ACC: Northern Illinois Huskies

Kevin White thought he would be a career track-and-field coach before the persistence of the Loras College administration paid off. The Division III school had acted on the recommendation of White confidant Joe Piane, a former longtime Notre Dame cross country coach, and the Dubuque, Iowa institution sought White out as its athletic director.

"I think I'd have buyer's remorse if I left track and field. I don't think I can do it," White remembered. "And then about a month later they came back at me, and I remember sitting with my wife and saying, 'Gosh, do you really think we should consider this?' And of course three or four days later there's a press conference.

"As I tell people all the time: My career has been by absolute happenstance, and I've been the luckiest guy on the planet."

Who knew three decades later that White's influence would possess a chunk of the college sports landscape? His proteges currently call the shots at athletic departments across the country, most notably at a handful of programs in the nation's Power 5 conferences. Forget the Hayden Fry or Nick Saban coaching trees -- the White AD tree covers more ground. And, given its administrative status, it may be even more powerful.

One of its branches is seeking its second national title in as many years (Florida State's Stan Wilcox). Another found himself on the periphery of that title discussion and is readying for Thursday's Goodyear Cotton Bowl (Baylor's Ian McCaw). There are recent Rose Bowl winners (Stanford's Bernard Muir) and departments undergoing heavy makeovers (Penn State's Sandy Barbour). There is also one of White's five kids, Danny, who just made his first football coaching hire in his first athletic director job, at Buffalo.

"I like classic movies, and I really think he's the Godfather in college athletics," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "I just don't think any of us make any kind of move or make any major decision without checking in with the Godfather."

Phillips said he leaned on White this past year when faced with the unprecedented unionization movement from Northwestern football players. One year earlier, Phillips fired Wildcats men's basketball coach Bill Carmody and ended up hiring the only assistant coach among the candidates he interviewed: Duke's Chris Collins.

"It was important for me to get an honest evaluation of a guy that hadn't been in that seat before but certainly seemed to be ready," Phillips said.

The communication between White and Phillips is hardly unique among the White AD tree. Like so many in the inner-circle, Phillips, who started as a hoops graduate assistant at Arizona State, was brought into the administrative world by White, then ASU's athletic director. The two later reunited at Notre Dame when White was the Irish's athletic director, and the Chicago-born Phillips eventually took the top job at Northern Illinois and then Northwestern.

Similar brain-picking occurs during White's twice-a-month conversations with Todd Turner, the founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates, a search and consulting firm. Former up-and-coming ADs back in the old Yankee Conference -- White at Maine, Turner at UConn--— the two exchange thoughts on the state of college sports, and Turner finds himself in new his day job coming across White's fingerprints with regularity.

"In the number of the searches I've helped manage, his lineage shows up almost every time. And it's because they're prepared and have had a good mentor," Turner said, adding. "I think Kevin has taken his role as a mentor really well. He sees that as part of his responsibility, and I think the proof is in the fact that so many of his proteges have not only gotten jobs, they've been really good at them."

Penn State president Eric Barron has used Turner's firm in each of the past two years, having made AD hires at Florida State (Wilcox) and Penn State (Barbour). Wilcox, who worked under White at Notre Dame and Duke before taking the Seminoles' job, joked that he had never wanted to be an AD during his previous life working in the Big East office, having seen all that was on their plates on a daily basis. White convinced him otherwise, and Barron trusted in that connection, regardless of Wilcox's experience.

"It was very clear that what (Barron) needed was somebody to come in and really run the department," Wilcox said, adding. "And I think he saw that in me, he saw that in the people that Kevin helped train that came from his tree, that these are individuals that are ready, and that they know how to run the department. And I think he felt very comfortable that he wouldn't have to always be looking over my shoulder."

Added Barbour, the former Cal athletic director who worked under White at Tulane and Notre Dame: "That speaks to Kevin's reputation. And in Eric's case, how much confidence Eric has in Kevin's recommendation. Kevin's not just going to recommend, or they're not just going to support people off his tree. But everybody in America is calling Kevin: 'Who would you recommend for my opening at the AD job?' "

Many of White's colleagues were in New York earlier this month to see him accept the John L. Toner Award, for excellence in athletic administration. The social club, so to speak, gets together often on the road at receptions and dinners, with Barbour joking that the AD with the biggest department budget -- now her -- buys for everyone.

