Duke AD White left Notre Dame for right reasons
Posted July 7, 2008
During a Monday afternoon luncheon at the Yoh Center on Duke’s campus, the Blue Devils new AD tackled plenty of topics, including why he left South Bend for The Triangle
“I think this was just a challenge that excited the heck out of me,” White said. “It was an opportunity to be in the ACC and come to a place that in its own way is terribly storied and had its own mystique…It just seemed like the right institution at the right time.”
White’s family is set to move to Durham later this week. However, his wife, Jane, is already seeing some changes.
My wife said it best, “This is going to make us younger,” White said. “She’s already sensing I’m running a little faster and a little harder. I’m going to have a whole lot of fun here. I can tell you that right now.”
White certainly has a full plate in front of him and a good understanding of what needs fixing. Duke’s football and baseball programs are in dire need of makeovers, not facelifts. Those are his words.
“It couldn’t be any more critically important,” White said of getting his struggling football program off the ground. “It’s important to the entire athletics department at Duke. College football has a chance to be a financial engine. In most places in I-A it is the financial engine of the athletics department. It also can be a bit of the emotional engine. The emotion that comes with a successful college football program sets the tone for the academic year for the entire campus.
“I think we need to get excited in August and not wait until November. I think that will have a huge impact on the University and the whole culture.”
Two friends help bring White to Durham
Yet, White seems to think the football team is in good hands with head coach David Cutcliffe. After all, White might not be in Durham today if it wasn’t for Cutcliffe.
“David was a large part of the equation for me,” White said. “We’ve got a really significant challenge with the football program. To have somebody like David in that leadership position was exciting for me. If we didn’t have somebody that was an accomplished leader with a track record of success, it would have made it a much more difficult decision. I think with David we’ve got a heck of a chance to get this thing moving and moving quickly and that’s fun.”
Cutcliffe wasn’t the only long-time friend who helped land White in Durham. Former ACC Commissioner and Notre Dame AD Gene Corrigan was also a significant factor.
“Gene has been a lifelong friend,” White said. “If I’ve had one single mentor in this business since 1982, it would be Gene Corrigan. Gene’s opinion means an awful lot to me. He was excited about this Duke opportunity and had called me first of all to ask if I would provide a couple of names of other folks who they should or might look at. The more he talked to me I got personally excited about what I heard. This is just a good time to come to Duke…The stars have lined up for a lot of different reasons.
“Gene was really good about involving me in their greater process and identifying prospects and then kind of turned the radar gun on me and said, “Would you, could you, might you have an interest,” which I did. And the rest is history. Gene was a catalyst in this thing no question about it.”
Work hard, play hard
White has been a hands-on AD at previous stops including Tulane and Notre Dame, and Cutcliffe raved about how involved he is away from the field of play.
“Where I got to know him the most was in the recruiting process and wow was he involved in football recruiting,” Cutcliffe said. “This guy is going to have some parties and is going to generate some enthusiasm. His whole family is going to be involved in what he does…He wants to be an aid to the programs and I think every program at Duke will benefit from Kevin White’s hire.”
“I love what I do and I can talk the business stuff and I enjoy it,” White said. “But I do all of that to be around the student athletes and the coaches.”
“What I really love is game day. I do the rest of it and I do it with great enjoyment. But I do it out of a love for game day. Recruiting is very much a part of that. Being a part of the families, the student-athletes families, and being a part of that process, I love all of that.”
The mere mention of social functions brought up some fond memories for White and his old pal, former Saints quarterback Archie Manning. The two struck up a friendship while living in New Orleans almost 20 years ago.
“He’d come to our house every one of our Friday night home football parties,” White said. “We’d invite benefactors and trustees and others. Archie with no connection to Tulane, only because he lived in the neighborhood and he became a great friend, always wanted to help. And he’d come and work the room for about an hour Friday night with his wife Olivia. And then he’d always come over and find me and put his arm around me and say, “Did I get to the right guys and is there anybody else I need to work before I leave?” He worked the room better than anyone I paid. He was an unpaid helper.”
During those Friday night visits, White became familiar with an up-and-coming offensive coordinator at The University of Tennessee.
“No one loves David Cutcliffe, more importantly, no one respects David Cutcliffe more than Archie Manning, White said. “For me that always spoke volumes. He’s been telling me about David Cutcliffe since way back in the early 90’s. He just was so high on David and obviously entrusted his two sons to David. That says more than anything anybody can say. Archie is one of the great guys and I’m so thankful we have David Cutcliffe here at Duke.”
Coach K’s successor
The topic of possibly having to replace Mike Krzyzewski, should he decide to retire during White’s tenure, was also broached. As you could imagine, White is hopeful Coach K will be on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
“I’m going to work like hell not to have to worry about that for a long time,” White said. “We’ve got the best coach in any sport at any level at Duke and I just hope he’s going to be here for a long time.”
Of course, there’s the age-old question of whether or not White’s former employer’s football team will ever join a conference, too. The chances of that happening anytime soon don’t seem to be very good.
“I think there’s probably been any number of those kinds of studies that have been facilitated by people within the institution and people on the internet,” White said. “They’re never ending. Maybe a study a week. Notre Dame is really interested, at least at this point in their history, in maintaining their independent status in football. It’s served them really well to this juncture. They just signed a new deal with NBC. I don’t look for that to change during my professional lifetime.”
The deal with NBC runs through 2016. Plus, the Irish have a sweetheart deal with the BCS that’s probably too good to pass up as long as the system exists.
Regardless, White is looking forward to a new chapter in his life.
“Being in the ACC is pretty darn exciting to somebody who has waged the wars on the independent side of the ledger for the last eight years,” he said. “Being a part of one of the premier conferences in the country, the ACC, is for me pretty appetizing at this point.”