Introductory press conferences for coaches function a lot like White House meetings with foreign dignitaries. They're celebratory atmospheres, with people dressed up, glad-handing and smiles all around.
But the difference is obvious: The dignitary in question isn't going back to where he came from, but being installed as the leader of his own basketball state.
Michael White — or Mike, if you need to save characters in a tweet; he's cool with that — walked into that setting, his new Florida kingdom, on Monday morning.
In a large room typically used for dining he was paraded in front of dozens of strangers, all of whom knew at least the basics about him. They knew his name, for sure; possibly, they knew where he went to college (Missisippi), his wife's name (Kira), the number of kids they have (five) and his career trajectory to this point (nearly a decade as an assistant, then four years as Louisiana Tech head coach). But he knew few of the folks in attendance, and certainly not any of the media members in the two rows of tables directly in front of him.
His parents were behind the press in one of the three rows of chairs, along with his assistant coaches, but they were lost in the sea of University Athletic Association administrators and other assorted big-wigs. There were other on-lookers, including Jim McElwain and Amanda Butler, all forming a semicircle of interested parties, curious about what the angelic-faced guy fresh out of Ruston, Louisiana had to say at the podium.
And as the 38-year-old, spoke we began to learn what makes Mike White tick.
White is a Floridian by birth, and that's about it. At two weeks old his family packed their bags to head to head north, father Kevin had recently taken a job as a track coach at Central Michigan. Due to the nomadic nature of his father's career in college athletics, White started telling each set of new friends that he was an "Army brat," much easier to understand than "my dad is an athletic director and he keeps getting new jobs."
Yet despite all his movements — from Florida to Michigan to Maine to Louisiana, where he played his high school basketball — in the end there was this pull back to the state of Florida for White. He met his wife at college at the University of Mississippi; while combing a volleyball roster to put a name to a face, he realized Kira Zschau was a native of Dunedin, just like him, although she was raised in the Sunshine State.
I spoke with both White's mother Jane and father Kevin Monday. Both of them gushed about Florida being their son's dream, even if father had tried to talk son out of the coaching profession early on. And they only confirmed the gravitational pull of Gainesville: Kevin said if Mike could have picked any school to go to, it was this one, and that there were times when his son wouldn't allow himself to even entertain the possibility — because, of course, Billy Donovan was going to be here forever.
But Donovan was not destined to stay in Gainesville forever, and his departure left White with a crown to claim. White isn't stupid: He knows the shoes he has to fill are gargantuan. The second question he was asked was about comparing his style to Donovan's, and the first words out of his mouth in response were that any comparison to his predecessor would be an "absolute compliment."
There may come a day when he rues saying those words. The expectations and standards Donovan leaves behind are significant; if White doesn't do the job right, well, the king can be overthrown. Such is the reality of his profession, and the difficulty of his situation: You never want to be the guy who replaces a legend, and Donovan is certainly that.
But Kevin White knows a little bit about replacing coaches, and said his son is up for it, because he knows who he is and he's "comfortable in his own skin."
And in the flesh and the touch left on programs, there are similarities.
Donovan was 30 when he was hired, and White looks much younger than his 38 years; they share a familiar widow's peak, although Donovan's is much more pronounced, and similarly confident and calm tenors of lightly-accented speech, though Donovan's Lawn Guyland inflection is far more distinctive than White's faint lilt.
White better be ready for the resemblances to become familiar: When comes to work each day, the first thing he'll see is Donovan's face on a 20-foot mural in the basketball facility. It gazes down on what he built, most of which is commemorated in the glass case under the stairs White will climb to get to his office.
White may well build his own legacy at Florida, but, to this point, he's done about as much as Donovan had at Marshall. The two coaches' pre-Florida career trajectories both include shocking the system at a small school with little history by installing blitzkrieg offense and pressing defense, before being plucked by Jeremy Foley to come to UF. They also both spent time on Wall Street between their playing days and when their coaching careers began, though White said he was just "ghosting" for a week.
In his short career as a head coach, Mike White has made many difficult things look easy. His Louisiana Tech teams lost eight conference games in the last three years, and have won 49 of their last 50 home games. Those Dunkin' Dawgs won 27, 29 and 27 games in each of the last three years respectively, missing out on the NCAA Tournament largely because of the fickle nature of conference tournaments, and the fact that they're part of one-bid leagues that only send tournament champions to the dance. Those unclaimed dance tickets are why White said he did only "99 percent" of what he'd hoped for as coach of the Bulldogs.
White knows the standard here, knows that merely making March Madness isn't enough, and is content to let us explain the expectations; he parried the most explicit question about them on Monday, near the end of his press conference. And as it concluded, so, too, did White's honeymoon period. The greetings and handshakes in Gainesville are largely done, and the back-pats of congratulations will end soon.
Michael White's dream job is now his reality. He has the keys to the Florida basketball kingdom. And the Gator Nation will be watching to see how he rules.