I jumped off the Kevin White bandwagon a long time ago, around the time of the O'Leary fiasco and the renegotiation of the BCS deal.
However, with his departure to North Carolina to lead the athletic department of the Duke Blue Devils, I wanted to take a moment to give credit to White for his major successes as the leader of the Fightin' Irish, as many people are loathe to do.
First and foremost, White hired Coach Weis to lead the football program. Say what you will about the Urban Meyer fiasco, or Weis' 3-9 season last year. But no matter which way you slice it, White should be credited for bringing in the man who rebuilt (almost from scratch) the nation's premier football program. Weis, unlike his predecessor, is an obsessive workaholic who understands the university (Weis was class of '77), and will give his entire life to bringing the football program back to the pinnacle of college football.
And it is from that mold hat we should frame our search for a new athletics director.
Now, I'm not calling White lazy, as I have no idea what type of work ethic he had. However, he did not "get" Notre Dame the way the true Notre Dame men and women do. His 7-4-1 scheduling philosophy, the SDSU and Nevada scheduling debacle, the BCS renegotiation, and his unwillingess to rise up to meet the overtures of schools like Alabama for a home-and-home (related to the 7-4-1, I know) all showed that he did not appreciate or understand how to leverage Notre Dame's unique position of independence.
Therefore, I believe that Notre Dame needs to tap into it's vast financial resources and hire, at whatever cost, the best candidate for the position.
And in my mind, there are only a handful of people that should even be considered.
My number one target would be Gene Smith, the athletic director of Ohio State. A 1977 graduate of the University and member of its 1973 football team who won the national championship, he is certainly experienced enough with the Notre Dame program to understand the uniqueness of this team. He is currently the AD at a top 5 athletics department in the nation, at a school with a top tier football program. Under his watch, the football team has separated themselves from the pack in the Big Ten, going to back-to-back National Title games, and being favored to head there again this season. More importantly, much of the controversy that surrounded the program at the beginning of the Tressel era has settled down under his watch. The basketball program has also appeared in the National Title game under his watch. The drawbacks to Gene Smith are that he did not hire either of the coaches at Ohio State under his watch, as he has been there only a couple of years. There is some concern that he may be reaping the benefits of the previous administration.
Also, Mr. Smith appears to have taken his hat out of the ring, in a recent statement. However, I would not allow that to deter Notre Dame from making a substantial offer to Mr. Smith to lure him away. I think he is the best candidate, and should be made an offer he can't refuse.
My only non-Notre Dame target would be Jeremy Foley, the AD at Florida, who outmaneuvered us for the services of Urban Meyer, and is the highest paid AD in the country and has been responsible for resurrecting Florida from a one-hit wonder to THE premier athletics program in the country, hands down. He would be tough to pull away, as he is essentially tenured at Florida, with a ridiculous salary and all but guaranteed to be there until retirement age under his current contract.
Steve Orsini is also a top target, the current director at Southern Methodist, and also a captain of the 1977 National Championship team at Notre Dame. His major credit was building Central Florida literally from nothing to a Conference USA member and contender in all sports, including Division I football. The knock on Orsini is his lack of top tier football experience, as the most prestigious football school he's been involved in was Georgia Tech. Also, Orsini's current post at SMU is (like Smith's) only a couple of years old, and he may be unwilling to give up on his commitment there so soon.
There are other people that I would be willing to accept as athletics director, but I would make every effort to secure one of these candidates before seriously considering the second tier candidates in the hunt (Barry Alvarez, Missy Conboy, etc.).