DECATUR — It took no time to learn about Craig White’s sense of commitment.
Millikin’s new Director of Athletics and Recreation just spent his first full week in his new role trying to get in as many hours as possible in talking with school officials, coaches, alumni, Decatur residents and the media.
At the same time, he’s keeping up his role as husband and father while being a time zone away.
His family will spend one more year in Athens, Georgia, allowing his son Conner to finish high school.
“We didn’t want to mess that up,” Craig White said. “So I’ll be doing a lot of driving when I can. I’m a driver. I can make it in under 10 hours without speeding … much.
“There might be times I go to a Friday night football game, come back, get here Saturday morning to do my role as the AD and then watch the football game,” he said. “I won’t be able to see all of them, but I’m going to have to live a very busy life this year. But I can do it for one year for my son, for sure.”
Evidence of commitment was a common chorus as he took time to sit back in a lounge area at Mills Hall to share his thoughts and plans.
You had spent 19 years at the University of Georgia, a major player at the highest level of college sports. Why did you decide this was a good time to leave?
A couple things happened simultaneously.
One, we got a new athletic director at Georgia about a year and a half ago. He had a different way of do-ing things. He changed my role to the point to where I thought, ‘Know what, maybe it’s time to see what else is out there.
At the same time, my daughter started playing sports at a Division III school in Tennessee called Se-wanee: The University of the South. I was kind walking around there and I thought, ‘Wow, this would be a great experience working in a college athletic setting someplace where there would be students playing sports. At the Division I level, sometimes you have athletes hired out trying to make it in school.
It just seemed like it would be a fun environment. So I was looking at alternatives, talking with a lot of people. I even talked to a head hunter who does Division III searches. I started to see what is out there. I was looking for a Millikin, but I didn’t know it was going to be Millikin.
I wanted a place that wanted to try to win. It’s still sports. It’s still competing. The CCIW is such a competitively strong conference. I was attracted to it. We’re trying to recruit kids and I want to be successful. I want to go out and have fun competing.
Did you consult with people specifically about Millikin?
I did in generalities on the Division III level and then as I got into the nuts and bolts of I’m going to come here and interview, I talked to some people about Millikin. And the things I heard about it was historically they have won and potentially they can win.
When I came here, I saw people who had a lot of pride. Alumni, people who worked here … they had pride. They felt very good about this university and they wanted to see it perform better athletically. That was good. That was intriguing. That is something I was looking for.
And I wanted to get back to the Midwest. I’m a Midwest guy and I was transplanted in the South for a few years, quite a few years. I wanted to get back.
As Associate AD at Georgia, what were your main duties?
I had a large leadership role. The day-to-day workings of the athletic department were a lot of what I did. At one point, I was over 12 sports and all that goes with that. Being over sports is the most enjoyable part. You’re working with coaches trying to help them develop a plan to be successful. You’re working with the athletes in those sports to help them have a great experience.
On top of that was I oversaw the ticket office, which at that level is where the money comes through. I was over the sports medicine department, the strength and conditioning.
Will you have a more defined role at Millikin?
This is actually getting to more of what I was doing as far as I had lost some of those leadership capabili-ties and I’m getting back to what I like, being over sports. I like being over a department. I like being in leadership. I like to lead college athletics. And that’s what I’m going to do. Under the former administration at Georgia, I had a major role in the day-to-day. As that changed, some of my roles were reduced. I’m getting back to being in a leadership role in college athletics.
Have you been able to identify some of the major needs at Millikin?
Everybody has needs or has something they have to recruit around or recruit over. The first thing I looked at was what we do have, and I’m very impressed with our coaching staff. I’m very impressed with the pride and passion I’ve seen in alumni. I think it’s very much a positive that we play in such a strong conference because that can only get make you better if you do things the right way.
With all that said, I think there are some areas. Maybe we can update some facilities. We will attempt to try to do that. That doesn’t happen just by saying it. It happens from working hard and it takes the whole Millikin nation. It takes the athletic department and Millikin University coming up with a plan. It takes the city of Decatur, to try to tap into its resources. It takes the alumni and former athletes to try to have a fundraising campaign that they will want to give to what we’re doing, what we’re trying to do and believe in what we’re trying to do.
And it takes all that coming together to try to make Millikin better. That’s what we hope to do as a university and as an athletic department.
You’ve talked about potential and regaining that excitement, but how do you get the student body and the community more in-volved?
