The following article is from Vol. 14, No. 4 February 2017 of The Newsletter of The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at The University of Georgia. Click here to view full Newsletter.
CAROL A. WHITE, THE ONLY WOMAN FOOTBALL COACH
AT THE NCAA I-A LEVEL
by Pat McAlexander
The October 2016 issue of the OLLI Times included an article about OLLI@UGA member Carol A. White’s August flood relief delivery to Webster Springs, West Virginia. A note at the end of that article gave information about how OLLI members could help with donations for her upcoming Christmas delivery to the town. Carol reports that the article “generated positive feedback from friends and total strangers. Charlsa Jackson gave of her time to help sort, fold, and pack donated clothing, then spent a day going into businesses to make purchases while I remained outside in the driver’s seat. Jinx Patel and her husband made a generous financial contribution. About two dozen OLLI members made contact and provided assistance.”
In late November, Carol and Tank, her 2006 long body Dodge Sprinter, made the marathon 1000-mile round trip to Webster Springs, WV, and delivered those donations. The area received snow while she was there; on the return—an 18-hour drive—Tank was covered with road salt. But Carol felt the trip was worth it:”I am thankful that so many support this work that creates so great an impact for an entire county.”
But there is another equally inspirational story to tell about Carol’s impact on others. It has to do with her career as a football coach—and becoming the only female in the United States ever to coach football at the NCAA FBS (I-A) level.” Carol’s career reveals the mental side of football in a game thought of by many spectators as mostly physical.
Even as a child, Carol clearly had an unusual mind; before she was ten she had taught herself Latin and Greek from her mother’s textbooks. She later became fluent in several languages. At the University of Southern Mississippi on a music scholarship (she played the clarinet), Carol double-majored in political science and history, graduating magna cum laude. In 1970 she earned a Master’s degree from Florida State University in “automated data retrieval” (library research in the early days of computers). She then accepted a job as librarian at Monroe High School in Albany, GA.
Her coaching came about by chance—or perhaps, in Carol’s words, “It was designed to happen.” Visiting the high school’s campus to see where she would be working, she saw across a scraggly field the football team practicing in an old baseball stadium. When she walked over, the football coach greeted her warmly. When she showed up a second day, he stuck out a clipboard and asked, “Would you help me?” Although he then needed assistance with statistics, Carol’s role quickly turned into scouting and attending staff meetings as well. She also began to watch hundreds of hours of grainy black-and-white film on the brick wall in the gym, training herself to recognize plays and patterns. In the days before computer analysis of games, she developed a system for recording large amounts of information about each play and scanning this data into a weekly report about the Monroe High team and their opponent. This knowledge was the key to the team’s success: the players more than held their own against better
funded schools, and many were given college football scholarships.
In spite of other offers, Carol stayed on as librarian at Monroe High School for fifteen years, eventually being paid also as a football coach—as well as cheerleader sponsor, tennis coach, wrestling coach, and statewide statistician for girls’ track! Told by her high school head coach to add knowledge of special
teams (kicking, punting, and snapping), she traveled to Fort Lauderdale to learn from theorist Edward J. “Doc” Storey. She has taught his drills to three generations of specialists, focusing them on physics and geometry. Her specialty, however, was coaching linebackers. Since she understood opponent offenses, she was able to teach the
defensive players to read and anticipate moves. In addition to coaching varsity defense and special teams, she later ran
the junior varsity team.
In 1985, Carol attended Georgia Tech’s football coaching clinic, and her uncanny mastery of theory and her ability to see all 22 players on the field during any play attracted the attention of Tech’s coaches. She was asked to apply for a coaching job there for that fall. Carol applied, and when in August a call came asking her to report to Atlanta for the job, she decided to do so. Margaret Johnson in the October 2002 issue of Athens Magazine quotes Tech head coach Bill Curry: “My most vivid memory of [Carol’s] early days . . . with my veteran staff [is] watching those guys’ expressions change from disdain to surprise to grudging respect to absolute delight.” –p. 38). Carol coached at Tech from 1985 to 1989.
In 1989 Carol moved to a faculty position at Tech, a move which freed her from the NCAA rules affecting contact with athletes. She continued running week-long summer kicking camps on college campuses, expanding from two to seven camps, one in each of seven states. For twenty years, she returned to Albany in May and July to provide special teams instruction for all four public high schools. For a period, Carol also offered seven one-week football camps in seven states. Now retired from Tech and limited by rheumatoid arthritis, she still runs 30 one-day clinics each spring at high schools in six Southern states, conducts two summer camps, and provides one-on-one tutoring to athletes and coaches. Individual players come from schools as far away as Note Dame to learn from her.
Carol’s impact upon the boys she has coached over the years, and their gratitude, was especially shown on Christmas Eve 2013, when a delivery notice appeared on her door. A coalition of former campers and staffers had sent her a 32-inch flat screen television to go in front of the lounge chair in her living room and a 22-inch flat screen for her bedroom. Carol writes, “I had to cry, thinking of these men swapping stories about our trips and our years of sharing the highs and lows of their lives.” As a football coach, Carol has gained not only the affection and gratitude of her students, but professional recognition on the national level. In 1985, she was accepted as the first (and for many years only) female member of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). Last December AFCA awarded her status as a Life Member and told her that she would be honored at its January 2018 convention in Charlotte, NC. To Carol, “This message served as a catalyst to forge forward for another year, my 48th of coaching football.”
Looking back on her career, Carol says, “I was pulled in by a succession of men who felt that I could help them produce better teams and players. But instead of a win-loss record, my legacy in this profession is generations of young people who have used football as a tool to maximize their potential in preparation for their real careers.” The story, for Carol, is about nurturing
leadership skills and setting an example that becomes part of the students’ lives.
To see Bill Curry’s interview of Carol, one of UGA’s Hargrett Library’s oral history projects, google Carol A. White+youtube+oralhistory. The oral history unit is part of the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Library. Thanks to Carol for her emails and the personal interview upon which this article was based.