New Tennessee director of athletics Danny White isn’t a stranger to hiring football coaches -- he’s done it three times. He also isn’t new to starting a new job and immediately having to hire a new football coach -- he did it at UCF when he hired Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost to rebuild the Knight’s program.
The search always starts and ends the same way: with the players.
“Ideally, it starts and ends with the student athletes,” White said of his process of hiring coaches. “I want to hear from them first and I want them to be the first ones to know who their new coach is. What happens in between, there’s a whole lot going on there and I’m going to do a lot of homework. I’ve spent a lot of time researching. I’m fortunate to have a pretty significant network in collegiate athletics, I realize it’s probably because of the way I grew up, but I can get a candid opinion of them and understand who they are from a character standpoint. I don’t want to even be interviewing someone if I have questions about them.”
Amidst an NCAA investigation, Tennessee’s new director of athletics echoed the same message that Chancellor Donde Plowman and UT President Randy Boyd did on Monday, a need for a coach that will do things the right way and not take shortcuts.
White’s message went even deeper into character and the need for someone that will serve as a good role model for players.
“Integrity is an enormous part of who I am, of who we hire,” White said. “I want a head coach that I can trust unequivocally, and that that person is going to hire a staff of high character people. That goes beyond just staying within the rules and following regulations whether that be university, conference, NCAA. It’s having the right morale compass that will rub off on our student athletes. Be a role model for our student athletes.”
How does that affect Tennessee’s search in particular? Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has been a popular name amongst fans and fits the profile of White’s past hires, a young offensive coach.
However, off the field problems have plagued Kiffin since his lone season as the Vols’ head coach in 2009.
White won’t have to look hard to find answers about Kiffin’s character and suitability for the Tennessee job as Danny’s brother Brian is Florida Atlantic’s athletic director and was Kiffin’s boss for three years.
While Kiffin is a popular name amongst Vol fans, White says that will have no impact on his search and in his past coaching searches the ultimate hire wasn’t often on fans' and media’s radar.
“The last few coaching searches I’ve done at UCF, there’s that list of one, two, three, four, five and everybody’s debating who that should be,” White said. “The people we’ve hired haven’t even been on that list. I’m not paying attention to that list. If I am, why even hire me? You might as well just look at the list and start calling them up and see who will do it. It’s way more in depth in that. We’re going to be expansive in our search and make sure we turn over every single stone.”
“We’d love to excite our fanbase with whatever the hire is, and we hope we do. Sometimes when I’m in a room with people with opinions, and they’re way smarter than me. They could be a doctor or an electrician and they can all do jobs that I would not be able to do in a million years. But I’m a reasonably smart person and I’m going to be very very close to this and I’m going to have all the facts on hand and I’m going to do my very best to make the best decision for the University of Tennessee.”
White will look to move quickly in hiring the Vols’ new head coach with signing day under two weeks away and multiple Tennessee players in the transfer portal.
When asked whether interim head coach Kevin Steele was a candidate or not, White sidestepped, saying everyone in the room was still a candidate at that point. Still, Steele’s age, 62, and his defensive background make him an unlikely candidate for White to peg.
Even with an established athletic director in White, Tennessee could be a difficult job to sell due to the ongoing NCAA investigation. While White doesn’t believe the fallout will be “crippling” he did acknowledge the importance honesty would play in his side of hiring a new coach.
“Just looking at case precedent of other NCAA cases, until it’s done no one will know exactly what the final results are but we’ll be very transparent and honest with the candidates involved in the search and give them a good forecast for what that will look like.”
White’s track record of hiring coaches is phenomenal both in football and basketball, revolutionizing UCF football with the hire of Scott Frost and stabilizing the Buffalo program with the hire of Lance Leipold.
White will look to do what no one in Knoxville has done in the last 12 years, hire a football coach that can successfully turn around the reeling Volunteer program.