Mike White’s softball path: New Zealand, Iowa retail and Texas

AS A KID, Mike White dreamed of taking part in for the New Zealand soccer staff, solely to see his invitation upended by civil unrest in Fiji. As a youngster, he launched into a administration profession for a courier firm, the Kiwis’ equal of UPS or FedEx. As an grownup, he bought a enterprise diploma from a small faculty within the Midwest and turned a small-business proprietor in Iowa.

In 2023, Mike White is the softball coach of the Texas Longhorns, a spot the place they not solely hope you may problem Oklahoma, however they count on you to. And the 55-year-old White, who has already proved to be an overachiever in every of his a number of lives and has gained 78% of his video games in his first two head-coaching jobs at Oregon and Texas, is simply fearless sufficient to attempt. His life has already been filled with surprises, so why not try yet another trick, akin to taking the USC basketball job when John Wooden was at UCLA?

“There’s been so many forks in the road, so to speak, where things could have gone a different way,” White stated.

But they have not. They’ve mainly solely gone White’s means. A star pitcher in Wellington, New Zealand, he left to embark on a profession within the United States as a employed hand, an ace ringer for groups like Ed Smith Welding of Bakersfield, California, or Teleconnect of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. All he did then, through the halcyon days of males’s fastpitch softball within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, was change into the best pitcher on this planet, somebody who gained extra video games in world fastpitch tournaments between 1980 and 2006 (70) than anybody else, in keeping with the International Softball Congress.

It wasn’t till a dialog with legendary Tennessee co-coach Ralph Weekly greater than 25 years in the past despatched him down a path to teaching.

That led White to Oregon, the place his first head-coaching place got here at one of many hardest jobs within the nation for a college that had by no means gained a convention title for the reason that program started in 1974, and the place White gained 5 in 9 seasons. Now, White is going through maybe the largest problem any coach has at the moment: stopping the Sooners’ dynasty. And, given his historical past, it is not a shock that he believes it is inside attain.

“I believe that we can eventually unseat Oklahoma,” White stated final week. “I don’t know if that will happen or not, but I believe we can do it. Nothing lasts forever.”

BEFORE WHITE CAN set his sights on the two-time defending champion Sooners, the No. 13 Longhorns should get previous No. 4 Tennessee within the best-of-three tremendous regionals starting Friday (4 p.m. ET, ESPN2). The Lady Vols are at the moment coached by Weekly’s spouse, Karen. (Ralph and Karen had been co-coaches till 2021, when Ralph stepped down and left this system in Karen’s sole possession.)

Ralph Weekly met White in Hawaii in 1997 whereas working with USA Softball because the director of its nationwide groups. He knew of him due to his prowess as a pitcher, however actually hadn’t spent any time with White. But what he noticed impressed him.

“He or she who has the best pitcher usually wins,” Weekly stated, “and he was the best pitcher in the world. He was a leader, and you can’t really be a good coach if you’re not a good leader. People have to look up to you and they have to be able to follow you. He knew the game because he had played it since he was young in New Zealand, and New Zealand was really where fastpitch started.”

So he made just a few calls. Weekly is adamant that he is not taking any credit score for White’s success, simply that he was capable of assist him overcome an absence of expertise to get his foot within the door. That was beneficial for White since he was working his two companies in Iowa, the place he had pitched for several fastpitch teams, together with main Cedar Rapids Teleconnect to a world title in 1987 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He went 6-0 on this planet championship with 5 shutouts, three two-hitters, one one-hitter and had 63 strikeouts in 45 innings whereas his staff hit simply .139.

Unlike numerous males’s fastpitch gamers who bounced round to the very best bidder, White stayed a short time and turned a part of the group, in keeping with J.R. Ogden, the sports activities editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, who has labored there for 45 years and coated a lot of White’s exploits.

