Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friends, Domers, Countrymen...

While the current momentum of the hoops squad more than bears talking about, sometimes affairs of state must take precedence over affairs of state. This is one of those times.

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.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Spy vs. Spy

It's hard to get away from Spygate these days, but given my lack of predilection for New England Patriots news, I've been pretty successful thus far.

That is, until today, when the Trib's Brian Hamilton brought it up. He doesn't accuse Weis of wrong-doing, but wonders why he's been so silent on the subject. He was on the Patriots' coaching staff during that time, wasn't he? Why isn't he explaining himself, and why aren't the fans pressing for an explanation? What does all that say about Notre Dame's integrity?

Well, allow me to answer on behalf of the queried: It doesn't say a damn thing. In no particular order of importance, here are my reasons as a Notre Dame alumnus and fan why I really don't care about Spygate:

It's not a Notre Dame matter. I realize that phrase is giving some pundits a facial tic, but that's the crux of it. Much as it might run better if we did, Notre Dame alumni don't rule the world. I can't control what people do in external positions, and as long as what they do doesn't affect ND, I don't have room in my brain to care.

I've talked in the past about ND accountability in the media. I'm not looking for a snowjob. If there's wrong-doing in South Bend, let me know, because I want it rooted out at all costs. And with this, there was no wrong-doing in South Bend. This was something that happened years ago in New England. I don't see the relevance.

No one is perfect. While I expect coaches to come as close as possible to that standard when they're employed by ND, the before and after really aren't worthy of my attention. Granted, I don't want someone like Kelvin Sampson or Dennis Erickson getting a job on campus, and we likely dodged an ethical bullet with Meyer, but those represent the extremes of thought. As George Carlin once said, somewhere between "Live Free or Die" and "Famous Potatoes", the truth lies.

Next, Weis is not a Patriots employee anymore. This one may not seem intuitive, so I'll explain.

There's nothing I hate more than when a former Notre Dame coach pontificates about the state of the various programs. Yes, they have a unique perspective on the position, and there's a value to that perspective when discussing how things are going. But by the same token, the state of both Notre Dame and the various sports it fields changes over time, and things like scholarship limits and scheduling concerns and scholastic standards may not be the same as they were when the coach in question is under the Dome. They didn't like being second-guessed during their tenure, so why put the shoe on the other hand now?

I can handle it when someone like Lou or Ara or Tom Pagna or Digger does it, because those men contributed a lot to Notre Dame in their lives and Notre Dame had great success as a result. So if they want to share their thoughts, I'm willing to listen to them. But when nitwits like Bob Davie or (even worse) Tyrone Willingham go off the reservation, I need to break out the calamine lotion. Gerry Faust gets a five-minute window per year to prairie-dog his philosophies, but that's as far as I'm willing to go.

So I can understand why Weis wants to stay out of it. He's not part of that organization anymore. The Patriots are dealing with the situation as they see fit, and for a former employee to suddenly start chiming in is disrespectful. If I were a Pats fan, I would give less than a damn about what he thought about Spygate, particularly since....

Weis wasn't the head coach at the time. If the entire thing was Weis' brainchild or he put together the initiative, I'd probably be more concerned. But the responsibility for wrong-doing, such as it was, has been laid by the NFL at the feet of Pats' management in general and Bill Belichick in particular. The buck stops with him. I find it odd that Weis gets singled out here, yet as far as I know, Romeo Crennel -- who is still in the NFL and has had a much poorer performance as a coach since leaving the Pats than Weis has -- has not been pursued in this manner. Considering offensive signals were taped as well as defensive, I'm guessing that means the NFL sees Crennel as a soldier who was doing what he was told, much as Weis would be were he still there.

This is why the analogy of George "By God, It's" O'Leary breaks down. O'Leary wrote his own resume, and had ample time over the years to fix it. By submitting that resume to Notre Dame, he directly lied to the people who hired him. I don't know what Weis has been asked about Spygate, but knowing Notre Dame as I do, I'm pretty confident questions have been asked and I'd imagine whatever answers were received were to Kevin White's, Fr. Jenkins', and John Affleck-Graves' satisfaction. If it comes out later that Weis was not truthful in that case, I'm sure that will be evaluated just as O'Leary's situation was, and if that ever happens, wake me and let me know because I won't be interested until then.

