last two years as other opportunities came her way and as we were thinking about our future to encourage her to hold on for this moment.” 

McGraw turned the Notre Dame program into one of the best in the country and Ivey will rely on those experiences as she writes the next chapter of the program.

"She has taught me many lessons and I've been almost a sponge under here,” explained Ivey. “She was someone I just learned from how she operated. The biggest thing is to work with integrity. I think she was someone who displayed a tremendous amount of passion. Passion for Notre Dame, passion for women's basketball and she's a pioneer in our game.

"She empowered me. She taught me a lot of confidence with how she interacted with people every day." 

Ivey knows it won’t be easy to take over for McGraw, but is confident she is prepared for this step. 

"I know she's a size five or six, but those are big heels to fill,” laughed Ivey. “I'm not going to try to do that. When you follow a legend, it's not going to be easy. I just want to be myself. 

"I think I am always true to myself and try to stay as authentic as I can. I developed a strong work ethic and I'm going to use that stepping into this role. I understand the value of Notre Dame. I understand the value of a Notre Dame education because I was fortunate enough to receive one. I'm going to lead by my heart and soul." 

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