Moving Ahead

Danny White, Senior Associate Athletics Director/Executive Director of the UMAA Foundation, talks about the Forward Together campaign with Editor of The Ole Miss Spirit, Jeff Roberson. The following is Part I of a two-part series.

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Q: How have things gone since you officially began this project in early August, just four months ago, given the fact that football suffered through a 2-10 season?

White: It's an exciting time in a lot of ways. We launched the most aggressive campaign in our history on August 9, the Forward Together campaign. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We're so grateful for folks that have stepped up. We certainly didn't expect the football season to go as it has. The changes in our football program, while they're unexpected, we are very excited to work with Coach (Hugh) Freeze. He's an extremely smart individual and a brilliant speaker with a proven track record of success on the football field. So we're excited to work with him. I know in my interaction with him, I've been unbelievably impressed. We're anxious to finish out the rest of this transition and continue to charge ahead. Our fans have spoken through their contributions and their commitments to this campaign. We are ready to take that next step as an athletic department, and we're excited to get there.

Q: Ole Miss has dramatically improved its facilities the past 10 to 15 years. But when you look around at other schools in the Southeastern Conference, everybody else is doing the same thing. You have to be aware of that, don't you?

White: It's very significant. We feel like we need to play a little bit of catch-up. It's not lost upon us that everybody else in this conference is fighting every day to get better. If we're going to try to make up some ground on them, we're going to have to really move quickly and try to level the playing field. What we talk about a lot is resources lead to championships. If we want to position our coaches and student-athletes at a more competitive level in the toughest conference in America, that's what this campaign does. It's more than just bricks and mortar. It builds a new arena and expands our stadium and renovates our stadium. But perhaps even more importantly it creates new revenue streams, sustainable revenue streams, that just give us a lot more resources to work with.

Q: Is there a chance that during the campaign things could be tweaked or changed, at least to some degree, as far as what gets done and when?

Freshman LaDarius White won't likely play in a new arena, but next year's freshmen probably will
Bruce Newman

White: Our priorities are pretty set. Our No. 1 priority, and has been since my arrival, has been a new basketball arena. We feel like that's our biggest eyesore as an athletic department. We want to be a well-rounded athletic department and university that competes in this conference. As things change, time changes everything, as we all know. So we're not going to be hard-headed about it if things need to be tweaked a little bit. Throughout the course of the next three, five, seven years, we'll adjust it as necessary. We know we need to expand our stadium and grow our season ticket base. We know we have more demand for premium seats. That north end zone project is going to happen, and certainly the arena is going to happen. If other things become priorities amongst that, smaller projects, I think we're positioned to be flexible as need be.

Q: Even when this $150 million campaign is finished, there will always be needs as far as facilities, won't there?

White: There's no question we need to be as aggressive as possible moving forward. Because that's what our competitors are doing. We've heard our fans and I hear our donors say all the time about getting back to where we were 40 or 50 years ago competing for conference and national championships. We feel like we can do that. It's going to be a process to get there. But the formula for success is get talented student-athletes and coaches and support them with as many resources as possible. That's what we can do as a foundation and as a fan base and donor base on the resource side. Let's put these folks in a position to win.

Q: You've had one priority deadline already, and there is another upcoming. Tell us about those.

White: We had an early reward on Oct. 7 in terms of folks getting double priority. And we just had a major surge. I know it's not about priority points, it's about people who knew they were going to support the campaign that are loyal to Ole Miss and so extremely generous. But we had seven million (dollars) come in on that last day, Oct. 7, and we eclipsed the 40 million dollar mark, which was just two months into the campaign. I was shocked at how quickly that all happened. And again it speaks to the Ole Miss fan base, and our donors are ready to make this happen. The next deadline is Jan. 6. That's when everyone who has seats in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium affected by the CGA, the Capital Gift Agreement, they have until Jan. 6 to let us know if they want to keep their seats or if they want to allow us to look to sell them to someone else. We're hopeful that as many people as possible keep those seats, and that all those new folks that want into the premium areas, they will help us build the north end zone. That's how we built this funding model. We tried to be as conservative as possible to make it as affordable as we possibly could for the folks that are in there. We need the new people to come in and build that new north end zone for us. So I encourage everyone to get your stuff in to the UMAA Foundation by Jan. 6 to help us make this thing a reality.

(Part II coming on Tuesday.)

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