Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Voting With Their Checkbooks

My wife and I both had early mornings today, so no one was home just after 8am when the phone rang. Turns out we missed a very interesting phone call.

When I got home, the caller ID said area code 574 with a 631 prefix. More often than not, that's someone calling from a campus office to scold me about something posted here or on NDN, so it was not without a certain amount of fatalism I dialed into voicemail.

Turns out it was the ND ticket office, calling for Mrs. Kabong. Preliminary lottery results, said they, showed she didn't get any of the games she put in for (meaning, as of now, nothing for Michigan or Stanford and my dad's friend will not get as many Navy tix as he was looking for). However, followed up they, the ticket lottery for Syracuse had resulted in tickets being left over, and she was welcome to put in for up to four tickets for that game.

Well well well. A crappy late-November game not selling out via the lottery. Quelle surprise.

This is what 7-4-1 hath wrought, kids. People are looking at $65 tickets for these "buy" games and saying, "Nuh uh". And if you think MAC schools or non-descript Mountain West opponents are going to draw any better to an ice-cold Notre Dame Stadium at the end of the season, think again.

(Yes, I realize this isn't a buy game, but the current quality of Syracuse is equivalent to the kind of school ND is looking for for these buy games)

No one demands every game be against a top-10 opponent, as some not-so-bright critics have alleged. No one demands every game be of top interest. But people do demand the overall quality of the schedule be proper, and if Syracuse is any indication, those demands are not being met.

I bring you again a typical 4-4-4 schedule:

Stanford (tier 3)
Michigan (tier 1)
at Michigan State (tier 2)
at Navy (tier 3)
UCLA (tier 1)
at GaTech (tier 2)
Purdue (tier 2)
UNC (tier 3)
at Penn State (tier 1)
Air Force (tier 2)
vs Army (Orlando) (tier 3)
at USC (tier 1)

For those of you a little slow on the uptake, that's the 2006 schedule slightly rearranged. Quality games scattered throughout the season, two at home, two on the road. Not a lot of home games at the end of the season when it's crappy out. And gee, I think ND did pretty well against that slate, don't you?

As disappointing as the announcement regarding the NBC renewal (and its apparent codification of 7-4-1) was, it's not too late to fix it. And it needs to be fixed.

By the way, the conversation that ensued when I passed the phone message along to my wife:

SHE -- When is the Syracuse game?
ME -- November 22nd
SHE -- To hell with that.

I wish I could marry her all over again.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Quiet Men

An Irish story, indeed, except instead of a man fighting for his wife, these men are charting the future of Irish athletics.

I was chatting with a good friend on campus last week, and the first words out of his mouth were, "It's so quiet right now". I guess he had anticipated an inquiry on the search for a new Athletics Director, and obviously I need a new year's resolution to talk to some folks about more than just ND sports happenings.

But he was right. This truly is the radio silence time of year at Notre Dame, regardless of what's happening. Between graduation day and the third week in June, not a lot is happening on campus. The summer sessions haven't begun, and most of the time is spent decompressing from the last school year before the ramp-up for the next begins. So people tend to use their vacation, schedule off-campus meetings, and otherwise scatter far and wide.

But that's what makes the info hard to come by. Though the mice will play when the cat's away, it's also hard to tell what kind of catnip he's buying while he's gone.

That doesn't mean there's no new info. As my dear friend Rock posted yesterday, ND has not been idle during the quiet time. They've retained an executive search firm (unsure of which specific one) and have started the vetting process. Joel Maturi, like Gene Smith, has taken himself out of the running (in a classy and deferential manner, just as Smith did), which is too bad, but at least it gives the new AD a specific first task in calling Maturi and getting that stadium-opening game set up.

From what I've been told, we can expect the search to "heat up" a tad as the month progresses into July, with school starting up again and more campus activity. If I were a betting man (and this is based completely on a gut feel from offhand talks with a couple people, not any specific info), I would put my money on Steve Orsini being named by the end of July with Rick Chryst as the dark horse. Then again, there's a good reason I don't live in Las Vegas.

This whole process got me thinking about a number of things.

The entire concept of executive search firms befuddles me, especially when they're used to search for a coach. It seems to me a lot of the functions they would serve, like vetting candidates and whatnot, used to be part of the job description of the appointed searchers (like an AD or an EVP). I know the ND folks have more on their plate than finding Kevin White's replacement, and there's a lot of administrative bullshit you have to pour through when you're handling this kind of stuff. But it seems like an effort to distance the searchers from the searchees, making the whole thing really impersonal and CYA-governed. It's reassuring Fr. Jenkins has affirmed it'll be his decision and the buck will stop on his desk, so we'll see how it all turns out.

