Tennessee football: Steve White, who helped usher in Vols’ 90s run, dies

Vanderbilt's quarterback Damian Allen gets sacked by Tennessee's Steve White on November 25, 1995.Tennessee Vanderbilt Archive
Vanderbilt's quarterback Damian Allen gets sacked by Tennessee's Steve White on November 25, 1995.Tennessee Vanderbilt Archive /

When he first joined Tennessee football in 1992, Steve White had no way of knowing he was part of the dawn of a new era. However, after his final season in 1995, he had played a crucial role in bringing the Vols into their greatest run in modern history.

White, a defensive end who played seven years in the NFL, including six with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and one with the New York Jets, passed away this week at age 48 after a battle with leukemia. He was born in Memphis and a sixth-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft.

The Bucs and Tennessee football confirmed news of White’s passing on Twitter Wednesday. White revealed on Twitter back in April that he had been battling leukemia for eight years and was receiving a bone marrow transplant.

In his first year on Rocky Top, White was part of a program in transition. That was the infamous Phillip Fulmer-Johnny Majors saga, which saw Majors fired at the end of the year and Fulmer named full-time head coach after serving as interim to open the season.

A year later, White became a regular contributor, and by 1994, he was a full-fledged starter helping the program set the stage for what would come with Peyton Manning at the helm. That year, he had eight tackles for a loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles, a pass breakup and 43 tackles, 27 of which were solo.

His senior year, John Chavis took over as defensive coordinator, the final piece needed for the Vols to enter their epic run. White didn’t lose a step, registering nine sacks, another seven tackles for a loss, forcing three fumbles, breaking up six passes and coming away with 35 total tackles, an insane 31 of which were solo.

Against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Citrus Bowl, White did his part with nine tackles. He was a huge catalyst for Tennessee football going 11-1 that season, beating OSU 20-14 and finishing ranked in the top three of both polls.

That was the first year of the legendary run under Fulmer. From 1995 to 1998, the Vols were the winningest team in college football. They went 45-5, won two SEC Championships and captured the national championship while never failing to win 10 games or finish outside of the top 10.

Although he wasn’t able to enjoy any of the championships, White’s exploits played a huge role in the Vols being able to reach that next step. He was one of the first players who fit the profile of what Chavis wanted in a defensive end, a fast guy around the edges who could allow his pressure packages to work.

As a pro, White appeared in 94 games, starting 15 of them. He finished his career with 11.5 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, five pass breakups and 119 tackles, 84 of which were solo. It’s hard to determine what the best year of his career was.

After all, White started all 13 games in 1999 and never started more than one any other season. However, in 2001 he had a career-high five sacks, four more tackles for a loss, four pass breakups and 25 total tackles, 15 of which were solo.

Given the teams he played for, White specifically worked under Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin and Herm Edwards. There are plenty of Tennessee football connections there, with Dungy coaching Manning, a teammate of White’s, and Kiffin serving as the Vols’ defensive coordinator under his son, Lane, in 2009.

Next. 10 greatest single seasons by Vols players of all time. dark

One of the greatest catalysts of UT’s success in the 1990s, White will be missed. He was taken too soon, and Rocky Top lost a great VFL. The city of Memphis, the NFL, the Bucs and the Jets all suffered a loss as well. Everybody will miss White.