And finally, I don't see what the big deal is. The contests they taped were part of public record. It's not like they were sneaking into practices. Had the allegation they had taped a walk-through been proven correct, that'd be a horse of a different color. But now we have a major metropolitan newspaper apologizing for suggesting it happened.

Sign-stealing happens in every team sport that uses them. Catchers change them up when there's a man on second, and no one bats an eye. Sure, it's on the unseemly side, and my preference would be that it not happen. But I'm not that naive.

Besides, how much did it really help? You're asking someone on the sidelines to read the opponents' signals, get them to the applicable coach, who then has to call a play quickly and relay that to the captain before the play clock runs out. I think it's interesting that the game so much of being made of was a Patriots loss. If you only score 16 points and you allegedly know the plays your opponents' D is running, the guys from the Jewish house are telling you all the answers you had were wrong.

I think obsession with Weis on this is more than a little goofy. Are we so desperate these days to keep salacious commentary in the news that we continue to beat Eight Belles long after the fact? Notre Dame's integrity is rooted in the fact it follows the rules of college sports and holds its people accountable on the field, in the classroom, and everywhere else, not the degree to which an assistant coach participated in a resolved matter from the NFL five years ago. Those Haughian nit-picks tend to skew gratuitous.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Three Amigos

The pimpitude of Notes lately has risen to an alarming level, and I promise we're going to get back to strict ND-sports-related stuff shortly. But not before I bend your ear one last time to tell you about an event that touches both my ND and non-ND selves.

My daughter was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder a number of years ago. With the help of our pediatrician, our psychologist and our school district, and the efforts of family and friends, she's now very high-functioning and completely mainstreamed in school, although not without occasional reminders of the challenges she faces socially.

But getting her there was a long and sometimes arduous journey, and my wife and I remember well those initial weeks and months when we knew something was wrong with her but didn't know what and didn't know what to do. In those days, we were lucky to get good help, not only from the aforementioned folks but also from various support and advocacy groups, who came ready with suggestions and warnings that made the whole thing easier than it could have been.

I'm not in a position where I can volunteer for groups of that kind. I found sharing my story with other parents tended to depress as much as encourage, especially if their children were deeper on the spectrum than my daughter and/or had a less rosy prognosis. Given how my schedule gets, volunteering time was difficult as well. So in order to try and repay the help we received in those dark days, my wife and I decided to be as generous with our checkbooks as we could to support financially the kind of groups providing such crucial aid. This is what led me to donate proceeds from EotH to the Autism Society of Illinois.

So you can imagine my delight when I heard about Hannah and Friends. An opportunity to fulfill my pledge to help organizations that focus on the developmentally disabled by donating to an organization that has a tertiary connection to Notre Dame? Bonus. Ever since, I've contributed annually to H&F and encouraged people I know to do the same, not because of any connection to Charlie Weis (who, I'm sure, wouldn't know who I was if I walked into his office and kicked him in the shins -- although I'm sure he'd know me after that) but rather through my efforts to ensure other parents whose children have autism can get the same kind of help my wife and I received.

Then came an opportunity to take it a step further, and that's the reason for my missive today.

On July 31st of this year, H&F will be co-sponsoring the third (and final) Notre Dame Coaches Kickoff for Charity. Charlie Weis, Lou Holtz, and Ara Parseighian will all speak, and the proceeds from the event will be split evenly between their three charities. The first two events were held in New York City and Los Angeles, and were very successful. This time, they'll be at the Palmer House in Chicago. I was asked to serve on the committee for this year's event, and we want to make it the best of the three.

Let's make this clear from the outset, this is a pricey undertaking. Tickets are $1,000 apiece. Other sponsorship levels are available that include having a celebrity seated at your table and access to a cocktail hour before the dinner where the coaches and other Notre Dame and Chicago sports greats will mingle.

But I'm a big believer in putting the information out there and letting people make their choice. Perhaps your company or employer is looking for a charitable giving opportunity. You could be in need of a tax deduction. Or maybe your great-aunt Muriel just left you a million dollars in Indian-head pennies.

Regardless, if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to consider the event, I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to go. Not only is it an opportunity to hear three outstanding speeches and really allow your ND fanaticism to wax, the money will go to three great causes: Hannah & Friends, the Holtz Charitable Foundation, and the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation. It may not be the biggest no-brainer in the history of Earth, but it's in the team picture.

If you have interest, you can contact me via email and I'll get you set up.

Thanks for your attention, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled analysis of ND's ground game and potential basketball transfers-in.

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