Danny White brought quick success, but future is questionable

Former AD's 'long-term' solutions were short-term solutions

The question was never how high would Danny White raise UB Athletics. The question was always whether or not White would leave Buffalo in a better place than when he found it and in a position to succeed without him.

We’re about to find out.

Tuesday was the day everyone knew was coming from the moment White arrived on campus in 2012. The day the young and ambitious athletic director made the move to a larger program.

I won’t bash or blame White for going to the University of Central Florida. He’s a guy that, regardless if you agree with his strategies or not, is going places in college athletics. Despite his signing of a five-year contract extension and his talk building something here, UB was always going to be a stepping stone for him.

That’s just a fact for athletic programs like UB.

There’s no question White had some success here. Teams won championships. Big-name coaches came. Rich alumni donated. I’ve never denied White had a way with talking to people.

I can’t write this column without disclosing White’s at times frosty relationship with The Spectrum. He ended our road trips with the football team in 2013 after allegedly not liking our critical coverage – and I’ll be the first to admit we’ve been critical. He was quickly accessible to talk about good attendance and donations – not as much as so with athletic budgets.

But this paper and myself have always covered him objectively.

And now that White’s officially wearing a golden tie in the sunshine of Florida, I can’t say for sure that the steps he took, from the rebranding to his coaching hires, were in the best interest of UB Athletics long term or his own resume.

White’s strategies always seemed like short-term solutions disguised as long-term ones.

But a Mid-Major like UB needs to think long-term. Nothing is a quick fix. You have to slowly inch your way up the college athletics landscape. You don’t, as White always liked to say, build “America’s next big-time college athletics brand” in three years.

White could move up a conference and get a larger budget to play with in three years. UB cannot.

White’s New York Bulls Initiative, or everyone’s favorite hashtag, #NYBI, was shortsighted. Rebranding is flashy. It provides a false sense that things are different and momentarily boosts merchandise sales.

As a Buffalo native, I can’t say I’m personally offended by the greater emphasis on “New York” and near removal of “Buffalo” from athletics material – even when getting calls from Athletics Communications staff asking us to use a logo of the charging Bull and not the same logo of a charging Bull with the word “Buffalo” underneath.

I can’t say the same for other locals. Some Buffalo residents were, legitimately or not legitimately, offended and isolated by the movement throughout the years.

I do think it was unfortunate and poor timing for White to detach UB Athletics from Buffalo. He did so on the eve of what many consider to be the city’s comeback and renewal of pride for Buffalo.

And as someone who’s covered many Bulls’ road games, I can tell you no one – opposing team’s coaches, athletes, PR staff, scoreboard operators and even the commentators – is really sure what to call the UB Bulls. They’re certainly not calling them “New York,” I can tell you that much.

UB was never going to own New York with a self-declaration and logo change, even without much competition. That’s just not how it works.

But NYBI isn’t going anywhere, at least for now. As a former colleague of mine rightfully pointed out, the next UB athletic director will have to continue the initiative if for no reason other than it’d be too expensive to rebrand yet again and change the football field and basketball court.

Again, short-sightedness.

White brought in some good coaches that excited people, no question about it. But are any of those coaches going to be here for 10 years to build a program? I’d say most will get snatched up fast if they have some success. We saw the extreme case of that with Bobby Hurley.

The Gicewicz Club was a good addition that can help with donations for years to come – but maybe with some patience there could have been an even better option.

White and athletics had originally wanted to build a much larger club on the east side of the stadium, but when they didn’t secure enough funds quickly enough to construct an entirely new space, White decided to clear out the existing media box and put the club there.

How much larger of a club, with more room for more donors that would lead to more money, could have been made with some patience?

It’s clear White didn’t have patience. He couldn’t afford to have it. And yes, he didn’t owe it to UB. Both parties knew what their relationship was.

And that’s why UB is at something of a crossroads in its search for a new athletic director. It had the up-and-comer who moved quickly, now it may be time for someone who plans on sticking around – someone who will have a commitment to steadily improving UB’s athletic program.

When I asked President Satish Tripathi about the positive impact athletics can have on a university as whole, his answer wasn’t very reassuring. In probably his shortest answer of the entire interview, he could only mention the coming together of alumni at Buffalo’s NCAA Tournament game last season.

Can’t alumni banquets – not millions of dollars of institutional support – do that?

Perhaps Tripathi is realistic of the challenges UB faces in college athletics. And if that’s the case, he needs to actually help decide UB’s next AD.

Even though White did some good work here, UB doesn’t need another athletic director filling out applications on the side and making hasty decisions like rebranding for the sake of rebranding. It needs someone who’s going to take the time to identify the challenges Buffalo faces as a Mid-Major and the long-term solutions.

With a larger budget and larger program, White’s strategies may work just fine at UCF. He’ll bring in some impressive coaches and excitement. I think he’ll be successful there.

But White’s moves here were never really aligned with what could realistically be done here. Someone who knows what can be done here – and has the time to do it – needs to be the next AD.

Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki.