Mike White looks pretty happy in burnt orange.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte introduced White, who led Oregon to five Pac-12 championships and five Women’s College World Series appearances over nine seasons, as the Longhorns’ new softball coach during a news conference Tuesday in Austin.
Images of White giving the “Hook ‘em Horns” sign for the cameras felt like being gored in the back to Ducks fans mourning the anguishing turn of events.
“Absolutely I’m torn,” White said of his decision to leave Oregon for greener pastures in the Lone Star State. “It’s like anything, you’ve got to get over that and time will heal that, but a part of me will always be at Oregon. I use that as a recruiting pitch: Once a Duck, always a Duck.
“Part of me is always going to be that, but now it’s about being a Longhorn, and that’s what I’m going to promote.”
Texas has not released details of White’s five-year contract yet, but Del Conte was clearly able to offer a significant salary bump.
A source close to the situation said White will be the second-highest paid coach in the nation behind Oklahoma’s Patty Gasso, who has an annual salary of $925,000 after leading the Sooners to four national championships.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and White agreed to a six-year contract worth $1.425 million in guaranteed salary (an average of $237,500 per year) in June 2015 after the coach interviewed with Arkansas and as ground was being broken on the $17.2 million Jane Sanders Stadium project.
According to White, who also earned $90,000 in performance bonuses last season, Oregon wasn’t interested in redoing the deal again and he wasn’t bluffing.
“They didn’t understand the pull of Texas,” White told the Austin American-Statesman. “They felt I was getting paid fairly, and there was no budging. You can’t bluff with two 7s, but you can with three aces in your hand. And Texas had three aces.”
In addition to financial security for his family, White said his motivation for leaving the Ducks for Big 12 country was to bring home the hardware from Oklahoma City that eluded him at Oregon.
“I’m a winner. I don’t come here just to compete, I want to win,” said White, who posted a 435-111-1 record (.795 winning percentage) with the Ducks. “The only thing I haven’t done is win a national title, and that’s what I want to do at Texas. I want to win a national title and I think the resources are here.”
Texas is committed to building a new player development facility for softball in the next year. There are no current plans to replace 20-year-old McCombs Field, where White clinched his first WCWS appearance with the Ducks in 2012 by beating the Longhorns in a super regional.
Del Conte said the vacancy at Texas was “sought after by many,” but White emerged as the obvious choice over the weekend.
“We talked to Mike and said, ‘Why would you want to come to the University of Texas? You’re leaving Oregon.’ He goes, ‘Because I can win a national championship at the University of Texas,’” Del Conte said. “Oregon is not known for softball. We have 1,300 young ladies that play softball in this state. We have some of the very best that come here, that can win a national championship. He took a program with no state talent and went to Oklahoma City five times in a nine-year period of time.”
White’s 2018 Ducks, who won the Pac-12 for the fifth time in six years, featured one homegrown player in rising star Lauren Burke, the former Marist High star that he previously coached at the club level.
Texas had 10 players from the Lone Star State on its 2018 roster. Several of the Longhorns attended White’s introductory news conference.
“I would like to see within a five-year time frame, if you’re going to put a number on it, for that to happen,” White said of the timetable he has in mind for winning a national championship.
In 2009, the season before White became Oregon’s head coach, the Ducks finished 16-34 overall and 3-18 in the Pac-10.
The program’s dramatic turnaround stuck out to Del Conte, who said White beat out four other finalists for the job.
“We had a batting average that should have been an ERA and an ERA that should have been a batting average. But we were able to turn it around,” White said. “It’s tough because I have deep roots at Oregon and it took a lot to get me out of there. …
“Trust me, I lost a lot of sleep and there was a lot of angst, but I’m committed now and I’m here.”
White said he would like to bring assistant Chelsea Spencer, who is serving as Oregon’s interim coach, with him to Texas.
“She’s a grinder, too, I’m telling you,” White said. “I’ve been blessed to have her on my staff for six years and she’s done a fantastic job, especially with our defense.”
In order to realize his dreams at Texas, White will have to chase down Oklahoma. He also mentioned Florida, UCLA, Arizona State and perhaps his former team as programs the Longhorns will have to leapfrog along the way to a WCWS title.
“Obviously Oregon has been there the last several years,” White said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do now, but I imagine them to still be pretty strong.”