Kevin White was cloaked in a cold sweat.
White — the Vice President and Athletic Director of Duke University — had left the office early to help his wife prepare their home for a Board of Trustees meeting. As White was standing in his kitchen, mind swirling, as caterers zoomed past him, preparing the home for 80 guests
Then the phone rang.
“Dad, I’m going to Florida,” a voice said on the opposite end.
“Then Jeremy jumps on and then I have 80 people walk in the front door,” Kevin White said. “I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet.”
White was in attendance on Monday to watch Michael, one of his five children — and oldest of three boys — be introduced as the head basketball coach at the University of Florida.
“It’s surreal, to see one of your — he’s not a child — but one of your children be so passionate about something and have some level some modicum of success and I mean it’s just absolutely surreal,” Kevin said. “It’s far better than if you were ever capable to do it which I was not. It’s far better and far meaningful for one of your kids to do it.”
White played and coached in the SEC at Ole Miss. His familiarity with the SEC as both a player and a coach is something that was immediately appealing to Jeremy Foley when Florida’s AD began the search for a new basketball coach.
After eight years coaching at his alma mater, White took the head-coaching job at Louisiana Tech. Over the course of four years, White won 101 games and took the Bulldogs to three NIT Tournaments. The success he had during his time at Louisiana Tech had garnered suitors from major universities throughout the years but White and his family remained committed to the Bulldogs.
“The biggest factor, again, is us being patient for the right one, and it’s amazing how God works, and it’s ended up that we’re in a place where my wife and I have dreamed about being at a place like this for a long, long time,” Mike White said. “Us both being from Florida, and her growing up and living her entire life in Florida until college, and again, with the opportunity to work with Jeremy and his staff, it’s an amazing opportunity.”
Ultimately, when he received a phone call from Jeremy Foley, the offer was too good to pass up. White prepared for Foley’s visit to his home in Ruston, Louisiana but putting together a packet for Foley. Inside were the first 100 days and what White would aim to accomplish in those first, pivotal days as the head coach at the University of Florida. First on the list is getting to know his players — a process that has begun. White has also met with two of Florida’s 2015 signees and spoken to all of them on the phone. He understands their trepidation but hopes that he will have the opportunity to coach all of them. White understands the precarious situation that the signees are in but he also is fully aware of the prestige of his new job.
“I don’t think we’ve had any final answers yet,” White said on those conversations. “I’m not into begging. I think this place to a certain extent sells itself. I think all four of these guys obviously chose University of Florida for a lot of the right reasons, really all the right reasons. Florida sells itself. This institution sells itself.”
White answered questions for more than 20 minutes. He was honest, direct and eager.
Every coach comes into a new job with the mindset to “win the press conference”, give a good first impression.
White can check that off of his list but many of the questions he faced are ones that won’t go away.
White is replacing not just a legend at the University of Florida, but a giant in the entire landscape of college basketball. Many of the questions fired his way were in some roundabout way about Donovan and the job he did, the legacy he left behind, the comically large shoes he left to fill.
“It’s an absolute honor of mine to replace Billy Donovan, one of the best coaches in the history of this game,” said White. “I have tremendous respect and admiration for the legacy that he leaves, and it’s my charge to continue the momentum that he’s maintained for an amazing 19 years.”
White’s legacy started on Monday, May 11 in the very same room that Billy Donovan’s started some 20 years ago. He’ll be clawing his way out of Donovan’s shadow, ultimately until he finds the same level of success that Donovan did or proves that he can’t.
The saying in sports is that you never want to follow “THE GUY.” You want to be the guy who follows “the guy.”
White doesn’t have that luxury. An opportunity to great to pass up presented itself and, Donovan’s legacy or not, he had to jump at it without any trepidation.
“[I] Didn’t have any whatsoever. That was one of the first questions that Jeremy asked me,” White said when asked if he had any trepidation about replacing a coach like Donovan. “My answer to him is I would absolutely embrace the opportunity to follow a legend and to learn from a lot of the people that helped him along the way.
“It’s more of embracing the fact that you have a great, great job that Coach Donovan has built. I think it was a good job when he got here, and now it’s a great job.
It will be tough, but nobody goes into the coaching profession thinking it will be easy. It may come with some bias, but White’s father thinks his son has the fortitude to handle the job.
“You’re talking to his father here, so you have to take it with a grain of salt, but I’ve been in this for 41 years, in athletics, and, arguably — and maybe not even arguably — he’s the toughest S.O.B that I know. He’s a very tough kid.”