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Leadership top criterion for Irish AD

When Gene Corrigan became Notre Dame’s athletic director in 1980, the job was much different than it is now. His staff was infinitesimal compared to the one currently working in South Bend.

It’s changed so much, Corrigan isn’t sure he could imagine the complete list of differences. College athletics has become a multi-billion dollar business but one thing, Corrigan said, hasn’t changed.

“People can say you need to be a fund-raiser and everything,” said Corrigan, the Notre Dame athletic director from 1981-87. “What you need to be is a leader. You’ve got a lot of energetic, high-maintenance people that work with you and for you, and your job is to make sure that you’re running that athletic program in a way that keeps the institution from having to apologize in any way for the athletic program.

“The number one thing is to be able to provide leadership.”

One potential candidate for the job to replace Kevin White, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, pulled himself from consideration Tuesday afternoon by releasing a statement. Smith is a former football player and assistant coach at Notre Dame.

“I have the utmost respect for Notre Dame and great admiration for the university and its athletics department,” said Smith, who also included that the school did not contact him. “But I will not be a candidate for the job there.”

What the new Notre Dame athletic director will have to lead and manage through, though, is different than any other school in the country.

Being an independent in football, the person who ends up filling the vacancy must be able to handle sitting in meetings with conference commissioners and representing the needs of a one-team conference.

The job also requires someone who can negotiate television deals, apparel deals and put together a football schedule. Most athletic directors, with schools in football conferences, have at least half of their schedules dictated every season.

Another portion is the scope of the Notre Dame job. While the intercollegiate aspect is visible, the Irish AD must also deal with intramural and recreation sports. At many other campuses, those parts are handled by a separate group or different department.

“I don’t think it takes a different skill set,” said White, who left Notre Dame on Saturday to take a similar position at Duke. “It’s just a different range of responsibilities. You have to have a staff surround you that can help you with that, and I was very fortunate at Notre Dame.

“We had a highly skilled and competent staff that helped us with a litany of responsibility.”

That’s part of what White left behind. White said, though, that doing the job successfully means being able to delegate different aspects of the job to different people.

Two of Notre Dame’s former athletic directors agree the school needs to find someone who fits the university mission in academics and athletics.

“If we get somebody who really understands Notre Dame and supports it, appreciates it,” said Dick Rosenthal, Notre Dame’s athletic director from 1987-95, “then the rest of it will fall in line pretty quickly.”