New Tennessee athletic director Danny White doesn’t have time to settle in to his new job on Rocky Top. The former Central Florida athletic director was thrust into the responsibility of finding a new head football coach for the Vols as soon as he signed the dotted line to replace the retiring Phillip Fulmer.
White was hired last Thursday, three days after Tennessee announced it had fired Jeremy Pruitt with cause, and that Fulmer would also be stepping away from the program. UT held White’s introductory press conference the following day.
“I want a head coach that I can trust unequivocally, and I know that person will hire a staff full of high-character people,” White said during his introductory press conference in regards to the coaching search he would soon begin to conduct. “That goes beyond just staying within rules and following regulations, whether they be university, conference or NCAA. It’s bigger than that. It’s having the right moral compass that’s going to rub off on our student-athletes. Be a role model for our student-athletes and make sure that we’re developing them in every way possible, that their parents will be proud of, that all of us will be proud of. Integrity is huge.”
White has a tremendous track record of hiring coaches during his career. As the athletic director at Buffalo from 2012-15, he made three hires, two on the basketball court and one on the football field.
On the hardwood, White hired former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley in 2013. Hurley went 42-20 during his time at Buffalo and led them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance. After Hurley left for the Arizona State job, White hired current Alabama head coach Nate Oats, who led the Bulls to three NCAA Tournaments in four seasons. Oats currently has the Crimson Tide ranked inside of the top 10 in his second year in Tuscaloosa.
White hired Lance Leipold to be Buffalo’s football coach in 2015 after going 109-6 in eight seasons at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater. Leipold is 37-33 during his time in Buffalo, guiding the Bulls to a 37-33 record and three straight bowl appearances in six seasons.
“I think that what I’ve tried to do is similar to how we market our program, in terms of building a brand,” White said when asked about how he’s been able to make outside-the-box hires during his career. “Whether it be in a community, building a compelling case for support and philanthropy, I think the same is true for hiring a coach. How are you landing in a space where it’s distinctive? What is different about this person that’s going to change things in a positive way for your program? It’s going to change the type of kid or the type of talent you can get from a recruiting standpoint. What’s their vision from a scheme standpoint that makes sense for your institution geographically, recruiting-wise?
“At the end of the day, what I would like to do and what I typically do is narrow a list to those that I feel comfortable with from a character and integrity standpoint, that I feel like there is something distinctive. That makes them stand apart, that’s different about the prospect of their leadership. On paper, on video, you can do a whole lot of research online, as I do. At some point, it comes down to a gut feeling. The interviews matter and winning the job really matters. That’s where the final decision comes.”
White had great success at hiring coaching during his time at UCF as well, where he was the Knights’ director of athletics from 2015 until last Thursday.
The 41-year old hired Scott Frost in 2016 and a year later, Frost led UCF to a perfect 13-0 record and a Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl win over Auburn. Frost parlayed his success into the head coaching job at Nebraska, forcing White to make yet another hire. White hired Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who has gone 28-8 in the three seasons since replacing Frost.
White was also forced to hire a basketball coach during his time at Central Florida. He made the decision to hire Johnny Dawkins following eight seasons at Stanford. In his first three years on the job at UCF, Dawkins led the Knights to an 83-48 record, which includes one NCAA Tournament appearance.
“Schematically, that’s a more complicated conversation,” White said. “I’m not at a place yet where we’ve identified (candidates). I need to talk to these student athletes and do a lot of work, starting today, on what type of recruiting plan, scheme, and vision we think is going to give us the best opportunity to compete in the Southeastern Conference.
“We’re not going to try to win the press conference by making a decision we don’t feel good about in the short and long term as the best leader to take us where we all want to be.”
White signed a five-year contract with the Vols last week. He will earn $1.8 million initially at Tennessee, making him the highest-paid athletic director in the SEC and the fourth-highest paid public AD in the entire country, according to data compiled in summer 2020 for AthleticDirectorU by attorneys Robert Lattinville and Roger Denny.