Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
University at Buffalo Athletic Director Danny White is like a kid in a candy store these days – only this guy would rather be at Santora’s with slices of “The Works” pizza on his plate.
How important is good nutrition for UB sports teams?
“A lot more important for our student-athletes than it is for the athletic director,” he recently cracked.
White, 33, lives in Clarence Center with his wife, Shawn, and their children: Aiden, 9; Molly, 6; Caitlin, 4; and “a Buffalo baby,” James, born shortly after the family arrived in Western New York in spring 2012.
White grew up in New Orleans, played basketball at Notre Dame and worked at schools in Fresno, Calif., Ohio and Mississippi before he landed the UB job. He’ll be at the school tailgating tent on the North Campus for a couple of hours Saturday before the noon kickoff of the homecoming football game, the Mid American Conference opener for the Bulls, who square off with Eastern Michigan.
White is the subject of Saturday’s “What are you eating?” piece in WNY Refresh, but he also had plenty to say about the new pregame vibe UB has put together this season – Kool and the Gang will perform before game time Saturday – as well as the decision to have the Bulls play their first game ever at Ralph Wilson Stadium, a contest planned for Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
Have you become a Bills fan?
Yeah. I’ve never been a big NFL fan because I’ve been so entrenched in college athletics. But Russ Brandon has been an awesome friend and resource for me getting (connected) into the community. I’m really supportive of Russ and hoping the Bills are successful.
The MAC season part of the schedule starts Saturday. How will the Bulls do and which teams do you expect to be the toughest competition for a MAC championship?
We’re expecting to get to a bowl game like we did in 2008. We want to make that a part of what we do every year. We want to consistently get to bowl games. There’s so many advantages to that as we build a program and build a fan base. We get another month of practice with our team. It really helps with recruiting. It builds the excitement of a college football fan base. Certainly, a big win against UConn last Saturday helps us get there. At 2-2, with eight conference games (ahead), we think we’ll be very competitive for a MAC championship. Looking at our schedule, they’re all going to be hard. Every game at this level is a difficult one. But I look at games at Kent (State)– they were 11-1 last year and got most of that team back – and we have to go to Toledo. They’re always very competitive. Both those teams I expect to be bowl-eligible. At home, we’ve got a great Tuesday night nationally televised game November 5 against Ohio. They’ll be contending for a MAC championship.
And when we looked at the schedule this past summer, that last game of the season, which we’ve moved to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time ever, that Black Friday game the day after Thanksgiving – we’re calling it the ‘Black Friday Clash at the Ralph’ – against Bowling Green, that may have huge implications for who gets to go to the MAC championship game.
Why Ralph Wilson?
We just wanted to try it. There’s such great tradition and tailgating tradition at Ralph Wilson that we wanted to bring our product over there and hopefully get people to come out and learn a little bit about our football program, and get ‘em to come back to UB for next season.
We’re really working hard to build that full game-day atmosphere here at UB Stadium. That can’t happen without a vibrant tailgating atmosphere.
I went a game at UMass last year where they played at Gillette Stadium. It was their first year as a (Division) 1A program. They had a great crowd. It really seemed like they were benefiting from the fact that fans who go to Patriots games just like being at the venue. What we’re hoping is we can get a lot of people excited about getting over to Ralph Wilson Stadium on Thanksgiving Weekend. (Get tickets here.)
Do you tailgate before Bulls home games?
We host our own tailgate tent. It’s a blue-and-white striped one, to the right of the concert stage. It’s a fun tent. President (Satish) Tripathi and myself are out and about there.
Let’s talk about nutrition. Which place where you lived has the healthiest food?
The healthiest would probably be California. We’d get fresh seafood. ... New Orleans and Buffalo are both tied in my mind in terms of tastiest, but not very healthy.
What do you miss most about food in New Orleans?
Creole dishes. A lot of seafood and shellfish and spicy dishes that are so unique to New Orleans.
The town I lived in in Oxford, Mississippi had a lot of New Orleans-style dishes, as well. I’ve been able to find a few places with good Creole food here, as well.
The best I’ve had is the jambalaya at Hutch’s downtown. That was very good. That would be the memorable New Orleans-style food here.
I’ve had a whole bunch of other stuff that’s really good, too. I love the Italian food. Awesome.
What are some of your favorite places after the first year?
Santora’s locally, right by campus. They’re great supporters (of the UB athletics program). It’s more casual, really good stuff. We take the family there. Sinatra’s is a really good Italian spot in Kenmore. A good UB pub that’s got great lunch food is Brunner’s. I love to go there pretty frequently, and Shannon’s Irish Pub. We like to get over there.
Which place where you have lived has the best tailgating food?
At Fresno State in California, they had ‘tri-tip,’ which is a beef cut in a unique way. So there was barbecue tri-tip steak sandwiches that tailgaters would cook right on site. That was really good. The best tailgating atmosphere in America, I think, is ‘The Grove’ at Ole Miss. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere and energy. The food is as much a priority as more traditional places that have cars. What makes The Grove so unique at Ole Miss is there’s no cars, so there’s more catered stuff that’s easier to transport.
Is it difficult to eat healthy as athletic director at a large school like UB?
It is because the schedule is so hectic. I love food, and Buffalo has so much good food that’s not healthy for me. That makes it a challenge. I try to work out every day to at least try to balance out some of my eating choices.
The food you can’t resist?
Pizza would be my nemesis, “The Works” at Santora’s. It’s loaded with sausage and meatballs and peppers. It’s a spicy pie, but it is really good. I try to limit it, but realistically I’m probably eating pizza once a week.
How important is good nutrition for UB sports teams?
It’s a lot more important for our student athletes than it is for the athletic director.
We do a lot of stuff with our education, primarily in our sports performance area. The conditioning coaches educate our student athletes all the time, and the NCAA allows us to give them supplemental (food). We can provide fruit, nuts and bagels and other things to provide good quality calories.
We occasional do team meals. My wife, Shawn, and I have had every team out to our house in the last month and using university catering we give them a well-rounded meal.
They eat a lot of food. They’re burning so many calories, they need to replace them ... especially the football team.