Danny White has only been athletic director at the University of Tennessee for about four and a half months. But his tenure here has been anything but dull, so far.
Following the underwhelming hire of his old buddy Josh Heupel as head football coach, he’s littered his time here with shots at fans. For everything from not donating enough to being too negative on social media. But all is forgiven when the Vols are winning. The Tennessee baseball team is a testament to that.
Everything has led to this one vital question that will likely set the tone for the rest of Danny White’s time at Tennessee: How will he handle the Tony Vitello situation?
I know, I know. The football program is the biggest one on campus. So it follows that the football coaching hire is the biggest one, possible, right?
Well, not exactly. Between being late in the hiring cycle and NCAA issues, you could easily make a case that White was handcuffed in his hiring of Heupel.
Retaining or losing Tony Vitello, however, is entirely dependent on Danny White.
If you somehow haven’t heard, the Tennessee baseball team is the hottest thing on The Hill since Bruce Pearl was stomping around Thompson-Boling Arena. And it’s all thanks to Tony Vitello. Tennessee fans love him. His players love him. And he’s brought a program on the brink of irrelevance back to the forefront.
Granted, baseball has not and probably never will be a top-tier sport in terms of popularity or money for the university. But this town loves a winner. And if the energy of the home stands against Vandy and Arkansas doesn’t convince you of that, let me remind you that Knoxville was once the epicenter of women’s college basketball. All because of one fantastic coach.
Outside variables aside, all is well with the baseball program. But the wolves are at the door with LSU and Texas A&M currently looking for their next head coaches. Both schools have shown in the past they aren’t afraid to pay outrageous amounts to get their choice (see: Jimbo Fisher, Buzz Williams, Kim Mulkey, etc.)
That’s problematic for Tennessee.
White, who has become known for his ability to find value in the coaches’ bargain bin, can’t afford to skimp out on this. If there was ever a proverbial layup in his career, it’s in keeping Vitello in Knoxville at all costs.
Vitello has already proven he’s a program builder and winner. Two full seasons removed from going 29-27 in his first season, he’s gotten Tennessee back to a level they haven’t seen in decades.
This season marked the first time UT won the SEC East since 1997. Their first SEC Tournament final since 1995. Their first time hosting an NCAA Regional since 2005. The list goes on.
All White has to do is continue to build the program in Vitello’s image. The upcoming stadium remodel is a great opportunity to keep him involved. That coupled with a nice raise, and it should be fairly easy to keep Vitello here for a long, long time.
Good thing Tennessee’s athletic department hasn’t screwed up anything easy the last two decades…