Swofford to retire as ACC commissioner in 2021

The former UNC football player is the longest-tenured leader in the 67-year history of the league, having succeeded Gene Corrigan as commissioner in 1997

Commissioner John Swofford speaks during the ACC's Football Kickoff event in Charlotte in 2019 (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

John Swofford has announced his intention to retire as commissioner of the ACC, effective at the end of the 2020-21 athletic year.

The longest-tenured leader in the 67-year history of the league, Swofford has been the man in charge since succeeding Gene Corrigan in 1997 and has successfully steered the ACC through one of the most eventful and transformative periods ever in college athletics.

“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 in a statement announcing his retirement plans.

“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.”

The ACC 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 during Swofford’s watch.

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.

Among his other accomplishments are a grant of media rights that has secured the conference’s stability for the foreseeable future, the establishment of an ACC Football Championship game, a financially lucrative affiliation with the Orange Bowl, basketball’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the hiring of the league’s first full-time women’s basketball administrator and a long-term partnership with ESPN that led to the league’s own decided television network last year.

“John’s leadership and guidance have been truly astounding and his robust impact on student-athletes over two-plus decades cannot be celebrated enough,” Duke athletic director Kevin White said. “He has been a pillar of reason, trust and value while encompassing a contagious passion for unrivaled excellence.

“Over the course of his storied tenure in the ACC office, John’s steadfast determination and vision have led to countless significant accomplishments and achievements, including membership expansion and the creation of the ACC Network. In short, we have been fortunate to work with one of the finest leaders in the history of college athletics.”

A native of  North Wilkesboro, Swofford was a Morehead Scholar who was part of coach Bill Dooley’s first football recruiting class at North Carolina. He started at quarterback as a sophomore and finished his career as a defensive back on the Tar Heels’ 1971 ACC championship team.

Swofford became the athletic director at his alma mater at the age of 31 in 1980. Under his leadership, UNC won more ACC and NCAA championships than any previous AD in league history. As commissioner during the past 23 years, the ACC has won 92 national team titles in 19 of the league’s 27 sponsored sports. 

According to Thursday’s announcement, “he will remain as commissioner until his successor is installed and will assist with the transition as needed.”