It was never a question of if, but when would Danny White leave UCF. But that doesn't mean White left UCF early. After all, it has been six years since he came and turned UCF's athletic department around. Now he leaves behind a legacy and plans to build a new one at Tennessee.
Before we address the question of what is next for UCF, let's look at why White is leaving.
Danny White is not leaving because he is unhappy with UCF. White had the support of the school's newest leader in President Dr. Alexander Cartwright. White played a big role in convincing powers at the school to choose Cartwright when they went looking for a new president. The two worked together at Buffalo and Cartwright saw what Danny White did with that program. White is being paid as good and better than most Power 5 ADs and he has the support of most fans and boosters. I say most, because every school has donors and fans that are never happy.
So why leave? Yes, there is the lure of the SEC and the endless faucet of cash of leading a program in that league that will pay schools around $70 million per year in media money in the coming years. There is the opportunity to hire a football coach and rebuild a program that has won a national championship. And sometimes, a person feels like there are opportunities you cannot pass up and perhaps this is that moment for White.
But there is no denying that Danny White had his frustrations with a system that told him that no matter what his football team did on the field and no matter how much money he raised and no matter how successful his non-football teams were, there was/is no guaranteed path to a Power 5 conference. None. And after six years, maybe it just began to wear on White.
White has pushed for an expansion of the college football playoff since UCF's magical 13-0 season in 2017. He saw his football team go undefeated in the regular season again in 2018 and not get any consideration for a playoff spot. He expressed his frustrations on national platforms and found few that could actually change the format stepping forward to show support, even his commissioner in the AAC.
The money issue is real and remains a challenge no matter who the AD at UCF is. In its new deal with ESPN, UCF hopes to make around $7M per year. Add in additional monies via bowls, NCAA Basketball Tournament and licensing and it might get to around $10-12M. That's called a month for a program in the SEC. That means you have to work harder to get donors to see your vision and sell them on something you hope can happen. But that dream remains hard to sell.
UCF has better facilities than some Power 5 programs. They field better teams than bigger brands in many sports. They sit in a top 20 media market. They have the largest enrollment in the country. Yet, there is no guaranteed path to a major conference. There is no opportunity to play your way into one of those leagues.
UCF is not alone. Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston and others have committed resources to build bigger and better facilities and pay coaches large salaries and grow their fan bases. In some cases, these schools are better than some of those P5 programs, yet they can't get in the club. Remember, Washington State, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Baylor get Power 5 money because they exist in their leagues. None of those schools are the reason their conferences have media deals in the billions.
Is it fair? Life is not fair. But maybe Danny White reached his point of "what else can I do?". Maybe he looked around and said Tennessee is a new place to build something. The Vols are facing NCAA violations and a once proud football program finds itself on rocky ground, not rocky top.
In Knoxville, White gets to hire a football coach, something every AD wants to do. The man who hired Lance Leipold at Buffalo and Scott Frost and Josh Heupel at UCF can make another splash. And if Tennessee can return to be a contender in the SEC East, White will add to his legacy and he will do it at a school where he doesn't have to worry about money as much.
The fact that White stayed six years is a testament to himself and UCF. Danny White loved being the AD at UCF. He was proud to help build a brand where everyone in the nation had an opinion about the Knights, even it was not a favorable view- they were still talking about you.
As someone at UCF for 26 years, White was different than many who came before him. He understood UCF and what makes the AD job at the school different. It's not a P5 program today yet he operated the department as if it was and convinced his staff to believe in his vision and a fan base bought in.
Many have felt that coaches and ADs look at, and use, UCF as a stepping stone to the next big job. That may be true and that be the case for many years to come. But White planted his roots here. His family loves Orlando and Danny White proved his loyalty by the many jobs he turned down and interviews he never took. Many came calling but White felt at home here. Until Tennessee called and maybe got him at the right moment with a level of frustration, not from UCF, but from the system handcuffing his program.
So as White moves on what is next for UCF?
Within hours after the news of White's departure, I had 5 text messages from people asking about the job for someone interested. There are sitting ADs who want the job. There are top assistant ADs at Power 5 schools that want the job. There are many in the college sports industry that want the job. And there are several internal staff members at UCF who would love to be considered. The UCF job is arguably the top non-P5 job in the country for the many reasons listed above.
UCF should take its time. The school needs to find the right candidate who understands why the job is unique. You cannot take principles that may work at P5 school and apply those at UCF because it worked at this school. It won't work. UCF is different. The Orlando market is different.
If it takes a few months, so be it. UCF has several in-house candidates to serve as an interim AD as the search begins. Any maybe one of those internal candidates is the right choose for a simple transition.
But this hire as important as any in the last 25 years for the school. While it's tough to see conference expansion happen in a P5 league in the next year or two, media deals on the horizon in some of the bigger leagues could trigger opportunities. UCF remains a logical choice if a league looked at a G5 school, but there are no guarantees.
So as Danny White's era at UCF ends, he leaves behind a legacy tough to match but for UCF...time to Charge On!
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