"That's not our call," White said. "Personally, I have great respect for Tony. I was very disappointed that outcome became a reality. We had absolutely nothing to do with his contractual situation. I read a couple of comments today that we did. No one called to ask."
White addressed this and a wide-range of issues in a 90-minute meeting with the press contingent. From football to basketball to improvements in the facilities, the AD was blunt and engaging about his assessment of the Notre Dame athletic program.
The biggest thing going on campus is football head coach Charlie Weis. In his first-year with the Irish, he led Notre Dame to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. The rapid success led White and Notre Dame to give Weis a 10-year contract extension in mid-season. This caused some analysts to decry the move because former head coach Tyrone Willingham won his first eight games with the Irish but did not receive this same type of appreciation. White knows that being associated with Notre Dame causes a higher level of scrutiny in college football and defended the move.
"There is very little that we can do that doesn't cause a backlash," White said. "I took a real, hard look in the position we were in and I felt our momentum was dramatically improving. I felt we were going to have a great recruiting class and a significant number of suitors at the end of the season and we already had a few overtures. I think I would have been irresponsible not to do that.
"As the classic New York cynic, I wanted to make darn sure we had it just right from the university standpoint. I felt that was my responsibility in terms of security and compensation. I didn't want to leave any potential forces that might leak in to the equation. At the same time, Charlie has made it clear from the day he's got here that he wanted to stay here long-term and finish his career here. He had never given me any other indication. But the New York cynic took over in me."
The move to re-up with Weis appears to be a strategically brilliant one. The excitement level in the Notre Dame football program is back. Weis signed a top-five recruiting class this past season. He's got a verbal commitment for next year's class from the top-ranked high school player in the nation in quarterback Jimmy Clausen. He's turned Brady Quinn into a Heisman Trophy candidate and the Irish will be ranked in the preseason top-10 next year.
Add that to the fact that 10 NFL head coaching vacancies were available after last season. Surely, one would have made a move to gauge Weis's interest in returning to a league where he won multiple Super Bowl rings as an assistant coach. White said he expects Weis to be at Notre Dame "for a very long time" and the buyout now for interested teams went from "pretty big" to "Herculean." White did admit that in the NFL, the resources for such an insanely high financial offer is possible under the current financial landscape.
"The ability to move in and out of this contract is more challenging," White said. "The resources at the next level are mind-boggling. With every year that passes, things will evolve in the NFL. Coaching hires are the points of difference. With all the other inhibitors in the system, the point of difference an NFL team can enjoy is a coaching hire. There is no salary cap in that realm. In the NFL, it's not unusual to hear about a $5 million deal times five years. That's become commonplace. Over the next three or four years, I would expect double digit coaching contracts."
White did say that no Notre Dame coach enjoys a parachute out to a particular institution or pro team. This might calm the conspiracy of Weis returning to the New England Patriots once Bill Belichick moves on or going to Dallas after Bill Parcells retires.
Scheduling was another major topic of discussion. Over the years, Notre Dame has regularly played one of the tougher schedules in the nation. The focus now and for the future is to lessen this difficulty. White said the goal of the football program is to win national championships and this is one move to help achieve this purpose.
"I think we need to have a schedule that's conducive for success," White said. "If you look at the people winning it the past five or six years and look at their strength of schedule, that's the strength of schedule we need to emulate. We don't need to be scheduled over the top. I've been an outspoken proponent of that."
Starting in 2009, White said that Notre Dame, with the addition of the 12th game, will have a 7-4-1 format in scheduling. That means seven home games, four road games and one off-site game. One of the road games would try to be held at Giants Stadium at the Meadowlands against a Big East opponent, always a favorable road game for the Irish.
Possible locations for the off-site contests are Jacksonville, Orlando, New Orleans and Dallas. Jacksonville (Gator Bowl) and Dallas (Cotton Bowl) are cities where the Irish have a bowl tie-in. More importantly, all four are in the talent-rich South where prospective players and fans alike can see Notre Dame football first-hand. It's all part of a movement back to the past.
"Over time, we began to behave like a wannabe conference member," White said. "I think it's important to go back to our roots and act more like an independent and back to the Rockne barnstorming days. Win the headlines in different parts of the country that will have a significant impact on recruiting."
Asked if this was an indicator that Notre Dame was distancing itself from possible future conference affiliation, White said "that would be a very accurate depiction."