Whenever I’ve been at a function or talked to people, it’s the sense of, ‘We can do this and let’s figure out how we can get it done.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. One of my main focuses is the fundraising aspect. I feel like I’m doing that every day. Whether it’s actually doing it or planning to do it. That’s a goal that should always be there while you’re doing the day-to-day stuff of running an athletic department and working with sports and the organization.
Fundraising, kind of like recruiting, never ends.
How important will it be for you to put seats in stands?
I’ve dealt with that for so long in my career, how to put butts in seats. There is some marketing to it, but it’s winning. Just win. And run a program the right way, where you have great kids and great coaches competing hard. You have a team that is filled with kids who are competing hard and coaches the community can relate to and they’re going out there trying to give it all they have to come out on top. You’ve got that, you get interest in the game, people come. That’s how you do it. There’s no magic or nothing new about it. So we need to sell our coaches. The coaches need to sell themselves, which they’ll do. Then we need to recruit kids who will be successful here academically and athletically and go out there and compete like heck.
Historically Millikin has competed for championships. How much fun would it be to have all the teams there again?
I’m very impressed with the coaches. They know what they’re doing. (Men’s basketball coach) Matt (Nadelhoffer) has a complete rebuilding job. He knows it and has it going the right way. (Football coach) Patrick (Etherton) knows what needs to be done. (Women’s basketball coach) Lori (Kerans) is a pro. (Volleyball coach) Debbie (Kiick) is a pro. They both know what it takes and how to maintain. The soccer programs … I’m just impressed. People want to win and it’s my job to help them have the resources to do that.
In your first handful of days on campus, how many times been asked about the football facilities?
I’ve been asked a lot. It’s a goal for everyone I think to improve upon that. We have work to do. We want to do some things to the field, but we have work to do to get out there to the Millikin nation and raise some funds.
I want football to be successful. I want every sport we have to be successful. One of my philosophies and one we used to have at Georgia is that we want every sport to be competitive and to be able to eventually be in a position to compete for championships. There are timelines involved for every sport. Every sport has a different place in that evolution. But it’s the plan and putting the process together, planning how we’re going to get from A to B.
Where do facilities for the rest of the sports sit on the list?
It’s something we’ll evaluate with the university administration, with development. We’ll come up with what we think out plan for athletics is. It will be a team project, a team approach. What is next? I want us to, as much as we can, have Millikin University be first class in everything we do and try to get toward that. How we handle ourselves on the field, off the field and the type of settings we play in.
We want a nice science building. We want a nice music department in order to have the students have a quality experience. Well you want the athletic facilities to have quality so the athletes have a quality experi-ence.
What is interesting about this level is that such a high percentage of the student body are athletes. So if we’re improving the facility athletically, we’re improving it for our student body. An athlete, when they leave Millikin University, the experience they have as a student and as an athlete will dictate how they feel about their time here at Millikin. I feel part of my job is to help make that experience as enjoyable and memorable as possible.
How do you identify these alumni you need to contact and then make them feel part of what is going on in Decatur?
I think you go and create relationships. You go to them and invite them back here and have functions. You try to sell how we’re going to do things. Sell the plan. Sell the process of getting Millikin from Point A to Point B.
Sometimes you have to go to them. Let’s figure out where we need to go and let’s go. Then bring them back to campus. Hopefully they will believe in it. We’re still going to do what we do. We’re going to have young adults going to school and playing their sport hard, trying to compete in the CCIW. Hopefully that’s something the alumni can relate to, and we’ll assist. We’ll do our part. We’ll run things the right way. We’ll create the best experience we can for these young people. And we’ll do what we can to have a solid plan to compete well.
When students come back to campus, will you meet with them?
I’m not an in-my-office-AD-kind-of-guy. I’m going to be out there. I go to practice. I go to games. I at least try to let the athletes know who I am. I’ll try to know as many athletes as I can. Because I just think that is part of it. That’s my style. I like the sports/coaches/athletes aspect. I think my strength is working with coaches and athletes. I enjoy that and I’ll do that while at the same time as doing the organization and fund-raising that is required.
Has anybody told you yet what a Big Blue is?
My 12-year old daughter is very concerned we don’t have a real mascot. I like the concept of Go Big Blue. I think that’s great. But no, I never really delved into what it is.
I’m good. Go Big Blue is awesome. It’s unique and it’s good.