Share this article

print logo

Bulls in good hands with 'college athletics brat'

The first thing that stood out Tuesday after his broad smile and altar-boy looks was the ease with which he took the lectern. That might seem silly because, really, how much charisma can a man show by walking across a stage, shaking a few hands and saying the right things?

Danny White is 32 years old. He has never run a college athletics department. He has never been the head coach of a Division I sport. The highlight of his college basketball career was making the only three-pointer he attempted while warming the bench 10 years ago for Notre Dame after transferring from Towson University.

Only it wasn't long before you realized this baby-faced father of three who was born in Kentucky, graduated from high school in Louisiana and arrived from Mississippi was an ideal fit for the University at Buffalo. White will be the youngest athletics director for a school in the Football Bowl Subdivision when he takes over next month.

White confidently addressed his superiors, subordinates and the public Tuesday without overselling his credentials like a politician or sounding like an overconfident outsider who was going to show Buffalo a thing or two about college sports. Instead, he arrived with intelligence that can help Buffalo take the next step in college sports.

"I want a staff full of people," he said, "who want my job."

If you didn't know any better, you would have thought White was speaking to his family at the dinner table rather than introducing himself to his new community. His calm demeanor and clear message came across like it was second nature, the way it often does from someone comfortable in his own skin and with the subject matter.

And he was.

Forget his age and a perceived lack of experience. College sports are in his blood. He had an 18-year internship bouncing from state to state while his father built his own career. Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke.

Danny White had an easier time holding his news conference than he did remembering where he lived during his childhood. He was born in Morehead, Ky., but to say he's from there would be to assume he's from anywhere. He's an NCAA nomad who spent about as much time in Kentucky as he had in Amherst.

His parents were high school and college track coaches who left Kentucky when Danny was still in a cradle. He lived in southeast Missouri and central Michigan before his father took a job at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. White learned cross-country skiing and hockey -- "I'm terrible," he said -- during a five-year stint in Maine.

They moved to New Orleans while his father worked at Tulane University when he was in high school. He attended Towson University while his parents continued to Arizona State and Notre Dame. He played two years of basketball at Towson, had knee problems, transferred to Notre Dame and earned a degree in business.

"I'm from America," White said. "I'm a college athletics brat."

See, college athletics is the White family business. It's in their DNA.

His brother, Mike, is the head basketball coach at Louisiana Tech. Another brother, Brian, is associate AD at the same school. They learned more through osmosis about running programs than most people do in a lifetime. Their father for years has discussed putting the proper pieces into place and building what he calls "a collegiate franchise."

"Danny is a heck of a lot brighter than I am," said his father, who was in town for the news conference. "He's a thousand times more prepared to function in this environment than I was at his age.

"It's our way of life. For a crazy set of reasons, our family has really chosen this path. We love it to death, almost too much at times. Danny has the ability to take it to another level and clearly beyond what I've done."

Understand, there's a good chance White's time in Buffalo is temporary. It's actually good for UB. If the university becomes a stepping stone toward something greater, it means the school will continue to attract top candidates who are young, progressive and motivated. It takes time, but that's how strong programs are built.

Warde Manual had no experience running a D-I program when he arrived from Michigan. Manual pushed UB in the proper direction before he left for the University of Connecticut. His success made White's hiring easy to accept because he proved an abundance of intelligence, not a lack experience, is what matters most.

White is certainly sharp. He has master's degrees in business and sports management from Ohio University and is working on his doctorate. His primary responsibility at Ole Miss was raising money. It's precisely what UB needs given the economy and the financial issues with the state. "I'm very passionate about this," White said. "I've been around it my whole life. It's something where you feel like you can be successful. From a very young age, I feel like I've had a competitive advantage because I know what it takes to be successful in this profession. I have such a strong background that it's given me an opportunity."

For UB to become big-time, it needs to think big-time. It's the largest and has the most potential for major sports of any school in our region. White talked about commitment and the need for the community to buy into UB's mission. And he was right.

UB can compete in football, but it needs a new field house that could be used for practice and help recruiting. Manuel suggested many times it also could be used for community events and high schools. The basketball program is strong but could be better with more money that would boost daily operations and recruiting.

Space is plentiful on the Amherst campus for many upgrades. It needs an on-campus baseball complex rather than the field it uses behind Northtown Center in Amherst, which is an embarrassment. Do we really need to revisit the endless suggestion that they add a Division I hockey program given the natural resources and interest?

"I don't even know where the restroom is yet," White said with a smile. "It's going to take a few minutes to figure things out."

It all starts with generating more revenue, which White said was in his "wheelhouse." Students and the community need to get involved whether it means pumping more money into the athletic department or showing up to more events. The school needs to tap into its massive alumni.

Simply, people need to care.

UB hired another one who does.