Tennessee is hiring Central Florida’s Danny White as its athletics director, a person with knowledge of the move told USA TODAY Sports.
The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the school had not yet announced the hire. It is expected to become official Thursday afternoon.
The deal with White, long considered one of the top young administrators in college sports, comes just three days after Tennessee cleaned house at the top of its athletic department by firing football coach Jeremy Pruitt and parting ways with athletics director Phillip Fulmer.
Moving so quickly on a new athletics director signals that Tennessee will be aggressive about searching for a new football coach and does not plan to use 2021 as an interim year for Kevin Steele, who was named to that position this week.
Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. (Photo: Randy Sartin, USA TODAY Sports)
White will take over a difficult situation at Tennessee, whose football program has spiraled over the last decade. There could also be NCAA penalties looming after the school launched an investigation into alleged violations late last year, which ultimately led to firing Pruitt for cause and theoretically avoiding more than $12 million in buyout money. Pruitt, per his attorney, plans to fight for that money through litigation.
But White has had to rebuild in difficult circumstances before, and his track record of hiring football coaches will surely give some hope to Tennessee fans who have endured three losing seasons in the last four years.
In his first athletics director job at Buffalo, White made an outside-the-box decision to hire Lance Leipold out of NCAA Division III football. Leipold has subsequently built one of the top programs in the Mid-American Conference. White was also responsible for hiring Bobby Hurley and Nate Oats in basketball, both of whom won big and went on to Power Five jobs.
At UCF, White took over a program in 2015 with some of the best resources in the American Athletic Conference but coming off an 0-12 season and a messy retirement of football coach George O’Leary. White quickly hired Scott Frost, and two years later the Knights were atop the league, ultimately making back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games.
White has a reputation as an aggressive fundraiser and builder of facilities, but was perhaps best known nationally for marketing UCF as the national champions in 2017 after finishing a 13-0 season but not getting serious consideration for the College Football Playoff.
White has been outspoken on the inequity in the system for Group of Five teams in scheduling, at times even feuding on Twitter with other athletics directors and media members, while advocating for Playoff expansion. Now he will be on the other side of that debate as athletics director at one of the power programs.
White has talked previously about wanting to stay at UCF long term and signed a five-year deal in March that paid him over $1 million a year with a $2.5 million buyout if he were to leave before May 2021. That suggests Tennessee is making a major financial commitment to White.
Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken