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Friday, July 14, 2006

Mighty Kevin at the bat

posted by Mike Coffey
The mistakes that can drive you crazy are the ones which, while they have no lasting repercussions on the overall path of your life, remain things you wish you'd done differently because of how they reflect on your self-image. One of those gnaws at me to this very day.

There was a girl in high school on whom I'd had a crush since our first day as freshmen. Pretty, Irish, a musician -- she was everything I was looking for. But I'd never built up the courage to ask her out, and I was running out of time senior year. Finally, after strong urging from one of her good friends, I called her one night in February and asked her to the Senior Prom.

Her response: "Let me think about it, OK?"

I should have (politely) rescinded the invitation, citing her ambivalence, or maybe indicated I'd keep looking while she made up her mind with the possibility I'd end up going with someone else.

But I didn't do either of those things, and as I hung up the phone, I knew in my gut I was making a mistake.

My gut proved prescient -- the girl ended up accepting my invite, but it was the worst date of my life. But I learned something from the experience: if you give someone else the power in a negotiation, you can't get it back, and more often than not it's going to turn out badly for you.

I wonder if Kevin White got that same gut wrench when Pat Casey got on the plane for Corvallis, Notre Dame job offer in his hands for him to "think about". Because White is making the same mistake I did, but I fear the repercussions will be more severe for ND than a bruised ego and a crappy Prom.

Edit for clarity: Do I believe Pat Casey got on a plane with a contract to be ND's head baseball coach in his hands? No. Do I believe he received a complete rundown of the responsibilities and compensations associated with him taking the position, including salary and other benefits? Yes. We continue....

By my count, Casey is the 4th man considered for the head coaching position of the Notre Dame baseball program. Former Irish assistant and current Virginia head coach Brian O'Connor declined almost immediately. Tulane head coach Rick Jones reportedly was approached, but talks didn't progress. Those discussions had the value of not being public turn-downs, but the night was yet young.

White then spoke with former ND skipper Pat Murphy, who used the situation to extort a nice raise from Arizona State. Now Pat Casey, coach of the NCAA champion Oregon State Beavers, has used White and Notre Dame to get OSU (and possibly Nike's Phil Knight) to up the ante for a longer and more lucrative career in Corvallis.

Let's be clear, I do not fault White for trying to hire big. Notre Dame baseball has been one of the highest-achieving programs on the campus these past 10 years, with a College World Series appearance, numerous Big East titles, and a strong reputation as one of the best Northern teams in the country. The program deserves a top-notch coach who can preserve the legacy of Jake Kline and utilize the high level support provided to the baseball program in the last two decades by ND (and Frank Eck).

But in baseball, you only get three missed swings before your butt is on the bench. And White is approaching that point in this search, if he hasn't already.

Regardless of sport, to allow multiple people to use your coaching search to get better deals for themselves at their current school at your (very public) expense is, to put it mildly, not optimal. At some point, perception of the job's desirability comes into play and the story becomes the number of coaches who turned you down, not the coach you hired. Notre Dame football fans saw that happen during the last three searches for a coach, all on White's watch, and it's disappointing to watch the same scene play out again.

I'm not an Athletic Director, and I've never slept at a Holiday Inn Express, but it seems to me there should be some hard and fast rules with coaches just as there are rules for management in all walks of life.

First, you keep a list in your desk drawer for every sport ND offers of people who are considered strong performers in their sport, with an indication, based on informal discussions with representatives or friends, whether or not they'd be amenable to coaching at Notre Dame. That's no disrespect to any of Notre Dame's current coaches, it's a sign of preparedness. People get run over by milk trucks every day. Let's remember that as much as Muffet McGraw loves coaching the Fighting Irish, if she hadn't changed her flight reservations on September 11th, 2001, Kevin White would have had a coaching search on his hands.

Second, you don't meet publicly with a candidate who might turn you down. Flying to Salt Lake City to talk to Urban Meyer two years ago was a mistake. Flying Pat Casey to Notre Dame this week was another one. Before things progressed with either man, Kevin White should have have a pretty darn good idea what each man would say after the meeting. If he didn't know, he was ill-prepared. If he thought he did know, he was misinformed. Neither possibility excites me.

Third, even if you're thrown a curve ball during negotiations, you don't allow the interviewer to take control of the situation. The minute Casey said he had to go back to talk to OSU before he could accept an offer, Kevin White should have responded, "Sorry to hear that, Pat, but that means we can't offer you the job. Either you want to be here or you don't. This isn't an auction, it's a job offer." ND would have looked like the organized, self-assured, strong program we believe it to be. Instead, Casey is now waving dollar bills at us from the Pacific Northwest and White has to explain to the next candidate why he's fifth in line.

There are still excellent candidates out there -- people on Jake's Field mentioned Greg Beals, who has done a lot with Ball State's program. But when a quality candidate like him is (hopefully) hired, the story won't be the up-and-coming coach who is primed to continue Paul Mainieri's work and take the Fighting Irish to the next level. It'll be how Notre Dame "settled" for their fifth choice. Once again, Notre Dame loses control of the news cycle and looks bad in hiring a coach, and once again it's a situation that could have been avoided with more and/or better preparation.

We're now at 16 days (19 since Mainieri first "officially" interviewed at LSU) and counting, and seem no closer to hiring a coach than we were when the process started. Other less prominent programs have gotten the job done in much less time. When it takes a week longer to hire a coach at a much stronger program, something is amiss with the hiring process. When it happens in more than one sport, the evidence becomes even more damning.

There are other ways in baseball to score besides the home run. It's time to stop aiming for the fences and use a solid hit to manufacture runs for the program. Right now, KW is facing an 0-2 count.

