Stan White’s college football playing career was marked by perfection. The Birmingham native took over as the Auburn Tigers starting quarterback in 1990 as a redshirt freshman and remained the starter for every game through his senior year, a perfect 45-of-45. And during his final season at Auburn, White helped lead the team to a spotless 11-0 record, the Tigers’ first undefeated campaign in 35 years.
When it came to achieving similar excellence off the field, White tried to follow examples set by former players who strived to be the best they could in all aspects of life. This included 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan — a fellow Birmingham native who recruited White to Auburn and was his quarterbacks coach for three years — and two-time Super Bowl winner Bart Starr — a Montgomery native and former Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback who White saw frequently over the years at various banquets and functions.
“Those two men,” White says, “were the epitome of class, character and integrity, on and off the playing field.”
That is why White says he is “incredibly honored” to receive this year’s Starr-Sullivan Achievement Award, which will be presented to him May 7 at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame’s 54th annual induction ceremony. The award was established after both men passed away in 2019, and the recipient is chosen with input from the Starr and Sullivan families.
“It’s a huge privilege to be chosen for this because of the names involved: Starr and Sullivan,” White says. “Those two names represented the state of Alabama for a long time. They were both so approachable and very engaging, and they touched so many lives.”
Like Starr and Sullivan, White initially became well known within the state because of his college football success. He was a fixture in Auburn’s starting lineup throughout the early 1990s, finishing his career with program records in passing yards (8,016) and completions (659).
“Obviously there was a little bit of luck involved in (the 45-game starting streak) by not being injured,” White says. “But there was also a determination to do anything I could to stay on the field and help the team.”
That type of determination was on full display during White’s senior year, when the Tigers were placed on NCAA probation for rules violations and were banned from competing in a postseason bowl game or appearing on television.
“When the sanctions were announced,” White recalls, “I talked with the other seniors and said, ‘Who cares. Let’s just go win them all.’ And sure enough, we went out and played every week like it was the last game we’d ever play and won them all. The sanctions actually motivated us.
“There are some things you can control and some things you can’t. We controlled the things we could control, and that was to just go out there and win every game we played. It was a memorable year. I was very proud to have been the captain of that team. It was a great way to finish off my Auburn career,” White says.
After college, White served as a backup quarterback for the NFL’s New York Giants for four years. However, it became apparent early on that he was not about to have a long, lucrative run in professional football.
“For most players, the NFL is not really a career. You just play as long as you can so financially you can set yourself up for something later,” White says. “I was getting paid a lot compared to most people, but I wasn’t getting paid a lot for an NFL player. And living in New York didn’t help, either.
“I saw people make a lot of money in a short period of time and not be good stewards of those finances. That helped me learn about becoming more financially responsible.”
Following his retirement from the NFL, White says he considered embarking on a football coaching career, but decided against it once he realized it was not an overriding passion of his.
“I got some great advice from (former Auburn head coach) Pat Dye,” White says. “He told me, ‘Only go into coaching if it’s something you can’t live without.’ And I felt like I could live without it. The stability just isn’t there.”
Instead, White embarked on one of the more stable professions: the insurance business. His father, uncle and brother all worked in the industry, so White understood what was involved. And he says he liked the idea of running his own office. Of coaching his version of a team.
“I knew I wanted to own a business,” White says. “I wanted to lead a staff and have the responsibility for things lie on my shoulders. … I grew up around (the insurance) business, so that’s why I ultimately decided to go that route.”
White joined State Farm Insurance in 1999 and set up an agency in Bessemer. In recent years, the national company has embraced a connection to the sports world through a number of creative commercials involving athletes from the NFL, NBA and other sports. In 2021, State Farm aired a spot during the Super Bowl for the first time.
“It’s funny, because State Farm is a very conservative company and has never really had tie-ins with athletes or famous people until lately,” White says. “It’s all about the branding of the name. As social media has evolved over the last 10 years, you have to get that brand in front of people.”
White himself has remained in the public eye (or ear) through his role as a commentator for the Auburn Sports Network’s radio broadcast of the Tigers’ football games. He has another impressive streak of perfection going there as well, having called the action in 269 consecutive games since 2001.
“I love doing the broadcast,” White says. “I don’t know if you ever really lose the itch to be in that competitive environment, and this keeps me involved with the game.”
White, who is married with three children, also stays connected to football by working as a volunteer coach at Birmingham’s John Carroll Catholic High School. In fact, White likes to jokingly call himself “a part-time State Farm Insurance agent and a full-time volunteer coach.”
“The one thing I enjoy more than anything else is sharing with young people and helping teach and mentor them on the mental side of things,” White says. “Helping them with their self-confidence, and how to develop as a student-athlete. I know the importance of our roles as ex-ballplayers.”
It is, after all, a lesson he learned by watching the likes of Bart Starr and Pat Sullivan.
Cary Estes is a Birmingham-based freelancer for Business Alabama.
This story originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Business Alabama magazine.