One day after Josh Heupel received a substantial raise, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman announced an extension for Tennessee Vols Athletics Director Danny White. As part of that extension, his salary was upped to $2.2 million.
This is the best value in college sports.
In just two years, White may have single-handedly saved Tennessee football. Sure, Josh Heupel is the genius on the field but what White did from an administration perspective is huge.
He was the one who had to navigate through the NCAA investigation.
He was the one who had to make the right hire.
He was the one behind the Tennessee Vols launching the most ambitious NIL collective in the NCAA.
Obviously, the right hire points to Heupel, but make no mistake. There’s no way the football program has the success it’s having without White handling the other two issues.
Considering the fact that Heupel is now making $9 million a year, White is easily the better value. A quick look at the history of UT will tell you that the AD is more important to football success than the coach.
The peak of the modern era for the program was in the 1990s, and at that time, the university was far ahead of the curve in so many areas. That’s why Phillip Fulmer was such a successful recruiter.
Doug Dickey was behind scheduling high-profile non-conference games to keep the school on national TV all the time. They played in the only 100,000 seat stadium in the SEC. Facilities were second to none.
All of these factors led to Fulmer being able to prefer the Jimmy’s and Joe’s to X’s and O’s. It’s no coincidence that Dickey’s tenure as AD began just as UT’s peak run of the modern era began, 1985.
Staying ahead of the curve is the most important thing for the program. White is doing just that. The hire of Heupel alone is ahead of the curve, as he had an understanding that the offense hasn’t been figured out yet.
What White specifically understood was that since Heupel’s offense hasn’t been figured out, he can make an early splash in the SEC. That gives him credibility, and it improves recruiting.
Adding to that, White is embracing change and getting back out ahead of the curve. When discussing UT history in 2021, he noted that the Vols success was at its peak when they broke tradition.
Examples included integrating the team in the 1960s or embracing Title IX in the 1970s, two things they did before the vast majority of SEC programs. Understanding that is crucial at a school like UT.
There are some places where you can have a successful athletic program simply because you’re the main school in a state with elite football talent. LSU, Georgia and Ohio State come to mind.
Tennessee is not one of those places. It takes a bit of creativity, either by hiring a coach whose schemes haven’t been figured out or by staying ahead of the curve administratively to help with recruiting.
Right now, White appears to be doing both. He’s the best athletic director in the country, and his resume before even taking over the Tennessee Vols proves that.
Remember, White took over the UCF Knights in 2015. They went 0-12 that year. Two years later, they would enjoy back to back undefeated regular seasons with different head coaches, one of whom was Heupel.
Now, UCF is about to join a Power Five conference because of the work White did. It’s a threat to the other schools in Florida, and that’s saying something.
Don’t forget White also hired Lance Leipold and Nate Oats while with the Buffalo Bulls, both of whom have gone on to become high-profile names in football and men’s basketball. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s had success.
If the Tennessee Vols had to choose between keeping White or Heupel, White is by far the better choice. Despite Heupel’s greatness, White would make the right hire to replace him.
Beyond just making the right hire, White would make sure the infrastructure is in place for the coach to be successful. He knows what he’s doing, and that’s why he’s the best value in sports.