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Kevin White: Notre Dame is a "Junior Partner"

Many have questioned the negativity toward Kevin White during this tenure at Notre Dame, but yesterday on WRAL, White confirmed why he was never a good fit. Yesterday's interview gave us the clearest understanding yet of White's mindset at the negotiating table when he referred to Notre Dame as a "junior partner" in BCS negotiations. Which is why Notre Dame needs to consider a strong leader for the next Athletic Director as covered in Character, Credibility and Courage. When Kevin White came to Notre Dame the Irish were receiving a first tier BCS payout. By the time Kevin White left, Notre Dame had agreed to a wildly reduced BCS payout with a minimal yearly guarantee. Here's a portion of his transcribed interview from NCIrish on Rock's House.

“I've been at that table for 8 years. I can tell you that there was not a lot of support for the Plus 1. My previous institution was pretty open minded, much more so than I had ever articulated in the national media. We were going to do what was best for college football. And kind of being in a minority, or junior partner to that thing, we were a conference of one and knew, had a pretty good sense of the impact we had and the juice we had in those conversations but in the same time we were pretty open minded. So then the SEC expressed strong interest. The ACC expressed a fair amount of interest through John. And Notre Dame was willing to look pretty hard at the Plus 1 but there wasn't any interest anywhere else. And so, that was just a non-starter. Back to the contract, the contract will be negotiated in September. My guess is that, for the next 8 years, no Plus 1.”

As a reminder, here's what the Dookies have to look forward to as far as their "Cathedral" and marketing and here's a telling story on White's negotiating ability.

Best of luck, Kevin.

The Recruiting Theory of Relativity

Don't you love perspective posts?

Today I read an article labeling ND recruiting this year as so-so. While it's certainly not on par with last year's class, you have to like what we've brought in so far.
  • Cierre Wood is the highest rated running back to commit to Notre Dame since I've been following the Irish.
  • Tyler Stockton is rated higher than any of our defensive lineman from last year other than Ethan Johnson. He's going to be pushing for playing time from day one. Too bad he can't play this year.
  • Alex Bullard had offers from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Tennessee among others. He's an excellent prospect.
  • Carlo Calbrese and Theo Riddick are both four star players.
  • Dan Fox is a three star player, but he has as much upside as any linebacker I've seen. He's 6'4" 210 as a junior, runs a 4.6 and covers like a db. He's a guy you can easily see earning an NFL paycheck one day. I'll go ahead and predict at least another star for Fox.
  • Taking a Golic is a no-brainer at Tight End and Jake will have some time to develop behind the talented Notre Dame Tight Ends brought in last year.
  • We've also shored up our kicker and punter positions with TnT (Tausch and Turk.)

Underwhelmed?

Here's perspective. So far in 2008, with just nine players, Notre Dame has already signed more four star players and more five star players than Notre Dame signed in Willingham's last two years at Notre Dame... combined. In case you want to compare notes, right now Willingham has exactly zero commitments so far at Washington. Zero. The point is that relative to previous coaches, ND recruiting is not "so-so" at all. It's only "so-so" relative to the high standard set by Notre Dame the last two years.

Now for perspective on perspective, there is less margin for error in 2008. For this year to be a success Notre Dame has to land the Baby Bulls of 2008 to go along with Bullard. Chris Watt and Xavier Nixon are the key gets for Notre Dame here. Landing those players would give ND more star power on the offensive line than ND brought in back in 2006.

ND definitely has some work to do, but with a better than expected season ahead, the Irish are sitting in good position for the home stretch run. If they land a couple of top players, plus get in on some emerging players (remember these kids are still growing,) Notre Dame could land it's fourth straight top 10 class.

Still worried? Hey, you could be a Husky fan.

NBC and ND Magic

Who kills the magic at Notre Dame? Often times it's the very network that supports it (and Dick Ebersol has been a committed Note Dame supporter.) NBC has been a good partner, but it is time ND started demanding more from NBC. Certainly losing doesn't help, but Notre Dame is about the game day experience and NBC has systematically helped kill the golden goose by focusing on inventory.

What's inventory? It's the amount of spots a network has to sell per show. And here's where the deal makers have hurt both Notre Dame and themselves with short term inventory creation prioritized over product degradation. It's simple, they're not viewing football from a product perspective first and hurting the experience.

