Last night, WNDU brought us the momentous news that Notre Dame Athletic Director Kevin White would be leaving that role to take the same position at Duke University. Given that ND has had only five non-coach AD's in its history, turnover in the position is always a big deal. However, this time around, it's an even bigger deal than usual to a good number of folks, because this time, it's a true barometer of where ND is heading.
The discussions of Jumbotrons, 7-4-1, and other schemes seemed to show Notre Dame's focus was on making money rather than maintaining the quality of the brand that had stood so well for so long. Trouble was, it became difficult to determine the source of that mindset. Some people felt it was the brainchild of Fr. Malloy and Fr. Beauchamp, and yet it continued when they were gone from the scene. Others labeled Kevin White as the Svengali of Swag on campus, citing the football scheduling change as the most egregious of offenses on that score.
But now, we'll know for sure. KW is on his way out the door. Who will Fr. Jenkins, John Affleck-Graves, and the BOT name to succeed him, and, more importantly, what will that person do with regard to football scheduling, revenue generation, and the like? If it's the same-old same-old, we'll know where the truth lies.
Much will likely be made of White's ND tenure in the coming days and weeks, and I plan to leave those eulogies to others for the time being. I'm looking forward, not back, and it's time to think about the next guy in the chair.
I don't necessarily have a list of names. I'm more concerned about a list of qualities, two specifically:
A solid, confident personality. Setting the course for athletics at a place like Notre Dame is a unique position. As I've said previously, in some ways, you need to be an AD, while in others, a conference commissioner, because ND is a conference of one. Notre Dame needs to look out for its own interests while balancing the general good, and that can be a thin tightrope to walk. You're not going to do that well unless you've got the moxie to enforce your will sometimes. Notre Dame's AD needs to pull the strings, not dance to them.
An understanding and appreciation for the Notre Dame family. Among his many unfortunate malaprops, Bob Davie once used the words "people who count" when describing his support on campus. Other ND administrators have been similarly dismissive of the alumni ranks when talking about how the school and its programs operate. That's not the way to get the job done, nor is it a way to get people to support what you're doing. A while ago, having a Notre Dame alumnus in the position was seen as being too insular. Now, it seems insularity might not be the end of the world.
So who's on my list? Not sure. But I know a couple things I don't want:
1) A segregation of responsibility. The "football-only AD" idea has been floated a number of times, and I remain dead-set against it. Separating football into its own fiefdom in the Athletic Department is not a solution, and puts the school on a slippery slope. What football does has to remain in the context of the University as a whole, and vice-versa. Besides, things like scheduling games and negotiating with NBC aren't things that go on every day, every month, or even every year. Paying someone to be a full-time AD for the football program is a waste of money, and cutting Athletic Department bloat is something I hope the new person has on the top of the list on the first day of work.
2) Lou Holtz. I love and respect Lou with my whole body, and will do so until the day we're both dead. But he's a football coach, not an AD. The pining for Lou is borne of dissatisfaction with the performance of the football team in recent years, and while that's a genuine and important concern, it shouldn't lead to bad decisions.
Some names, in no particular order.
Jim Lynch, ND '67. NDN board readers should be well familiar with this name, and it is on that basis I list him first. Certainly lots of pros -- savvy businessman, confident personality, understands and appreciates how ND works, etc. But he's reportedly very happy in KC, and (if you believe the stories) has already turned the job down twice. Go after him, certainly, but it's certainly not a failure if he demurs. At the very least, you want him involved in finding the next guy.
Joel Maturi, ND '67. He certainly got good stuff done, not the least of which was MN's new football stadium, has plenty of experience as an AD, and is certainly decisive, evidenced by letting underperforming coaches go mid-season. His nabbing of Tubby Smith was certainly a coup. He also knows Ara and likely would seek his counsel on important matters. Might be enough for the top of my list, although Minnesota alums might be a little too happy to see him go for my taste.
Steve Orsini, ND '78. Moved up the ladder, with stops at UCF and now SMU. Certainly outreached his grasp when he hired June Jones to coach football there. And Notre Dame would be the next step in a progression upward. Definitely worth the phone call.
John Paxson, ND '83. Running an NBA franchise certainly requires a solid confidence, and he definitely would understand ND. No doubt his hiring would give some football fans the vapors.
Mike Bobinski, ND '79. He's been at Xavier for a while, and has made some quality hires. But Xavier doesn't have a football program, and that's a crucial hole in his resume.
Rick Chryst, ND '83. My only concern would be he's never been an actual AD anywhere, spending his career in conference management. It's a different kettle of fish. And not to be unkind, but the MAC ain't Notre Dame. This would be a multi-rung move up the ladder. Would he be ready?
Not a comprehensive list, but the one off the top of my head. May we live in interesting times, indeed.