Nebraska has a new defensive commander.
Syracuse defensive coordinator Tony White will assume the same position and join Matt Rhule’s staff at Nebraska. The university confirmed the news on Friday afternoon in a press release, pending a background check. That same release confirmed the retention of offensive line coach Donovan Raiola.
“We are pleased to add Tony White and Donovan Raiola to our coaching staff,” Rhule said in a statement. “They each bring a high level of energy and competitiveness to our staff. Both Tony and Donovan were outstanding players at the highest level of college football, and also have professional playing experience. Their success has carried into their respective coaching careers. I look forward to them developing the players in our program and helping bring the nation’s top talent to Nebraska.”
While White is one of the rare members of Rhule’s coaching staff that hasn’t coached with Rhule before, White played linebacker at UCLA during the one year Rhule was defensive line coach.
White implemented the 3-3-5 defense at Syracuse. He learned that system from Rocky Long, one of the engineers of the modern 3-3-5, at both New Mexico and San Diego State. Reports indicate the 3-3-5 appealed to Rhule, as that’s the defense he installed at Baylor to spark the program’s turnaround. White’s defenses at Syracuse earned a reputation for being aggressive and unpredictable with its coverages and stunts.
White is a journeyman in coaching and life. He was born in Florida but graduated high school in El Paso, Texas. He played his college ball at UCLA and spent a few years in the Canadian Football League. White started his coaching career as the head coach of St. Genevieve High in California before joining the UCLA coaching staff as a graduate assistant. He spent a year as linebackers coach at New Mexico before rejoining San Diego State head coach Rocky Long as Aztecs’ cornerbacks coach. Long recruited White to UCLA.
Nebraska’s new defensive coordinator spent two seasons as just defensive backs coach and then seven full seasons as San Diego State’s defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator. In that stretch he was named Mountain West Recruiter of the Year twice in three seasons (2011, 2013) by Rivals.com. White was also named Best Recruiter among Group of 5 schools in 2014 by Rivals.
San Diego State’s most successful era coincided with White’s time there. The Aztecs went to eight bowl games in White’s nine seasons. During that time, San Diego State also won three Mountain West Championships.
He coached cornerbacks for two seasons at Arizona State for two years before joining Dino Babers’ staff at Syracuse as defensive coordinator in 2020. He added the role of linebackers coach this past season. White immediately improved Arizona State’s secondary, leading the Sun Devils up 50 spots in national pass defense rankings. In his final season in Tempe, Arizona State finished 12th in the country with 65 passes successfully defended.
Syracuse played a majority-freshman defense for large stretches of the 2020 season. Three defenders from that team finished with Freshman All-American honors. In his second year as defensive coordinator, Syracuse finished 19th nationally in yards allowed per game (330) and 16th in the country in sacks per game (3.1). This season, Syracuse finished No. 29 in the country with 338.1 yards allowed per game and No. 35 with 22.67 points allowed per game.
The Orange started the 2022 season 6-0 with wins over Louisville, UConn, Purdue, Virginia, Wagner and North Carolina State. NC State was No. 15 at the time and Syracuse limited them to three field goals and 255 total yards. Syracuse’s season also included a five-game losing streak. That included losses to Clemson, Notre Dame, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.
Three members of the San Diego State secondary were drafted into the NFL during White’s time coaching the position. One member of the Arizona State secondary went into the NFL and already six members of the Syracuse secondary have been drafted in his time there.