SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Time will tell if this was a Nick Saban moment for Link Jarrett.
Jarrett, Notre Dame’s highly marketable baseball coach and the miracle worker who just took the Fighting Irish to the brink of their first College World Series in nearly two decades, didn’t mince words this week upon returning to campus from raucous Starkville, Mississippi.
Asked if he would “unequivocally” be Notre Dame’s coach in 2022, Jarrett didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, I will,” he said Tuesday, the bus engines still running outside Frank Eck Stadium. “If my name’s not involved or mentioned in some of these things that come up, then I don’t know that you’re pushing your own program correctly.”
Reportedly with three years left on his original five-year deal, Jarrett recently picked the sweetener the school has long offered to its most sought-after coaches, football and otherwise. That’s an endowed position in their current role.
LSU is in the market for a coach after Paul Mainieri announced his retirement following 15 seasons. Jarrett recently said he planned to reach out to Mainieri, his Notre Dame predecessor from 1995 to 2006, to offer congratulations on a long run that included a national title in 2009.
Jarrett, who just completed his first full season after getting plucked away from tiny UNC Greensboro, also could be in play at the professional level after guiding the Irish to a 34-13 season and the No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Revamping an entire program on the fly and winning ACC Coach of the Year honors in the process will do that for a leader, even one who has been around as long as Jarrett.
So before heading off to Omaha, Nebraska, to watch son J.T. play in the CWS for North Carolina State, Jarrett did his best to tamp down any bubbling rumors and keep his recruiting class intact.
“I’m not searching for anything,” he said, “but if your name is not one that’s popular or appears to be doing the right things for the program, then are you really doing the right things for your own program?”
Socrates couldn’t have done it any better, much less NFL-era Saban before he ultimately ditched the dysfunction of the Miami Dolphins to construct an assembly line of first-round draft picks and national championships.
Saban, it should be noted, was 55 when he became Alabama’s coach nearly a decade and a half ago. Jarrett, 49, has paid his dues on the coaching ladder, including stops as an assistant at Flagler, Mercer, East Carolina and Auburn, as well as Florida State, the alma mater he led to three Omaha berths in four seasons as a shortstop for Mike Martin in the early 1990s.
Is Jarrett up for grabs? You wouldn’t think so after an answer like the one he gave, but the stealth inquiries from ADs and GMs aren’t likely to stop coming just because of one “Read My Lips” denial.
“I love it here,” Jarrett said. “I love these kids. These guys represent everything you could possibly ask young men to represent.”
He mentioned Notre Dame’s 3.2 team GPA this season, terming it “remarkable” considering the rigor of academics under the golden dome. He also noted that while the Irish have a handful of seniors they’d like back in 2022, they first must be accepted to grad school to stick around for a fifth season.
And then there are the facilities, which might have cost the Irish a chance to host a Super Regional at their quaint 2,500-seat home rather than fall to Mississippi State in three hotly contested games before a record-setting crowd for that stage of the college baseball postseason.
“We just came from the Disney World of baseball,” Jarrett said. “There’s people everywhere. It’s a laser light show in the place. They’ve turned that into something that is on the extraordinary end of what you see in college baseball.”
And in tiny Stark-vegas, no less.
“That’s what I want to build,” Jarrett said. “I want to build a national-brand baseball program.”
At this point, few should doubt his ability to do that. The only question is whether it will happen at his current job.