Swing, batter.
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Anonymous Patrick said...

I could not agree with you more. KW's tenor is laced with this type of issue. With his track record in any other business enviroment he would be "pursuing other opportunities".

7/14/2006 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many times, people question what they read on this site. This "article" is a perfect example of why.
I believe we recently read an article about how Notre Dame enjoyed its most successful athletic year in school history this year. They posted the best GPA ever and achieved their highest ever standing in the directors cup. If Kevin White is doing such a poor job and making Notre Dame look like such a mess, how have they achieved that as a department? If he did such a terrible job of hiring a new football coach, why does the world love Charlie and Notre Dame football so much again? In short, how can we have such poor management and at the same time, such great success?
Kevin White has guided our Irish to what are undoubtedly best days of Notre Dame athletics - with a heisman candidate and football national championship hopes for this fall. I'm not sure if Dr. White fired some of you, somehow hurt your feelings, or maybe loved and left your moms. But your constant bashing of a proven successful AD needs to be toned down. Not only does it expose you as misinformed, it takes credibility from your site every time you do it.
As for the baseball situation, I haven't heard Pat Casey officially reject the ND offer yet. And I don't believe there have been official offers to anyone else. It seems logical that what White has done is exactly what you described as your own ideal process - he spoke with Murphy on the phone. He hasn't interviewed or offered any other coaches. But we need to keep in mind that when a high profile school like Notre Dame even calls a coach, you best believe it will make the news. So any call White makes will be fabricated into an offer in the works. Please rest assured, the Ball State coach is not the answer to your prayers. And White will find us a solid, top notch baseball coach.....just as he found us the football coach we all love today.

7/14/2006 04:06:00 PM  
Blogger El Kabong said...

You're certainly welcome to your "anonymous" opinion. I, for one, believe the success of the athletic department this year is a function of a great number of people, including Fr. Jenkins, John Affleck-Graves, Philip Purcell, and others.

I give Kevin White less credit for Charlie Weis' hiring than you do, but reasonable minds can disagree.

In answer to one of your comments, I don't know who the "answer to our prayers" is. I hope the ND administration does.

7/14/2006 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous CJC said...

I don't claim to know what role Kevin White played in the search that led to the hiring of Charlie Weis, although I have my suspicions.

I do know how Kevin White publicly reacted to the firing of Tyrone Willingham. Even if Kevin White was the loudest voice in the choir clamoring for Charlie Weis to succeed Willingham, it is very clear from White's public comments that he didn't feel Willingham needed to be replaced. Therefore, had it been up to White, there would have been no vacancy for Weis to fill following the 2004 season.

Further, I am more than happy to give Kevin White a portion of the credit for the remarkable academic performance of Notre Dame's athletes. However, his good work there hardly absolves him of responsibility for conducting competent coaching searches.

There may be compelling answers to the questions that El Kabong has raised. You didn't come close to providing them.

7/14/2006 11:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Irish 60 said...

Let' see, when Kevin White gave Bob Davey an extnsion on his contract (which had to be paid)He realized that this was the coach of the future. When he fired Davey less than a year later, he wandered around the country interviewing people, among whom was TW. Then he was surprised when he found out TW wanted the job after others had turned it down.In basketball once again wandered around the countryside (even the Italian countryside) like the Jews in the desert. Then the firing of TW, and the process was taken out of his hands and a committee hired Charlie. KW may have some wonderful traits, but understanding coaches and what is needed is not among them.(Note that Charlie had a new Offensive Coordinator on board within three days after he found out that his first pick couldn't come due to heart trouble.He was ready and knowledgeable.) Perhaps there is an opening in the fund raising department, which would seem to fit Mr. White's talents more accurately.

7/15/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger NDCF21 said...

As someone who has participated in the ND Baseball program under Jake Kline and watched it grow by quantum leaps under Coaches Murphy and Mainieri. I was able to observe the coaching style of Coach Mainieri as the father of a former ND captain. I have always been impressed with Paul's coaching skill and the ability to be a positive influence on his players. Dave Schrage will continue that tradition and I believe will keep ND in the elite of College Baseball-not just northern schools.

I have enjoyed the positive energy of the passionate ND fans in "Jake's Field." I was able to participate in the selection of the new coach and was thoroughly impressed by the process of Dr. White and his staff ( especially Boo Corrigan and Bill Scholl ).The net was cast far and deep to get the best coach possible, and the interest in the job came from the highest levels. I respectfully disagree that ND and Dr. White swung and miss at all during this process. To have a National Champion coach fly across the country to explore the Notre Dame job, in my view says volumes about where we are as a University and a baseball power. Remember this coach declined the opportunity to interview with LSU. The last minute actions of OSU to keep their coach was exemplary but also a sign of how serious the interest in ND was. However, despite all the public attention to this particular coach Dave Schrage was always in the picture and he was the only one to whom the job was offered. He earned it by his coaching history and his discussions with the University.

Altough I do not see the negativity
toward Dr. White in "Jake's Field"
as is exhibited in other Boards, I can not see in this hire how anyone can be anything but pleased with the result and the process. I will leave to another day to debate the record of Dr. White which I am sure he will admit is not perfect. However, based upon the current state of ND athletics on the field and off, and the quality of all of our coaches including the newest one, I would not trade our AD with anyone else.

It is a great day for ND baseball. I congratulate Dr. White and the athletic department on the professional way they conducted themselves to bring us the best coach possibles, and look forward to many more great ND Baseball seasons.

7/18/2006 10:15:00 PM  

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