On Dec. 6, 2016, Duke athletic director Kevin White looked around Madison Square Garden and tried to keep his emotions together.
His Blue Devils were playing the Florida Gators in a top-25 matchup. And he felt a bit conflicted. His son Mike is Florida’s men’s basketball coach.
In a family full of sports administrators, it marked the first time the White family was on both sides of a big game. The schools had played before in Olympic sports, but this was different.
“That was a moment that actually took my breath away,” Kevin White said. “That was a tough one. Even though I wanted Mike’s team to play really well, at the same time Duke needed to prevail. I’ve got a lot of equity in the place that I serve and the coaches I’m a leader for. It is a very tough moment for me.”
Since then, other members of the family have worked for opposing programs. And it will happen again Saturday, when Missouri’s men’s basketball team faces Florida.
Mike’s brother Brian is Missouri’s deputy athletic director and is in charge of the football and men’s basketball programs, among other responsibilities.
“It’s terrible,” Brian White said. “We can’t really (talk trash) because this is our livelihood. It is very emotional for us. It’s different. People that are fans don’t understand that. It’s an awkward game. Because it is your livelihood and your family there’s a lot of skin in the game that you have a whole lot into it that you hate to give each other losses. But it is a reality.”
As a father of five, Kevin White encouraged his children to pursue a career outside of college athletics. He and his wife, Jane, wanted their kids to forge their own identities.
Four of them didn’t listen.
“We were all pretty ignorant I guess,” said Mariah Chappell, who is one of the two White daughters and who is an associate athletic director at Southern Methodist.
Aside from Mike, Brian and Mariah, Central Florida’s athletic director is Danny White, who just hired Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to be the next football coach at Central Florida. Maureen, the oldest White sibling, is the lone holdout. She’s a high school English teacher in Arizona.
“She’s the only one that didn’t get the virus,” Kevin White joked of his oldest child.
Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk has known the family for years. Sterk worked with Kevin White at Maine and Tulane, and he said he has known Brian “since he was a little guy.”
When Kevin White realized the majority of his children weren’t going to stay out of college sports, he decided to take a backseat in their careers to let each of them still be their own person, even if they were sharing an industry.
So far it seems to have worked.
As his kids were coming up through the business, the calls came first for the boys while Mariah was still a student at Duke.
Kevin White always returned a phone call from a fellow athletic director or administrator that was interested in hiring one of his kids. But he never gave an opinion on them and instead encouraged the person on the other end of the phone to call his kids directly.
“I’m not objective,” he said. “This is my son.”
The family network has made it easier for each to build a career: One can brainstorm with other siblings trying to grow the same kind of career, and a father full of experience can give an opinion, where it is sought.
That Mike White is a coach has helped Brian and Danny, who have each hired a basketball coach in the last two years.
“In any coaching search that I do, I almost always find a trusted coaching source that’s embedded in the fraternity of that sport,” Danny White said. “To have your brother and get the real deal on various candidates is extremely helpful.”
Even with Missouri in the same conference as Florida, Brian White doesn’t see his brother’s opinions as amounting to a conflict of interest because a strong hire for Missouri boosts the SEC’s reputation.
Brian White helped Sterk find a new men’s basketball coach last spring. Sterk leaned heavily on Virginia coach Tony Bennett for thoughts, and Brian had his brother Mike. Brian White said a coach’s voice in the middle of a search speaks volumes. Both sides thought highly of Missouri’s eventual choice, Cuonzo Martin.
“It’s more not to say you should hire this person or shouldn’t hire this person, but here’s some things you should know about this person,” Brian White said. “They both thought that he’s the real deal. They’ve recruited against him. They’ve coached against him, so they’ve seen him at a different level than Jim or I.”
Kevin White traditionally sits behind the Duke bench for every men’s basketball game. The two times the teams have faced off against each other, he decided to sit in the middle in order to be neutral.
Brian White attended the first Duke-Florida matchup and had similar emotions that his father had about the game.
After Florida beat Missouri 93-54 in Gainesville last February, Brian White noticed his brother didn’t empty his bench in the final minutes and instead had a majority of his rotation playing in the game. Minutes after the game ended, Mike White called his brother to say that he didn’t have any walk-on players on his roster.
“He wasn’t trying to run it up, but it looked bad at the end — and he felt terrible,” Brian White said.
And sometimes the brothers’ competitive side comes out even when they’re trying to help each other out.
In November, Danny White was beginning to think that it would be hard for him to keep football coach Scott Frost from leaving Central Florida for a better job as the Knights were in the middle of an undefeated season.
Danny called Brian to pick his brain on some candidates as Danny wanted to hire another offensive mind like Frost. Brian intentionally left Missouri offensive coordinator Heupel off his list of suggestions.
But Danny had Heupel on his initial list anyway and decided to hone in on him after doing research on other candidates. He called Brian to give him a heads-up that he was focusing his search on his offensive coordinator. But Brian found out on Twitter that he was losing his offensive coordinator to his brother.
“Danny called me eventually and said, ‘Hey how come you never gave me the name Josh Heupel?’” Brian said. “And I said, ‘Danny I’m not just going to give you that name. But what do you want to know?’”
Since Mariah got to SMU, she’s also had to compete with a sibling as Central Florida is a fellow member of the American Athletic Conference.
She said while the first time their schools played was “interesting,” she has been able to find a positive from it. With the entire family spread out across the country, a SMU-UCF matchup always guarantees that she gets to see her brother.
Nina King, an associate athletic director at Duke under Kevin White, is considered a member of the family and said even though the matchups are becoming a yearly thing in some cases, it doesn’t make things any easier.
After Florida blew a late lead to Duke in the PK80 championship game in November, losing to the Blue Devils for the second straight season, an exhausted Mike White walked right off the stage after his news conference and into Kevin’s arms.
“It’s a wound that gets reopened each time it happens,” King said.
Brian White’s Missouri Tigers should hold up better against his brother’s Gators on Saturday after a talent-infusion led by the Martin hire has Missouri at 11-3 despite the absence of Michael Porter Jr., the nation’s top freshman.
Kevin White has 13 grandchildren spread out amongst his five kids, and Mariah has said she can see her nieces and nephews already taking an interest in the family business.
They are growing up around it, just like their parents did.