2016-04-01 / Up Close

In the Club with Bob White

Tyler Disalle

Bob White has a room with a view. Sixty to be exact. The Nittany Lion Club’s director of club and suites can stand in one of the suites at Beaver Stadium and look down to the field where his Penn State career began in 1982. But White’s journey from field to skyboxes has been just as varied as the clients he interacts with on a daily basis in his current position.

A first-generation college student in his family, White quickly found his new school and community to be more than welcoming.

“Penn State was just a very natural, comfortable gut feeling I had about what I was hearing, the kinds of conversations I had, the kinds of people I was interacting with,” he says. “Everything about the setting was very attractive to me. It was a great place to fortify some of those very basic things that your parents and others had instilled in you prior to coming here.”

On the football field, White blossomed into one of the leaders of Joe Paterno’s defense. A redshirt freshman in 1982 when Penn State defeated Georgia in the Sugar Bowl for their third national championship in school history, White earned the respect of his teammates over his next three seasons and was named co-captain of the team that won the program’s fourth national title in 1986, an accolade that White says was “quite an honor.”

Though playing for Coach Paterno was a valuable experience in itself, the life lessons he learned from the legendary coach are even more treasured.

“You knew he cared,” says White. “No matter how rough and gruff he may have been at times, you always knew he had your best interest in mind. The other thing is he truly wanted you as an individual and as a group to be the very best you could be. That was one of the things he constantly conveyed to us in different ways.”

“Penn State was just a very natural, comfortable gut feeling I had. Everything about the setting was very attractive to me.”

Graduating with a degree in criminal justice and two national championship rings (as well as 140 tackles and 18 sacks), White was selected in the sixth round of the 1987 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49ers. But he was traded to the Cleveland Browns not long after and soon decided the professional level wasn’t for him.

“It was such a contrast between what I had experienced here [at Penn State] and what I was experiencing there,” says White. “Depending on who you are and what you’re looking for, there’s a big difference.”
After hanging up his cleats, White hoped to experience life outside of sports. He returned to Penn State in 1989 to work toward his master’s degree in counseling while serving as a recruiter and then director of legislative affairs.

But White wouldn’t stay out of sports much longer. In 1995, then-Athletic Director Tim Curley asked him to work as Curley’s assistant. There, White worked with coaches from all of Penn State’s varsity sports on the eligibility of incoming student-athletes. Then in 2000, Paterno asked if he would be interested in a coaching position. That fall, White was back out on the gridiron coaching Penn State’s special teams and defensive line.

“The aspect of coaching and teaching technique, I really welcomed and enjoyed it,” says White. “Being around the kids in the weight room and training with them, I loved it. But each year, you gotta take certain NCAA rules tests, and I wasn’t as fond in many respects about the recruiting.”
In 2001, White settled into his current job at the Nittany Lion Club — just as renovations to Beaver Stadium added more club seats and suites. “It was pretty intense, it was all a transition,” says White.

“They had taken one former Penn Stater [Jim Meister] who had come out of retirement… so the first year I was in this job, he and I spent one year overlapping. The goal was to ultimately sell all of those seats and suites out, which we eventually got to.”

By 2007, White was able to sell out all 60 club suites and 4,000 club seats in Beaver Stadium, a tall task that he embraced. “It was a challenge in the sense that we had made a decision to look for new ways as a department to generate revenue, and so with this expansion we added the premium seating,” says White.
In his current job, no two days are exactly alike, and there is no offseason. Though his focus is on handling the club seating, White also coordinates private gatherings and events. Whether it’s working to help plan a wedding, selling a suite to a CEO, or working with the Office of Physical Plant to fix an issue inside the stadium, White deals with it all.

“There is no typical day,” he says. “Over the years with these evening private events and weekend events, you come back and you’re here until 10, 11, 12, 1 o’clock. It’s not your true 8 to 5, Monday to Friday. The time when you’re really pulling double and triple duty is once you get into the summer months right into winter. You’re dealing with camps, you’re dealing with 4thFest, you lead into football season. You get that little break in December and January and then it starts all over again.”

White could soon be facing another daunting challenge, as talk of renovating or building a completely new football stadium is heating up. Populous, a Missouri-based architecture company, is currently conducting an audit of all Penn State athletic venues and will present its discoveries and recommended plan of action in July. Of course, Beaver Stadium will be at the forefront. “My instincts tell me it’ll probably end up being something more along the lines of renovations as opposed to something new,” says White.

If that’s the case, making the in-stadium experience more fan-friendly and creating additional storage space will be at the top of White’s wish list. “We could use more elevators. We could use more storage space,” he says. “We’ve made it work the way it is, but it could be smoother.”

When he’s not trying to sell seats or coordinate private events, White still stays busy. “I enjoy spending time with my church family. I enjoy gardening in the summer months. I love reading American history, in particular as it relates to my own heritage as a black American. I love antique art. I love to go to the gym and work out.”

When the topic of retiring in State College comes up, there’s little hesitation in White’s answer. “I could see that, given where I’m at and how I go about things and how I enjoy life,” he says. “I still enjoy this area for the initial reasons I was attracted here.” •SCM

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