Rod Gilmore

Message Board

Saturday, December 15
White has a chance to make up for his mistakes

By Rod Gilmore
Special to

Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White must now hit a home run. He's fanned in his last two at-bats in the all-important selection of a football coach, and may not get another if he whiffs again. After the latest debacle with George O'Leary, Notre Dame fans (and administrators) have to be losing confidence in White.

Regardless of whether you are a Bob Davie fan or not, one has to admit that White blew it with the way he handled the Davie matter and also cost Notre Dame a great deal of money in the process. White handed Davie a five-year extension following last season even though many questioned whether Davie was the right man for the job. Then, barely three games into the 2001 season, White told Davie that he would be fired if he didn't turn the team around. So much for the five-year deal. Eventually, White fired Davie and had Notre Dame pay off the remainder of Davie's deal.

In searching for a replacement for Davie, White refused to hire an outside search firm to assist in the process and to conduct background checks on candidates. I guess he figured he could do it himself -- penny-wise and pound foolish.

White failed to land any of the big-name coaches that the Notre Dame faithful wanted. Bob Stoops, Jon Gruden, Mike Bellotti and Steve Marriucci all said "no thanks." White also bungled the alleged pursuit of Tyrone Willingham, reducing it to no more than a sham. So, in the end, White turned to Georgia Tech's George O'Leary, and had Notre Dame pay Georgia Tech $1.5 million for the right to take O'Leary to Notre Dame. And we all know what has happened with O'Leary -- Notre Dame doesn't have a coach after O'Leary admitted misrepresentations on his resume, and Georgia Tech is $1.5 million richer.

When you add together the Davie payment, the Georgia Tech payment and the lack of a Bowl Championship Series game, one could argue that White's decisions have cost Notre Dame approximately $20 million with no bowl and no coach to show for it.

So, what does White do now? It's simple. White must hire a professional search firm to assist Notre Dame in background checks as he should have done in the first place. This is not a novel idea. Many universities have begun to use such firms in recent years in hiring coaches and putting together staffs.

He must also hire Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders. Hiring Gruden would be the home run White needs. Gruden is talented, young, emotional, good looking, and likely a perfect fit for the college game. He would bring an NFL offense to Notre Dame and embrace Notre Dame's tradition. Reportedly, Gruden is interested in the job, but would never bail out on the Raiders before the end of the season. So, White should wait until he can get him and take the risk of losing this recruiting class. It's worth the risk because Gruden would land more than enough talented classes to make up for the class Notre Dame loses this year. Besides, this recruiting class may be lost anyway.

If White can't land Gruden, then he should turn to Willingham. Willingham knows how to work under strict academic limitations, how to properly represent a university, and how to recruit in the suburbs and inner-city. Stanford granted Notre Dame permission to talk to Willingham about the Notre Dame job, but White never followed up with a formal interview.

White reportedly decided there were too many contractual problems in getting Willingham away from Stanford. Well, that was news to the Willingham camp since White never held contract talks with them. Thus, White gave the public the impression that he was not serious about Willingham, which is consistent with the rarely spoken view that Notre Dame will not hire a black head football coach. White should return to the Willingham camp with an offer in hand to prove he is serious about hiring him.

Gruden and Willingham would be home runs for White, as would Stoops and Mariucci. But all of these guys would cost Notre Dame a lot of money. It's just too bad that Notre Dame already wasted $1.5 million on Georgia Tech with nothing to show for it.

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