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  • Mighty Kevin at the bat

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    I should have (politely) rescinded the invitation, citing her ambivalence, or maybe indicated I’d keep looking while she made up her mind with the possibility I’d end up going with someone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