Long found the right button. It wasn't sexy. Wasn't profound. But it was just what White needed to hear, and it's a precious trait in this instant-gratification society.
"Regardless of what people think or how you feel, it's only February,” Long told White. "Let's see what happens.”
White recalls the message more succinctly: "He said no. He said, ‘We don't play until August.'”
Truth is, the coaches knew how bad off was White. Long said Jerry Schmidt's strength staff had warned them, "Better be sure you get another guy ready to play.”
Long gave White a plan. Coaches would modify spring practice. He would have to run very little. He would sit out every third or so workout.
"He's so tough,” Long said. "I knew he had a chance to get through this thing. I told him I believed in him as a quarterback, his toughness and work ethic.
"He's a man of few words. He said, ‘OK. I'm going to keep working.' He picked up his stuff and left.”
White's the kind of player, whatever a coach says, he accepts. Long said to wait, so White waited.
You know the rest. White gutted out the spring and didn't get discouraged when the other quarterbacks received more work. Rawls fell from favor through a series of bonehead decisions. Coaches anointed White the starter.
His knees improved, though not to the point where he ever was his old mobile self. Trainer Scott Anderson surveyed White every day to determine how much he could do in practice. White threw 40 touchdown passes and won the Heisman Trophy.
Hard as it is to believe, the story really did go like that.
"He had to total reinvent him as a quarterback,” Long said. "As a 21-year-old kid, he couldn't run anymore. Went from one style of quarterback to another. I don't think people realize how hard that was to do.
"He did it in such a graceful way. I use his example all the time with guys who get hurt.”
Coaching is about many things. Devising schemes and intuitive game moves and being organized and motivating players.
And sometimes coaching is simply telling a player what he needs to hear, exactly when he needs to hear it.
Said Jason White, who won a Heisman Trophy and contended for another after walking into an office with tears in his eyes, "I couldn't ask for a better coach.”