"What's so fun about it is that at our cores, we all carry those principles and, more importantly, values, but we're really different people," she said. "Very different personalities, but we're a wide variety of principles among the group and we kind of execute it in very different ways. But when it comes right down to it, you can see Kevin's influence in every one of us."

Wilcox, who has seen a wide range of success and turmoil in barely a year on the job at Florida State, finds himself repeating quips White would often say to bring levity to day-to-day situations: That's why God made beer. Or: This too shall pass.

All of White's kids have followed in his footsteps to some degree, in the sports or education industry. In addition to Danny, the Buffalo AD, there is Mike, Louisiana Tech's head men's basketball coach, and Brian, Army's associate AD for development. His daughters, Mariah and Maureen, are studying sports law at Tulane and teaching high school English in Arizona, respectively.

As silly season winds to a close, and as new hires get acquainted with their bosses, a prevalent pop-culture axiom rings particularly true within college athletics.

"It's like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon," Wilcox said. "It's the six degrees of Kevin White."

Instant analysis: FSU 31, NIU 10

January, 2, 2013

It wasn't exactly the easy win so many predicted, but Florida State's size and speed advantage helped the Seminoles outlast upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 to win their first Orange Bowl since 1996.

Record-setting NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch found no room to work, and Florida State's dominant defense showed few flaws in its first game without departed coordinator Mark Stoops, while EJ Manuel accounted for 321 yards of offense and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles.

It was over when: Xavier Rhodes forced a fumble from Da'Ron Brown on a second-down run with 11:15 left to play in the game. Northern Illinois had just converted a fourth-and-1 and was driving in hopes of cutting FSU's lead to seven, but the fumble was the dagger that ended any hopes of an upset. The play was reviewed, but officials ruled the ball was coming out of Brown's grip before his knee hit the ground, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized on the turnover with a Lonnie Pryor touchdown.

Game ball goes to: Pryor. The senior fullback has toiled in the shadows for four years at Florida State, earning immense respect within the locker room but relatively little fanfare outside it. Tuesday's game was different. While the rest of the FSU running game struggled, Pryor was brilliant. He opened the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run -- the longest of his career -- and put the icing on the cake with his 37-yard touchdown after NIU's fourth-quarter fumble.

Turning point: There were plenty, but NIU's two turnovers were killer. The fumble by Brown was the last straw, but a third-quarter interception by Terrence Brooks squelched another promising Huskies drive. Brooks picked off Lynch at the FSU 13-yard line to protect a slim seven-point lead.

Stat of the game: Lynch entered the game as one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football, but he found out yards are far tougher to come by against Florida State. Coming into the game, Lynch had racked up 1,771 rushing yards -- fourth most in the nation -- and was averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and the FSU linebacking corps was exceptional, hitting him repeatedly and giving him nowhere to run. Lynch had bragged earlier in the week that NIU planned to wear FSU down late, but the opposite was true, and the junior quarterback finished with just 44 yards rushing on 23 carries, while completing just 36 percent of his throws.

Unsung hero: It's tough to call Manuel an unsung hero, but in a season in which he's earned just as much criticism as praise -- and maybe more -- he wrapped up a five-year career at Florida State with a solid performance. Manuel completed 27 of 39 passes for 296 yards through the air and added another 26 rushing with a touchdown. He missed a few passes -- something his critics will be happy to note -- but he connected on far more. When the FSU offense needed him, he made the throws he had to make. Manuel never lived up to his immense promise at FSU, but he was surely a very good quarterback, and he ends his career as an Orange Bowl champion and winner of four straight bowl games.

What it means: Northern Illinois shrugged off the legions of doubters and proved an unexpectedly competitive opponent, but in the end, Lynch and the Huskies simply didn't have enough to make a late charge. For Florida State, it was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that has been filled with them. But it was also the school's first BCS win in 12 years, and it marked just the second time in program history that FSU has won 12 games in a season.