“There were a lot of teams here that had guys come in from New Zealand for years,” Ogden stated. “The majority of these guys would come in and they play one season here and then they’d go to Decatur or Sioux City, or someplace else that maybe offered them a little bit more money the next year. But Mike was different right from the start. He got really engaged in the community, went to one of the small colleges we have here in town, met a girl and married her.”

White married his spouse Lisa, earned a advertising and marketing and administration diploma from Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids in 1989 and turned a U.S. citizen in 1994. He and Lisa had three daughters, Nyree, Kenzie and Sidney, all born in Iowa. But he wasn’t certain working resale outlets was scratching his itch.

“It was 24/7,” White stated, laughing. “We think coaching is a full-time job? You want to try retail sales.”

He wasn’t in a lot of a place to begin making an attempt to climb a training ladder, nonetheless, with a household to supply for.

“I didn’t want to start at a traditional bottom rung,” White stated. “If someone wanted to take a gamble on me and get me into like a Power 5 program or a top D-I program, I was willing to make that jump.”

WITH WEEKLY SPREADING the phrase, and a status as a stellar pitcher, a door opened at Oregon, which provided him a job as a pitching coach. He determined to do it, though it paid simply $27,000, a pay reduce from his companies. After two years in 2003-04, he determined perhaps assistant teaching wasn’t for him, both. He selected to spend extra time along with his daughters, teaching their youth groups and doing non-public instruction on the facet. And then one other big break got here: Oregon referred to as again about its head-coaching job in the summertime of 2009, regardless of simply two years of assistant teaching expertise six years prior.

The rent paid instant dividends, with White taking on a staff that went 16-34 and 3-18 within the Pac-12. His first yr, in 2010, Oregon went 36-21 and made an NCAA tremendous regional. By Year 3, he took the Ducks to the Women’s College World Series.

“What he did at Oregon … he was ranked No. 1 in the country with the worst softball facility in the nation. We’re talking locker rooms, we’re talking field,” stated Renee Baumgartner, now the athletic director at Santa Clara, who made an impassioned plea to rent White when she was a senior sports activities administrator overseeing the Ducks’ softball program. “I was just determined to hire him because I knew he was special and that he could build anything, any program.”

And construct he did, together with Oregon opening a brand new $17.2 million softball stadium in 2015. White’s success — he was a three-time Pac-12 coach of the yr and took the Ducks to 5 College World Series appearances — drew the eye of the Longhorns, who had slipped behind the Sooners after successful 4 Big 12 titles between 2002 and 2010, however none since.

“They were perennially dead last when he got there,” Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte stated of Oregon at White’s introductory information convention. “They were god-awful.”

White has made an identical influence with the Longhorns, successful 75% of his video games and taking a 190-61-2 file into this yr’s tremendous regionals in opposition to Tennessee. He has an enormous new contract that pays him $625,000 yearly after turning into the primary coach in NCAA historical past to take an unseeded staff to the WCWS finals final yr.

Just a type of 190 wins, although, have come in opposition to Oklahoma, and final yr’s magical run in Oklahoma City ended with a sweep by — who else? — the Sooners. But all White can do is hold chipping away.

“I knew it was going to be tough facing that traditional power,” White stated. “[Patty Gasso is] in her 29th season and built that program to what it is, like a dynasty. The thing about Oklahoma is they’re not staying status quo. They keep getting better, they keep pushing the envelope, which I admire. They’re out there recruiting, they’re out there doing all the things you need to do to stay on top.

“I sort of want they’d take a yr off however that is not what is going on to occur.”

WHITE ISN’T AFRAID to battle the Sooners off the field, either.

He poked the bear this year in an off-the-cuff remark during an interview before the Longhorns and Sooners met in late March on how difficult it is to keep up with them.

“They hold discovering methods to reload and I’m not fairly certain all of it’s, you understand. … Whatever, I will not say anymore,” White said. “They need to be the bully on the block, and they’ve completed a reasonably good job of it.”

