KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While Vol Nation is celebrating a winning football season, the University of Tennessee's athletic director has a game plan for success across all sports on Rocky Top.
Danny White will tell you he likes winning but don't ask him about losing.
“I hate losing. I hate losing more than I think I like winning," White said.
White said success on the field, court, track and pool is what propels him.
“We won our first-ever SEC All-Sports Cup last year. We’re proud of that. That was way ahead of schedule just like our football program is way ahead of schedule this fall," he said.
A surprise considering when White took the job, not even two years ago, the athletic department and football program were reeling when Athletic Director Philip Fulmer retired following the firing of head football coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Recruiting violations and NCAA punishment were hanging over Rocky Top.
“I told our chancellor early on. That’s kind of what made the opportunity attractive for me. I was in a great place and not really looking to leave, but the opportunity came to rebuild this iconic brand," he said.
White credited the football team’s winning season to a new culture and the right coaches. He remembered the groans after he brought Josh Heupel along with him from the University of Central Florida.
Photos: UT Athletic Director Danny White
“I knew the kind of person and the kind of football coach Josh Heupel was and is, and I’m just excited that fans are getting to see that and it’s obviously a really exciting brand of football," he said.
White called UT fans the most passionate in college football evidenced, most recently, when they took down the goalposts after waiting 15 years to beat Alabama.
“I was thinking, 'Why are these grown men crying and sobbing over me?' I couldn’t believe the emotion on the field,” he said.
Those diehard fans were willing to pay a premium for a seat in Neyland Stadium, even upper-deck tickets sold on third-party sites this season soared into the triple digits.
The husband and father of four said the university is focused on making sure a game is still affordable for families.
“We did a repricing of our stadium and our arena shortly after I arrived, and 60% of our price points in the stadium went down. But when I talk about those prices, I’m talking about season tickets,” he said.
White pointed out the season tickets available for next year number fewer than 5,000.
Like tickets, the value of student-athletes is rising with players profiting from their name, image and likeness.
Vols quarterback Hendon Hooker inked deals with French’s Mustard and Mercedes Benz of Knoxville.
White said he wants UT in the driver’s seat for NIL deals. He called the sweeping change in college athletics a differentiator.
“I think it’s great that student-athletes can monetize their brand. I think there are a ton of nonmonetary benefits. We now have a carrot for young people to really be concerned about how they’re utilizing this platform,” he said.
The man who oversees more than 500 student-athletes said he hopes the deals pay off for them and the university.
Near the end of his second year as AD, this competitor off the field said he has one goal, to be the best athletic department in the country.
“Any sport that’s got the Power T on it, we want to win. We want to compete for championships in both the Southeastern Conference and National Championships,” White said.
He reiterated what he said at the press conference when he was hired for his playbook.
“You can’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. You have to stay focused on the plan,” White said.