I read stories about the Notre Dame/NBC deal and Touchdown Jesus wants to cry
Here's how Tom Coyne (a very respected and well liked ND writer) couched his recent AP article: "NBC renewed its television contract with Notre Dame football through the 2015 season on Thursday despite the Fighting Irish last year drawing their lowest ratings since the network began broadcasting their games in 1991."

Okay, I like Tom almost as much as Lou Somogyi at Blue and Gold and Mike Frank of Irish Eyes, but that's just a bullshit opening line.

Last year was a Three Wood created Chauncey nightmare which happens when you don't have one senior offensive lineman (and a host of other lazy recruiting reverberations) on the team. NBC didn't renew "despite" last year, it renewed "because" it knew last year was a anomaly of circumstances we will never see again. They renewed because it's Notre Dame and there are few franchises left for networks to secure and because over the past two years Notre Dame has brought in two incredible recruiting classes and there's no doubt Notre Dame will be contending by next year.

So let's drop this notion of NBC doing ND any favors. Fox would have picked up this contract in a heartbeat.

NBC has to understand what makes a product attractive to begin with... and I'll make this simple.. it's not adding extra time during commercial breaks or adding more breaks. Doing so kills the interest at home games (though it revs up bar sales) and decimates the hard to come by home field advantage in South Bend.

In short, the entire methodology is short-sighted and self-defeating. I like Ad guys. I love Ad guys. They keep television free for the masses. But you can't let Ad guys control the product. It's letting the Fox control the hens. Ad guys (and gals) will increase inventory to the greatest extent they can, because that increases overall upfront revenue.

But here's where the story comes to a grinding halt. Those extended TV timeouts take a toll on viewers at home and on the energy of viewers in the stadium. If the stadium magic dies, the team loses an ally. If the team loses an ally, they lose an advantage. If the team loses an advantage, they lose more games. And EVERYONE who's been to a ND game knows how much those constant interruptions suck the wind out of games. Sure, late game heroics can restoke the magic fires, but if we didn't let the flames die to begin we wouldn't have to restoke those fires.

And where's where this comes back to roost. If the experience is less exciting and constantly interrupted and the team suffers because of it, ratings are less. It's worse in a down year, but true in an up year as well.

So if ratings are less, what does NBC do?

Right.

There's less money per minute for everyone, which keeps the pressure on to create more inventory. It's this kind of down the toilet thinking that has permeated ND negotiations at all levels. What Notre Dame needs to do is keep the product strong and interesting and the money will be there.

NBC, for it's own good, should cut down on TV timeouts and lesson inventory for the overall health of its product and to maximize ultimate revenues.

As Ted Mandell wrote in the Indy Star years ago, "Frankly, they're bored. The result of too much momentum interruptus. With the ebb and flow of the game destroyed by crass commercialism, the coaches, players, and fans are now glassy-eyed slaves to the predictable onslaught of TV timeouts. TV timeouts, the curse of college football. A pseudo-ref steps onto the field and sticks up his foamy orange right arm like a runway cop at the airport. The game stops. "

NBC needs to recognize the game experience is everything and you can make money by building up the experience, not parceling it out until the magic is gone. Perhaps the solution is finding one sponsor for all games, like NBC did with Nightly News broadcasts.

Ultimately, it's the magic, whatever that is, that will bring in viewers and fans and eventually the money.

AD Search Update

Not much to report. As mentioned in a June Press Release, Notre Dame is not rushing into a decision on selecting a new athletic director. Notre Dame recently hired an Executive Search firm and will be conducting a complete search process. In short, we're not likely to see a decision in the immediate future. Various sources have described the front runners as Steve Orsini of SMU and Rick Chryst from the MAC, but at this point it's all speculation. One person who won't be part of the search process is Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi, who said on Thursday, "If they call, I'm going to tell them, 'Thank you, but I love what I'm doing.' "

www.ndnation.com

Ben Turk is Irish

Notre Dame filled their need at punter when Ben Turk of St. Thomas Aquinas committed to the Irish as first reported by Irish Eyes.

The six foot, 175 punter averaged just under 41 yards per punt last season. He's considerably smaller than the last two recruits from St. Thomas Aquinas, Dan Wenger and Sam Young.

The truth is that no one outside of the football office knows that much about Turk at this point. While everyone loves a punter who can boot it 60 yards, I'm partial to the guys who are consistent and can position punts well like DJ Fitzpatrick used to do.

I have no idea, which flavor Turk is, but it's a cool last name. Here's a list of ND's current commitments.

