No, it doesn't feel like 15 years have passed, Donny White said, but perhaps that's because being in charge of Virginia Military Institute athletics never felt like a job.
When White announced last week that he would retire as VMI athletic director, effective this November, he did so after the same consideration from which he's made every decision since he took the position: the betterment of the school and the program.
"It's a good time for me to step away," White said. "I think it would be helpful to have new energy here. They might not find anybody that loves it any more than I do, but to find new energy, that for sure would be good, and it would probably be good for me."
White turned 70 last November, which doesn't seem possible to those who know him and attempt to keep up with him. The Hampton native is one of the giant figures in VMI athletic history, a man who made his mark as an athlete, a coach and finally, an administrator who will leave the athletic department in better shape than he found it.
"I think he's done a magnificent job," said Marshall Mundy, a Roanoke attorney and Board of Visitors member who has chaired the athletic committee for the past eight years and worked closely with White.
"Until I became chairman, I didn't have a real understanding of what the job entails," said Mundy (VMI Class of 1956). "It's a very demanding job and Donny does it with real class. He's so highly respected by the alumni. I believe he's one of the all-time good guys."
Greg Cavallero, the CEO of the Keydet Club, VMI's athletic fundraising arm, said, "Without a doubt, Donny White, from the very beginning, had nothing but the best interests and the best intentions for VMI athletics."
White's 15-year tenure as AD is the second-longest in school history, behind Bandy Clarkson (1926-46). He runs the athletic department at one of Division I's smallest schools (1,600 undergraduates), with the rigors of military and "rat line" training, as well as top-shelf academics and the school's exacting standards.
"We want to compete and we want to win," White said, "but we're going to do it the VMI way. We'll never compromise that."
Stewart MacInnis, VMI's director of communications and marketing, said that taken in total, White's tenure must be viewed as successful.
"Wins and losses, that's one metric, but perhaps not the most appropriate one here at VMI," he said. "It's about the young men and women who come out at the end, the type of people you produce. There have been times when athletes weren't as well integrated in the corps of cadets as they are now. That's a real strength that Donny brought here."
The two hallmarks of White's tenure were the addition of women, and women's sports, and the school's move from its longtime home, the Southern Conference, to the Big South.
"In my judgment, he handled both tremendously," Mundy said. "He did his homework and he was well prepared."
White takes pride that VMI fields seven women's sports, despite the fact that there are only 160 female cadets on post.
The decision to change conferences was done with an eye toward aiding the struggling football program, which routinely found itself outmanned against SoCon powers and against non-conference rivals such as William and Mary and Richmond. The Big South was a step down competitively and a smaller conference that offered greater scheduling flexibility.
Despite the move, football continues to have a tough time gaining traction.
"It's a challenge to win more than you lose," White said. "You're measured on that, for sure. I think I've always been interested in athletics from the time I was a little kid for the competition part of it. You play to compete and you play to win, and when you come up short it wears on you."
White said that the highlights for him are too numerous to mention, though one particular night stands out. White and his wife, Betty, were in New York attending the play "Mamma Mia" on Broadway on Nov. 14, 2008, the night before the Keydets' football team was to play at Stony Brook on Long Island.
When they came out of the theater and White turned on his cell phone, he had a slew of text messages. He turned to Betty and said, "I bet we beat Kentucky." Sure enough, the Keydets' basketball team had beaten the Wildcats at Rupp Arena 111-103 in the season opener — the program's signature win in the past 30 years.
He and Betty and a couple of the wives of football coaches who attended the play with them took the short walk to Times Square, where the huge electronic news ticker posted the score. He took a photo that remains one of his favorite mementos.