Eyebrows were raised in Oklahoma, with some hypothesizing that White suggested the Sooners were cheating — White says Gasso didn’t take it that way — but he says the comments were short on context when he was discussing bigger issues, like name, image and likeness, and how the rich keep get richer as a result.

“Truthfully, I want we had the identical assets so we may use it the identical means to have the ability to allow gamers to make some cash out of it,” White said this week. “I’m undecided how they’re utilizing it, however it’s turning into an enormous a part of the sport.”

White’s white-hot competitive streak can sometimes lead to controversy, be it with his gamesmanship (stalling for a tie in a matchup against Kentucky this year when the game had a drop-dead ending time) or his temper, like when he had to apologize after getting ejected from a game and flipping two middle fingers to the umpires before leaving the field.

“There’s an entire bunch of individuals that you simply make your self up [of],” White said, naming coaches like Wooden and Alabama’s Nick Saban, “however I can not be them. I’ve bought to be who I’m. You all the time have these regrets as afterthoughts. I’m engaged on controlling that, however but not altering what makes me efficient. I’ve set to work on being a bit of extra eloquent with it.”

The Oklahoman called White “faculty softball’s villain,” also referencing White’s comment that Oklahoma’s NIL program was “a case of the haves and have-nots,” incredulously noting that someone from Texas, of all places, would complain about a financial disadvantage. And yet, White still couldn’t resist one more opportunity.

“The factor is, why are they upset about it in the event that they’re doing every part authorized?” he said.

​​The 45-13-1 Longhorns went 0-4 against the Sooners this season. But they also went 3-0 in their regional, including beating another rival, Texas A&M, twice and sending the Aggies home while cementing Texas’ fourth straight super regional appearance. Prior to White’s arrival, the Longhorns had made just four supers since 2005. In 13 regional appearances as a head coach, White has never been eliminated.

Now with his sights set on another run to the WCWS, White knows all roads lead through Oklahoma.

“It’s been a sluggish course of, slower than I imagined,” White said. “We went fairly shortly at Oregon. … This one has been incrementally more durable. I feel I’ve bought good coaches round me and we’re getting some good recruiting lessons coming in. I’m not afraid of something. I’m not afraid of a problem and I consider I can do something. We’ve bought to get an inroad. We gained a recreation in opposition to them final yr, so it’ll be inch by inch.”

FROM NEW ZEALAND, to Iowa, Eugene and Austin, White has become one of the must-watch characters in a booming sport, and a little Oklahoma-Texas heat is never bad for business. But even if White never slows the Sooners’ onslaught, his road to being one of softball’s biggest names has been remarkable, a series of sliding doors that led to this point.

White says in 1979 he had been training hard — in soccer — hoping to land a spot on his country’s national team. But when he finally got that shot, he said a planned trip to Fiji and New Caledonia was scuttled because of protests in Fiji.

“About the identical time I ended up getting a name from the United States asking if I’d be involved in going over,” White said. “I used to be 18 and determined to take that bounce. I assumed it could be my solely probability to come back to the United States and play.”

White made the most of that trip. Over his career, he pitched for 11 teams that won American Softball Association or International Softball Congress championships, including five MVP awards. He has been inducted into seven different softball Halls of Fame, including those organizations, statewide halls of fame for Oregon, Missouri and Iowa and the New Zealand Softball Hall of Fame. But those are all his own individual awards and now he’s focused on growing the game and helping his players forge for their own paths, albeit with one giant mountain left for White to climb.

“I have not gained a nationwide title but,” White said. “I positively need to attempt and win one but when it would not occur, then it has been very fulfilling to look at these younger girls obtain a few of their desires.”

His believers, like Weekly and Baumgartner, who still DVRs every Texas softball game she can watch from California, say he’s on the right path.

“It’s not even a Cinderella story,” Baumgartner said. “It’s only a nice story for softball. This is only the start of nice issues to come back for Texas softball, I’ve little doubt.”

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