  • Cierre Wood, RB
  • Alex Bullard, OL
  • Tyler Stockton, DL
  • Theo Reddick, RB
  • Dan Fox, LB
  • Carlo Calabrese, LB
  • Jake Golic, TE
  • Ben Turk, P

Character, Credibility and Courage

Who knows what's going on behind the (hopefully not lace) curtain as ND considers its next choice for Athletic Director. As I wrote in For Love and Money, we need someone who has credibility, influence and courage, in addition to understanding exactly what ND means internally and externally.

Br. Andre put it this way
: "It's got to be a guy with an extremely strong personality who has credibility with all constituencies and is deeply invested in Notre Dame and its overall ethos."

In our Internet sleuthing, CJC turned up the following on Steve Orsini (we encourage submissions on all possible candidates) from the Navy-ND Game day program. Orsini recently told the Dallas Morning News that he would listen if ND came calling.

Even Sherlock Holmes would be unlikely to discover the connection between the brand-spanking-new football stadium on the University of Central Florida campus and the green jerseys that many credit with helping transform Notre Dame’s 1977 football team from underachievers to national champions. But that connection exists in the person of Steve Orsini, currently the director of athletics at Southern Methodist University and one of the captains of that ‘77 Fighting Irish squad.

Before arriving at SMU in June 2006, Orsini was director of athletics at UCF. At the press conference in 2002 announcing his hiring to oversee the Central Florida athletics department, Orsini was asked about the prospects for an on-campus football stadium for the Knights, who were playing their home games at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. Without the benefit of conferring with his boss, Orsini answered that he would like the Knights to be playing in their own on-campus football stadium within five years. The UCF president eventually stepped to the podium and expressed the hope that Orsini would see a football stadium on the UCF campus within his lifetime. Presumably the president had adjusted his timetable by the time Knights christened their new on-campus football stadium in the 2007 season opener against the Texas Longhorns. “What they taught us when we played football at Notre Dame was to reach for the stars, to set your goals high,” offers Orsini by way of explanation of his seemingly grandiose vision.

“As freshmen, we promised each other that we were going to win a national championship before we left Notre Dame,” Orsini recalls. “And other than Ken McAfee, we really weren’t playing very much as freshman. But that was our goal.” Yesterday’s Heroes CATCHING UP WITH... Steve Orsini by Craig Chval. By the time that Orsini was a senior, that goal looked pretty tenuous. The ‘77 Irish were picked by many to win the national championship, but stumbled early. A loss to Ole Miss and a handful of unimpressive wins had those title hopes on life support by the time Southern California paid an October visit to South Bend. Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine stunned the Trojans—and his own players—by having the Irish dress in green jerseys following pre-game warm-ups in their traditional navy jerseys.

The frenzied Irish pummeled USC and stormed through the balance of their schedule. And when Notre Dame overwhelmed unbeaten and top ranked Texas 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl, Orsini and his classmates had their national championship. “I don’t know where I’d be without the experience I had at Notre Dame,” says Orsini. “It has defined who I am today in every area of my life.” Indeed, after putting his Notre Dame accounting degree to work in New York City for a public accounting firm, Orsini came back to work for his alma mater 1981. “I knew from the day (former Notre Dame athletic director) Gene Corrigan hired me as ticket manager that I wanted to be an athletic director at a Division I school,” says Orsini. He found not only a vocation, but a bride. It was during his stint as Irish ticket manager that Orsini met South Bend native Amy Kertesz. The two married and are now parents to an 11year-old daughter, Angela. Orsini enjoyed stints with the Dallas Cowboys, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Georgia Tech University, before becoming athletic director at Central Florida.

And while Orsini is justifiably proud of the work he did in making the Knights’ football stadium a reality, his impact upon the Central Florida program was hardly limited to facilities. Central Florida earned its first-ever bowl appearance during Orsini’s tenure and the program set a record for number of football season tickets sold. The men’s basketball team made two consecutive NCAA appearances and the Knights won the all-sports championships in their final season in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Orsini also led the Central Florida athletic program to unprecedented achievements in the classroom, an emphasis he has continued at SMU. The Mustangs football program earned the American Football Coaches Association’s 2006 Academic Achievement Award by graduating 100 percent of its football players.

SMU’s overall refined graduation rate is 97 percent and 188 of its scholar-athletes were named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll. But for all the facility-building and academic glory, Orsini hasn’t lost sight of what occurs between the white lines. “My philosophy on how to have fun in athletics is spelled W-I-N,” he says. Orsini has publicly announced his goal of rebuilding the once-glorious Mustangs football program into a Top 25 fixture.

