From 10 Acres to 40, Mike White Is Ready to Transform Texas Softball
By Robert Larkin
Mike White was building a fence on his 10-acre farm in Oregon last June when his phone started to ring. White, the most accomplished softball coach in University of Oregon history, was coming off yet another appearance in the Women’s College World Series.
It was the University of Texas at Austin contacting White about succeeding former coach Connie Clark, who resigned after the 2018 season.
Just a few days later, the Longhorns had a new man at the top of the softball program.
“It came pretty quick, and it had to be a quick decision to come down,” White said. “I think I got the call on a Thursday and was there on a Saturday.”
The 57-year-old Wellington, New Zealand, native and his thick accent may seem out of a place in Austin. But the ultra-competitive White makes perfect sense for an athletic department that was worried about a softball program growing stale.
After a successful career as a fast-pitch softball pitcher on the United States’ national team (White became a citizen in 1994) and professionally, White decided to go into coaching college softball and has seen his stock rise in the last decade.
He took the Oregon head coaching job in 2010 and achieved an impressive level of success during his nine seasons in Eugene. He led the Ducks to five Pac-12 titles, five World Series appearances and nine straight NCAA Super Regionals. He transformed a program that competed for conference championships on an inconsistent basis into one of the nation’s best.
The Oregon faithful responded in droves. Fans consistently sold out games, and the university built a $17 million stadium on campus in 2016. He was beloved and cherished.
So, why did he leave?
It came down to Texas’ facilities, recruiting advantages and dollars and cents.
Oregon paid White well during his last seasons at Oregon, with his salary averaging $237,500 per season. However, White felt that he was worth more given his success and wanted to be compensated accordingly. Oregon wasn’t willing to budge. Texas was.
Athletic Director Chris Del Conte gave White a five-year contract that pays $505,000 in the first season. The deal puts White in the top five for salaries among all college softball coaches.
“When we went looking for our next softball coach at Texas, we wanted someone who was a passionate program builder, a proven leader and a coach with a history of developing student-athletes,” Del Conte told Reporting Texas in a statement. “In visiting with Mike White, it didn’t take long to realize he checked all of the boxes. In a short period of time, he took a program that had not had a great deal of success and built it into a consistent national power.”
In an age where softball programs across the country are slashing budgets to meet overhead costs, Texas offered White greater stability for building his program.
White knows that the financial commitment comes with lofty expectations. Even though he just started his first season in Austin, he’s not shy about admitting he wants his team to compete for a national championship.
“We’re shooting for the College World Series,” White said. “It’s the big elephant in the room. That’s why we play.”
He never won a national title at Oregon. To meet that goal at Texas, White knew he had to cultivate his own culture.
Despite the accolades former Texas coach Connie Clark racked up during her 22-year career, including World Series appearances and a knack for producing great players, the Texas program had fallen on hard times in recent seasons. The Longhorns had been bounced in the regional portion of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five seasons and were consistently dominated by archrival Oklahoma.
White didn’t want to completely overhaul the system. He simply needed to integrate what had worked well for him in the past. That started with creating an atmosphere where Longhorn players would stay more relaxed and just enjoy playing softball.
During practices the Texas staff asks players to speak up and encourage one another. White wants a playful competitiveness during scrimmages with players yelling from the outfield and infielders hollering after a strikeout. Assistant coach Chelsea Spencer’s dog has nearly become the team mascot, with players staying after practice to run with him.
White hopes the approach to practice will help his players stay loose come game time.
“They’re both great coaches,” junior infielder Malory Schattle said. “But Coach White has instilled in us to play loose and have fun. That’s really what we’ve taken on this year. Allowing that to be instilled in our team, it’s going to help.”
White also knew he needed to rectify some issues on the Texas roster. When he arrived in Austin, he saw deficiencies in key areas — power hitting and pitching.
So he went back to what he knew best.
White managed to recruit four of his old Oregon players to join him at Texas. Lauren Burke, Miranda Elish, Mary Iakopo and Shannon Rhodes were main contributors for the Oregon team that went to the College World Series last season.
“I think even without the transfers, this team had the ability to do great things,” Rhodes said. “They just needed that one extra thing to push them forward. They welcomed us here with open arms and let us be part of the journey.”
White has the Longhorns off to a hot start in 2019. Texas has started the season 32-8, reached a No. 11 ranking in the most recent USA Today softball rankings and achieved wins over No. 6 Tennessee, No. 15 Arizona State and No. 18 Kentucky.
Key games loom for the team in the coming weeks, including a series against Big 12 superpower Oklahoma. But for now, White is encouraged by what he sees.
“I think they’re trusting us right now,” White said. “That’s the biggest thing, is trust, because nobody likes changes. Nobody likes to be told a different way than you’ve done it for a while. They seem to be trusting of us right now and trying new things.”
He can see his team is willing to put in the work to improve. And Texas fans are starting to see it, too.
During a Wednesday night game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, the Longhorns nearly sold out Red & Charline McCombs Field. Plenty of midweek games last season featured more empty seats than fans.
White, however, wouldn’t crack a smile at the sight. Sporting a tight black Longhorn shirt that displayed his muscular frame, black shorts and black sunglasses, he stood inside the coach’s box at third base and absorbed what his team was doing right and what it could do better. He wants his players to have fun, but his determination to be the best coach possible was also very present.
He only relaxed when Texas finally closed out the Islanders for a 7-1 victory and the “Eyes of Texas” began to crackle over the McCombs Field speakers.