A coach named War Daddy, Harold White, Sr.
(Writer’s note: I wrote this column for The Clarion-Ledger in 2004. It is about a coach nicknamed War Daddy. His real name was Harold T. White. Hal White, of Hal and Mal’s fame, was Harold T. White, Jr. Hal’s son, Taylor, is Harold T. White III.)
Eddie Khayat, at his Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame induction earlier this month, spoke little of his own considerable accomplishments and far more of those who helped him along the way.
He spoke, in particular, of a remarkable junior college coach named Harold “War Daddy” White.
“It took Harold White 15 minutes to make a man out of me,” Khayat said in that rich, baritone drawl of his. “It took him pretty much an entire season for him to make me into a halfway decent football player.”
You could tell Khayat really, really meant it. That got my attention. I filed it away as a column to get to later – after The Masters and the NFL Draft. Now seems as good a time as any.
Khayat, you should know, grew up in Moss Point, played at Millsaps, then Perkinston Junior College and then at Tulane, where he became one of the school’s all-time greats. He played 10 years in the NFL before going into coaching. None of that, after Perk, would have happened if not for White, Khayat said.
So, I called Khayat at his Nashville home this week to learn more about how this relatively obscure junior college coach had turned his life around. Khayat talked at length. Here’s a short version.
At Moss Point, Khayat played on a high school football team that didn’t win a game. “We were terrible, and I mean terrible,” Khayat says. “Nobody was offering any of us college scholarships.”
So Khayat went to Mississippi State to try out for a scholarship. You could do that back in 1950. He saved money for a train fare to Starkville, but had to hitchhike home – without a scholarship. He later went to Ole Miss to try out and was quickly cut.
He spent the rest of that school year at Millsaps, playing football and basketball, then went home to Moss Point where he worked all summer with plans to enlist in the Army.
“I thought football was over,” he says. “I wasn’t good enough. My self-esteem was at rock bottom.”
One afternoon he stopped by a Moss Point football practice to watch his younger brother, Robert, and some more old buddies. He was smoking cigarettes, shooting the breeze with others along the sidelines when someone mentioned that the coach over at Perkinston – Perk, they called it – was looking for some football players.
“I decided to give them a call,” Khayat says. “Prior to marrying my wife, that was the best thing I ever did.”
Harold White told Khayat that he had never worked as hard as he was about to work. White told Khayat that not everybody was cut out to do what he was fixin’ to do, and that many would quit. The real men, he said, would not quit.
“He was like John Wayne talking to you,” Khayat remembers. “He was tough and we knew he was tough. He didn’t have to tell you he could whip everybody in the room. You just knew.
“And I knew I wasn’t gonna quit.”
Not that he didn’t think about it. Everybody did, including Bill Dooley, who went on to become such a splendid coach at North Carolina.
Says Dooley, “As far as toughness, Bear Bryant couldn’t hold a candle to Harold White. We called him War Daddy because every practice was like a football war. He was tough, man, he was tough. But if you stuck with him, he wouldn’t let you fail.”
Says Khayat, “I thought I had been in good shape when I played high school ball and when I played at Millsaps. I didn’t even know what really being in shape meant.
“I played two years at Tulane and 10 in the NFL and I was never in that good of shape again. He pushed me. Oh, how he pushed all of us. I was 19 then and I’m 68 now and everything since then has been a breeze.”
Khayat remembers the two little boys who were always at practices, always at the games, always on the buses en route to games. Harold White was a single parent then, raising two boys, coaching football and teaching classes.
Many around Jackson would recognize those two boys – Hal and Malcolm White, of Hal and Mal’s. Ole Miss fans might recall their younger brother, Brad White, who played defensive back for the Rebs.
Says Malcolm White, “The thing I remember about practices was that when the players were doing sit-ups, Dad would holler `tighten up boys’ and walk across their stomachs with those long football cleats on. I’m telling you, those guys were in shape.
“He was a tough coach; heck, he was a tough guy, but he had a soft, tender side,” Mal White says. “Not a week goes by when somebody, usually a former player or student, doesn’t come into our place with a story about how my dad helped them in some meaningful way.”
Says Eddie Khayat: “He made us do right. More than that, he made us want to do right. He drove us and pushed us far beyond what we thought we were capable of.”
Says Bill Dooley, “You can’t coach now like Harold White coached then, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.”
Eddie Khayat, for one, knows it’s not.
Hal and Mal White hold an annual golf tournament to raise money for the Harold T. White Scholarship Fund at Hinds Community College. The fund provides scholarships to students studying culinary arts in Hinds’ hospitality and tourism management program. This year’s tourney is Saturday afternoon at Bay Pointe Country Club.