Harold White was a coach for South Carolina’s football team in 1971 and 1972. He was hired by Paul Dietzel as a graduate assistant and never rose to a full-time position with the football team.
Everyone called him “Coach” for the rest of his life.
“He was not just a coach for football but a coach for life,” said Langston Moore, a defensive lineman for the Gamecocks from 1999-2002.
White was USC’s first African-American coach in any sport, but his greatest impact on the school and on hundreds of its athletes came after he left that role to become an academic advisor for the team and then build from scratch the athletic department’s academic support department.
“He was my shadow,” said former Gamecocks running back George Rogers, the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner. “If it wasn’t for him, a lot of us players wouldn’t have made it. A bunch of us. He was our heart.”
White, 78, died Feb. 15, prompting an outpouring of messages from former South Carolina athletes from several generations.
“If you’re writing a story, you’re going to have to write a book,” said longtime USC track coach Curtis Frye.
“‘Coach’ is a reverence title,” Frye said. “When the teacher can’t get somebody to do something, they call ‘Coach.’ ”
Former Gamecocks wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, one of four USC players to have his jersey retired, called White “the reason I graduated” in a social media post.
“He was a quiet man, but he was very much a mentor and a teacher to everybody he touched. I think he thrived on helping others,” said Chandler, who went on to be the director of the Center for Student Success at Newberry College. “He became a father figure to everybody he touched. I don’t think Harold ever believed anybody had any bad in them. He believed everybody was a good person and had a purpose in life. He never needed the accolades. He didn’t want them. He just tried to help people that came through his life.”
The help went beyond the classroom.
“At first, you see him as this is the guy that makes us show up at study hall but really quickly he started to have those real conversations with us,” Moore said. “You got treated so much as a high performing athlete that all knew we were hot stuff, but Harold White was always the guy to bring us back down to earth and make us remember this thing is not going to last.”
White oversaw South Carolina’s academic support efforts from 1973-1989 and then returned to the school from 1993-2007, retiring as senior associate athletics director for academic support and student services. He was a graduate of C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia and grew up across the street from USC but came of age before USC integrated. He returned to Columbia after graduating from South Carolina State in 1963.
“What kind of man was he? None of us could ever explain it all,” Chandler said. “Harold become family. He taught me everything I knew. He had an extreme love of faith and family and his schools, whether it be South Carolina State or USC and his fraternity.”
White kept a penny bubble gum machine in his office for visitors, Chandler remembered.
“My daughter who is now 38, who is torn up by this, too, she remembers that bubble gum machine,” Chandler said. “She remembers having conversations with Coach about life and what to look out for and how to know you’re in love and how to set goals. I guess that’s my point. He reached way past just the athletes he touched.”
USC hosted a tribute to White’s life at Williams-Brice Stadium on Thursday. His funeral was 11 a.m. Friday at Brookland Baptist Church. His longtime friend and one-time hall mate at S.C. State, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, was set to be in attendance.
“We became fast friends and remained so all the way up until he died,” Clyburn told The State. “We called him Sweet Daddy.”
Clyburn and Sweet Daddy had a long conversation when Dietzel offered White the job at South Carolina. At the time, White was an up-and-coming high school coach in the state.
“I was one of the people who said, ‘You have to do this. This is a nut we have been trying to crack for a long time,’ ” Clyburn said. “I thought he was just a natural for it. He had a tremendous demeanor. He had compassion that he could share with others.”
White was heavily involved in South Carolina politics and education throughout Columbia. He was named to the Richland County School District One Hall of Fame in 2015.
Moore, who has co-written the children’s book “Just A Chicken” with another former White pupil Preston Thorne since ending his seven-year NFL career, has given educational speeches across the state in recent years and runs into White’s name often, he said.
“I don’t think every program in the world had somebody like Harold White,” Moore said. “A lot of the things I do today are because Harold White always said, ‘You are more than just that number.’ ”