Jimmy’s blog: Kevin White lists 2 keys to being effective athletic director

(This is the second in a two-part series regarding an exclusive interview with Kevin White, father of Tennessee’s new athletic director Danny White. To listen to the interview, go to 991thesportsanimal.com)

By Jimmy Hyams 

The job of an athletic director is complex.

It requires wearing a variety of hats.

You have to be able to hire good coaches, raise money, balance a budget, field good teams and steer clear of NCAA violations.

Kevin White, outgoing athletic director at Duke, has been in athletic administration for 38 years. He has worked in the Northeast, the South, the West and the Midwest.

White’s middle son, Danny, was hired recently as Tennessee’s fifth athletic director in less than 10 years.

White was asked which of the above five qualities are most important in an athletic director.

His answer: None.

So how would Kevin White define a good athletic director?

“I’ve tried to get my head around this question and I’ve come up with a pretty simple response as of late,’’ Kevin White said in an exclusive interview with WNML radio.

“I think it’s really about two things. It’s about managing the competing political forces. You can not be a successful athletics director unless you’re able to do that.

“You’ve got the acumen. You’ve got (to have) the skill set, the relationship capacity to be able to manage all of the competing political forces. And quite frankly, (you have to have) the street sense, the street instincts.

“The other one … you can delegate a lot of sub-functions within an athletic department, what I call collegiate franchise, at the highest level. A lot of those sub-functions can be delegated. But you can not, you absolutely can not delegate being the face, being the leader, of being the person that, at the end of the day, is the person responsible.

“Managing the political forces and being the leader, I think, it’s a pretty simple recipe. If you’re 2-for-2, and you’re strongly 2-for-2 in those two realms, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.’’

Where Danny White goes 2-for-2 in those realms remains to be seen.

Tennessee has had split political forces, going back to the ouster of head football coach Johnny Majors and the promotion of Phillip Fulmer in 1992.

There were differences in the more recent hiring of athletic director John Currie, the aborted hiring of football coach Greg Schiano, the firing of Currie and the hiring of Fulmer as athletic director.

That isn’t the only challenge Danny White faces. He will have to deal with the likely adoption of Name, Image and Likeness, a one-time transfer rule, escalating coaches’ salaries, buyouts, and possible realignment.

What does Kevin White see as the most difficult challenges?

“At the end of the day,’’ White said, “a lot of them have some kind of financial element tied to them. I continue to worry about the economic model around college athletics. I think that is by far and away the largest challenge that’s facing this generation of athletic directors and administrators. And I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.

“We need to continue to find more ways to generate more resources to provide these world-class experiences for these young people. That’s what they sign up for. And when these coaches are in their living rooms and encouraging young people to come to some of the best  institutions in the country, we’ve not only got to deliver that promise, we’ve got to over-deliver. And there is a financial reality to all of that.’’

Kevin White is convinced his son has the skill set to be a successful athletic director at Tennessee.

Danny White did a marvelous job of hiring coaches at his two previous stops: Bobby Hurley, Nate Oats and Lance Leipold at Buffalo; Scott Frost, Josh Heupel and Johnny Dawkins at Central Florida.

What’s the key to making good hires?

“Homework,’’ Kevin White said. “You’ve got to be able to understand the market place in which you’re operating and perhaps where your institution fits into that respective market place at that moment.’’

While admitting his parental prejudice, Kevin White said son Danny is a “natural leader. he’s incredibly empathetic. He’s highly task oriented. Adaptive. He’s flexible. He’s really passionate, if not intensely passionate. I think for coaches that are equally as aspirational, they’re attracted to somebody like that. I think that’s the package Danny has.

“I think it’s authentic. I don’t think it’s contrived. I think he kind of finds people that are pretty darn compatible with who he is and what’s he’s trying to do.’’

Kevin White said it takes a “village’’ to have a successful athletic department, and that means the school president, chancellor, board of trustees and everyone is “jogging down the same pathway. I know that may sound Pollyanna, but the really great programs in our country have done a really good job of doing just that.’’

Danny’s older brother, Mike, is the men’s basketball coach at Florida.

Could Mike work for Danny?

“Not a chance,’’ Kevin White said. “Not a chance. You grow up in a family of five and you’re the middle of two brothers, not a chance. A lot of blood (shed) playing 1-on-1 (basketball) in the driveway.’’

Kevin White has called the Tennessee athletic department a “magical place’’ and he believes his son can restore the shine that has dimmed in the last decade.

And the father can’t wait to come to Knoxville to watch his son’s sports programs.

“There is no question about that,’’ Kevin White said. “I can’t wait to get over there … and attend some athletic contests.’’


 

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