ACC Commissioner John Swofford announces plans to retire in 2020-2021 athletics year

john swofford
John Swofford. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

John Swofford will step down in the 2020-2021 athletics year as ACC commissioner.

The conference’s fourth commissioner, Swofford, a UNC graduate and former administrator at UVA, oversaw the ACC’s growth from nine schools to 15, the development of an ACC Football Championship Game, a conference tie-in with the Orange Bowl, and joining with ESPN in 2019 to establish the ACC Network.

During Swofford’s 23-year tenure, the ACC has won 92 national team titles in 19 of the league’s 27 sponsored sports.

“It has been a privilege to be a part of the ACC for over five decades and my respect and appreciation for those associated with the league throughout its history is immeasurable,” Swofford said. “Having been an ACC student-athlete, athletics director and commissioner has been an absolute honor. There are immediate challenges that face not only college athletics, but our entire country, and I will continue to do my very best to help guide the conference in these unprecedented times through the remainder of my tenure. Nora and I have been planning for this to be my last year for some time and I look forward to enjoying the remarkable friendships and memories I’ve been blessed with long after I leave this chair.”

Kent Syverud, chancellor of Syracuse University and the Chair of the ACC Board of Directors, praised Swofford’s character and service.

“John Swofford, in his historic tenure, has come to embody the very best of the ACC,” Syverud said. “The Conference has been dramatically enhanced in every way during the last quarter century, especially in its balance of academics and athletics. All 15 Presidents of the Conference, like their universities, are deeply grateful to John for his transformative leadership.”

A native of North Wilkesboro, N.C., where he was a three-sport most valuable player and all-state quarterback, Swofford attended the University of North Carolina on a Morehead Scholarship as part of head coach Bill Dooley’s first football recruiting class. In addition to earning a spot on the ACC Academic Honor Roll as a student-athlete, he started at quarterback as a sophomore and part of his junior year, and then finished his career as a defensive back for UNC’s 1971 ACC Championship team. He played in the Peach Bowl as a junior and the Gator Bowl as a senior.

His first job in college athletics came at the University of Virginia — where he worked under future ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan — before returning to North Carolina.

In 1980, at the age of 31, Swofford was named the athletics director at his alma mater. He held that post for 17 years. As athletics director, Swofford’s teams won more ACC and NCAA championships than any other athletic director in ACC history, a record that still stands. In 1994, Carolina won the Sears Director’s Cup, awarded to the top overall athletics program in the nation, the only ACC program to ever win that award.

At the time he became athletics director, North Carolina had not won a national championship in any sport since 1957. The Tar Heels won at least one national title every year of Swofford’s tenure. During his time in Chapel Hill, Carolina’s women’s sports programs soared to unprecedented heights, winning 65 ACC and 17 NCAA Championships.

Swofford also hired six head coaches that went on to win national championships.

In 1981, he hired the first black head coach in the ACC.

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