Doctor Kevin White has announced that he will be stepping down as the University of Notre Dame athletic director. He will be taking the same post at Duke University. He was athletic director at Notre Dame for eight years.
White was hired at Notre Dame on March 13, 2000. He was hired to take the place of former athletic director, Mike Wadsworth. The eight years that White was at Notre Dame was marked by a mixed bag of success and controversy.
White will perhaps be best known, in a positive sense, for the success that the Olympic sports teams had at Notre Dame. Under his direction, the football team benefited from new multi-million dollar facilities.
In 2001, the women’s basketball team won the National Championship. The women’s soccer team won a national championship. The baseball team made it to the College World Series. The women’s fencing team has been a power and has won a national Championship. The state of women’s athletics and Olympic sports has never been better.
Unfortunately for White, he might be remembered best, at least by Notre Dame fans and subway alumni, for his seeming football bumbling hires, raises and firings. Even the men’s basketball hire might not have been his first choice. Maybe, not even his second.
Only a couple months after his hire, Doctor White had to find a replacement for departed men’s coach, Matt Doherty. His first two choices seem to have been Ernie Kent and PJ Carlesimo. Both turned the job down. It was then that White turned his attention to Delaware coach Mike Brey. Brey had unsuccessfully interviewed for the Notre Dame job once before (Doherty was hired). Brey, this time, was offered the position and accepted. But once again, he was not the first choice.
Now to the football fiascos that has frustrated many a Notre Dame fan. In December of 2000, White offered football coach Bob Davie a contract extension after going 9-2 in the regular season. The Irish then proceeded to get spanked by Oregon State in the Fiesta Bowl. The next season, Davie and the Irish went 5-6 and Davie was fired by White.
The next coaching hire was truly a fiasco. White eventually had to go with his third choice. First choice was apparently Jon Gruden, an NFL coach. His father was once an assistant at Notre Dame and everyone thought the job was Gruden’s. However, many believe that Notre Dame President Monk Malloy favored Georgia Tech coach George O’Leary. O’Leary was hired—for one week! O’Leary falsified his transcripts, saying he had a Master’s degree when in fact, he did not. O’Leary was forced to step down after one week on the job.
Next came the hire that might be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. After failing to get Gruden and after the O’Leary scandal, the powers that be thought it would be great to have a little social experiment. Why not hire an African American as head coach? It would be groundbreaking.
Notre Dame could lead the way in the hiring of more African Americans as head coaches. Monk Malloy prodded Kevin White to get Stanford coach Tyrone Lionel Willingham. Willingham, after all, had moderate success at Stanford. In addition, not many talk about this. But, Jesse Jackson made a trip to the University of Notre Dame. Remember, Jackson has stock in the Coca Cola Bottling Company. It just so happens that one of the Board of Trustees was the Vice President of Coke. Willingham was hired. A coincidence?
2002 started out magically for Willingham. The Irish started out 8-0. They would finish 10-3 and Willingham would be voted Man of the Year was by one organization.
28 games later, Willingham was 21-15. He was 13-15 over those 28 games. He was fired. Kevin White, ashen at the announcement, wanted everyone to know non-verbally that he was not responsible for the firing. Most agree that is was the decision of the majority of the Board of Trustees as well as incoming president Father John Jenkins.
Notre Dame was attacked, unmercifully. They were basically called racist for firing Willingham after only three seasons. After all, they could argue that even Gerry Faust was allowed to have all five years of his contract. ESPN and a few personalities, led the charge of racism against Notre Dame. But of course they never mention that Notre Dame gave Willingham the chance to begin with.
So, Doctor Kevin White leaves Notre Dame with a mixed bag of success and controversy. How he is viewed will, perhaps, be best seen in the future.
Coming soon: A look at the prospects who will replace White as the new Notre Dame AD?
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