It’s a lofty target for a program that’s still struggling with the aftermath of the NCAA “death penalty” imposed nearly 20 years ago. “If you don’t make it, you’ll be the laughing stock of Dallas,” Orsini acknowledges. “But I think it’s important to take pride in your program and set your goals high.” And thus, the Notre Dame influence lives on for Orsini—and SMU. “I’m motivated to try to give all of our student-athletes the same kind of experience I had at Notre Dame, because it’s been so important in my life.” Orsini got his start in college athletics administration at Notre Dame when he worked in the ticket office as the ticket manager

Notre Dame Recruiting on a Roll: The Fox and the Bull

No it's not a new South Bend pub, though we could use one. Thursday, Notre Dame landed linebacker Dan Fox and today the Tennessean is reporting that the Irish will land stud offensive lineman, Alex Bullard over Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Michigan to name a few of his many offers.

"It's a good fit for me," Bullard told the Tennessean. "I liked the smaller campus, smaller classrooms and just how prestigious a school they are. Especially with Tennessee, it was a tough decision. I felt like me and Coach (Phillip) Fulmer had a relationship. But at the end of the day, Notre Dame was the best place for me."

You could say it’s all in the genes for Bullard because his father, Louis Bullard, was an offensive lineman for Jackson State in the 1970s and he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1978 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Bullard is a very important get for the Irish. Here's ESPN's scouting report on him: "BULL"ard is exactly that as an offensive lineman that is dominating at the point of attack. Even though you would like to see him an inch or two taller, he shows the ability to play either guard or tackle at the next level. Comes off the football with power; gets into defensive lineman quickly with jolting blow delivery with the hands and outstanding leg drive."

The 6-4, 218lb Fox was recruited at linebacker and a short look at his video shows the Irish landed a very good athlete with the ability to play in space and cover. Fox is the type of linebacker that gives you a lot of flexibility. That combination of height, speed, athletic ability and ball instincts is a rare commodity.

"They see a very athletic young man who plays a major role in three sports," his coach told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "When he's able to concentrate on just one sport I think he'll be 240-245 pounds in the next few years. He was being recruited east coast to west coast."

6'4", 245lbs and can cover... sign me up.

Here's Fox's ESPN evaluation:
"Fox is a big safety at 6'3" and 215 pounds. He also could play outside linebacker. His biggest asset is his timing on the blitz. He gets off on the snap and makes penetration into the backfield. He does a good job of shedding blocks and rarely gets knocked off his feet. Fights to get to the football; gives good effort. Shows the ability to go up for the interception and has soft hands. Has decent speed and athleticism. Needs to work on his tackling; has a tendency to not bring his legs with him."

Fox's youtube video is below.

Fox will team with Carlo Calabrese at linebacker in a 2009 class that is rapidly gaining momentum.

www.NDNation.com


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Hey, Look at My Guy

As Notre Dame prepares to make its choice for the next athletic director, it's confronted with enviable problem: seemingly, too many good candidates. The comforting thing is that this time around there are so many talented candidates with real Notre Dame connections.

That's the good, but also the bad. The hard part for those who are connected with the candidates is to separate friendship and relationships from reality; to have some dispassionate distance to evaluate candidates free of lobbying.

I just read Tim Prister's articles shilling for Rick Chryst and now find myself feeling a little dirty. Prister interviews Gene Corrigan ostensibly about all the candidates for the Notre Dame AD job, but then procedes to ask Corrigan only about Chryst knowing full well Corrigan is a Chryst backer. In fact, Corrigan is forced to give Prister "the journalist" some perspective in the article.

The basis for Prister's argument, that ND is a conference unto itself and therefore needs a conference commissioner with a seat at the table sounds good in theory, but on further review seems less applicable if applicable at all. Negotiating on behalf of the MAC does not equal representing Notre Dame. In fact, whoever is the Notre Dame AD will have a "seat at the table" and a no one's yet defined why Chryst has a good working relationship with the BCS committee, why that would translate to Notre Dame or why another candidate couldn't better establish such relationships. The fact is that the candidate with the right amount of credibility, knowledge, emotional intelligence and influencing skills will likely do well at the bargaining table. As we've seen from White, years of experience at the table don't necessarily translate into positive results.

Now, to be clear Chryst sounds like a great guy, a smart guy and like someone who has performed well and Corrigan's endorsement carries weight. He looks like a great candidate on paper, but so do others like Steve Orsini and half-cocked relationship driven endorsements masquerading as journalism don't help enlighten anyone, nor to they necessarily help Chryst.