The difference between coverage of a coaching search and coverage of an AD search could not be more stark. Compare the jungle-animal-instinct masteria of Decembers 2001 and 2004 with today. Right now, Michael Rothstein might have a blog blurb about someone either promoting or excusing themselves. But the rest of the media world seemingly couldn't be less interested. The Decembers of our discontent, on the other hand, had multiple articles every day talking about the ND coaching job and its alleged perceived viability in the known universe. I guess sensationalism sells because effort isn't required. Nobody tell Grantland Rice, he'll cry.

I think there's a site out there that makes some ND admin folks more uncomfortable than we do: FlightAware. Back in the post-Willigham daze, some administrati were getting itchy over the number of posts tracking the ND plane -- "Don't your people have anything better to do with their lives?" was a question posed to me. Now ND is back in the human resources business, and we've already had two threads about where N42ND is or is not headed, so I can hear the scratching from here. Of course, the problem could be solved if they flew commercial. As George Carlin once said, see how often the simplest solutions will elude us.

I still believe handling a relatively-high-profile football program is a good prerequisite for the job, which is why Orsini is high on my list. I realize there are commissioner aspects to the ND job, but I don't think Rick Chryst has enough on-the-ground time at a specific school. Besides, the number of irritated voices from the MAC football group gives me too much pause.

Happy Father's Day to one and all.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

¿Dónde Están los Huevos?

So much for not eulogizing.

Let me start by saying I'm not bogged down by any personal animus towards Kevin White (not that I'm accusing anyone else of it). The few times I met him, he was nothing but cordial and friendly, and I haven't met anyone who has proclaimed him a bad person. He was very accommodating to me when I wrote the book, and we had a very nice discussion at the Austin Carr induction ceremonies. Ergo, I don't feel he was any kind of an ogre or deserving of any personal criticism, and to this very minute, like him personally.

He was, however, a bad fit for Notre Dame. And while we can argue until the cows come home how involved he was or wasn't in the major issues of his tenure, they all carried one common thread that always bugged me:

With Kevin White at the bargaining table, I never got the feeling ND had any balls.

It seems in just about every fracas, discussion or discourse ND engaged in during White's time in office, the Fighting Irish ended up on the short end of the stick. They ended up paying a lot more money to Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham than they were worth, and both men left ND in much better shape financially and professionally than they should have. BCS revenues were cut, with Notre Dame losing $12 million over the last two seasons. NBC seems to have an awful lot of authority in the current contract, with some people on campus saying they're demanding more and more from the school. adidas didn't give Notre Dame the "most favored nation" status Michigan got. Nevada and SDSU were given games in order to move a game with a WAC school. Vendors have more control over ND imagery than they should. The list goes on and on.

Never in any of those situations did I feel Kevin White at least went down swinging. The impression was always we were "being good neighbors" or a similarly conciliatory position. There seemed to be more a concern about the "landscape" or the "game" or (in the case of applicable matters) the "conference" than what Notre Dame needed or wanted. And the minute there was any push-back on issues, Notre Dame seemed to be the side showing their tummy and making concessions.

I don't expect ND's athletic director to be bombastic or caustic, and I certainly understand the value of compromise. But I do expect a better batting average in negotiations than I saw in the last eight years. I also don't claim detailed knowledge of everything Kevin White had to work out in that time. But I'd expect to see more positive results if my position were not correct.

A friend of mine used to say, "You can tell a lot about a guy by the amount of blood on his shirt". I couldn't shake the impression the last eight years that Kevin White was more interested in keeping his jersey clean than he was getting results. At the very least, he seemed to have a pretty light laundry bill.

No one wins every battle, but you never win the battles you don't fight. I might be able to handle the state of affairs better if I had the impression White was fighting to the last man or had at least drawn some blood from the other side in the process. But that's never what it looked like to me. I never believed the other side walked away from the table wishing they hadn't had to give up (A) to get (B). They always looked like they were having their cake and eating it too.

One might argue KW didn't have much to work with. ND football was down, goes the response, so he had to make the best of things. Well, if ND football was down, who was responsible for that? The buck is supposed to stop on the AD's desk. If the poor state of the program was putting him in a disadvantageous position, why not do something to make the position stronger, like make better hires or be more demanding for results? Instead, we got "Sunday through Friday" and multiple examples of a lack of a "list in the drawer".

Accountability is key and results trump all. I can't think of any examples of White holding anyone accountable, nor can I cite any overwhelmingly positive results as a result of his decisions or actions. Instead, it was all about not rocking the boat and keeping everyone happy, be they ND coaches or conference mates or fellow directors.

Well, success sometimes means making people unhappy in the short term. Hopefully, White's successor will see that.

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