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Life Coach

September 16, 2009
by Adeel Iqbal
coach and football players

Mike White was stunned when his staff of about 50 students presented him with a bottle of champagne and an autographed football this past summer at the Lair of the Golden Bear. Somehow, they had learned that the former Cal football player and head coach had been selected for induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It was overwhelming,” says White, who played for the Bears from 1955 to 1957. “The kids are like family and to have that many people recognize you is so moving.” White—who since retiring from NFL coaching in 2005 has managed Camp Blue at the Lair with his wife, Marilyn—will be inducted on Nov. 9 at Cal’s annual Hall of Fame banquet.

At Cal, White played wide receiver under coaches Pappy Waldorf and Pete Elliott and captained the team his senior year. He earned varsity letters in football, rugby, and track and field, and a pair of junior varsity letters for Pete Newell in basketball. “A lot of my motivation to become a coach and interest in having an effect on people’s lives, I got through my association with Pete Newell,” says White, who went on to coach freshman football for Cal immediately after his senior year and served as head coach 1972–77.

His offer to coach at Cal came at the same time he was offered the head-coaching job at Stanford, where he had served eight years under John Ralston ’50. But White decided to return to his alma mater, to help reinvigorate a program plagued with problems. “When you are young, you make decisions on instinct. It was one of those decisions that I just felt,” White told the San Francisco Chronicle.

“He doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed by himself,” says CAA Executive Director Tuck Coop ’67, who remembers White as a camp leader from the days Coop went camping with his family in the 1950s. “And I love that about him.”

White now sees about 330 campers a week each summer at Camp Blue. “I’ve sort of come full circle,” he says. “I guess I’m a true-blue Golden Bear. I had a lot of great experiences and am still reaping the rewards, and reaping the advantages, of being a Cal student.”

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