My purpose isn't to endorse one candidate over another here (not that it would matter,) but everyone should heed such advice for the moment. Certainly more depth and understanding is necessary and Prister's already handicapping the race for AD like it's the Belmont.

Slow down, Big Brown.

After what seems like decades in purgatory, it looks like Notre Dame is in a no lose situation. Shills should holster their lobbying and instead engage in thoughtful discussion over candidate attributes. After so many years of struggle in ND athletics, we're finally at a point in time where ND can tab strong leaders who can credibly influence others in the larger community. This is no time for friend lobbying, but for doing what's best for Notre Dame and that, at a minimum, involves some careful analysis of all of the candidates before devolving into personal lobbying. If he's worth his salt, Chryst would agree.

Anyone who followed the Michigan coaching search process, where powerful alumni lined up into factional camps, should realize such power broker activity is counter-productive and leads to unhealthy criteria being weighted into the process. How many ND super-delegates do you have? It shouldn't matter. I know it does, but it shouldn't.

And as a bonus, most people would probably read such a dispassionate analysis and think better of both Chryst and Prister.

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For Love and Money: Replacing Kevin White

The Rock Report - As we understand it, Kevin White has been shopping around for sometime with the University's blessing. Now that he's found a willing buyer, it's time to turn the page in Notre Dame history, but what should the Irish be looking for?

There are many more ways to get a hire wrong than to get one right. As I wrote in Define Who You Are , an Athletic Director at Notre Dame has to understand what Notre Dame means, but also the role that plays in creating value and ultimately revenue:
"What ND has to protect, above all else, is its unique branding, uncompromised and steeped in tradition. What we keep hearing is how necessary it is to "be like everyone else" yet that thinking is exactly what will ruin the uniqueness, the marketability of the ND experience and ultimately make Notre Dame less dollars.

You usually don't get a second chance once you compromise. If you dilute the brand, you limit the corporate opportunities. If your opportunities become limited (see the BCS negotiations) you're forced to make choices that probably will dilute the brand. So diluting the brand more, limits more opportunities... and around and around the toilet bowl we go.

Here's where emphasizing tradition and experience pays off in both the revenue and branding: Once you commit to this thought process, it raises your level of thinking and creates more and unique options. If one only looks at the landscape that is revenue generation based on current methods, then you, by default, will be picking an option that dilutes the brand. If you focus on enhancing the game day experience, there are a myriad of corporate opportunities that will flow from taking this approach that will ultimately have greater value as a marketing channel for corporations and build the brand that will create still greater value. Building the brand yields greater and unique options for marketing. Having unique options allows you to enhance the brand. Enhancing the brand...

ND needs to think outside of the toilet bowl. Many companies are forced into bad choices by the market or private equity pressure. Notre Dame doesn't have that liability.
Under White, it seemed as if Notre Dame was constantly scheming new marketing and revenue generation methods that brought in small dollars at the expense of the Golden Goose. What Notre Dame's incoming Athletic Director has to understand is that Notre Dame's market value is ultimately found in the uniqueness of Notre Dame. So, yes, we absolutely need someone who "gets it."

We also need someone who understands what that means in the larger, changing landscape of college football and our other sports. Whomever the new AD is, he (or she) will have to be able to navigate an increasingly factionalized world of athletics dominated by superconferences, which means the new AD will have to bring a very CEO like level of skills to the table (after all it is akin to running a small company.)

Along with that understanding of Notre Dame and its place in the landscape and competence in athletic administration, the new AD will have to quickly build credibility both within Notre Dame and in the larger NCAA community in order to wield influence. As we've seen before, the blunt hammer doesn't work and neither did the "let's all be friends" approach of White. That's why being able to bring credibility into many situations is a key component in this equation. Arrogance is not an asset, but neither is acquiescence.

In a recent seminar I worked on with executives we focused on the differentiating factors of great leaders. In the world of credibility, character and competence are of course paramount, but the key differentiating features for credibility were courage, emotional intelligence and the ability to influence others.

We need athletic administration competence, someone who gets Notre Dame, understands the strategic landscape now and where we're headed in the future, changing media and marketing and someone who will be viewed at as a leader both internally at Notre Dame and externally in the world of college athletics.

As we've found with the coaching searches, it's easy to find what you don't want or see what doesn't work, but much harder to find the perfect fit.

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