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Florida hires Louisiana Tech's Michael White as head basketball coach

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Jeremy Foley has his man — and he found him with alacrity.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Florida has hired Louisiana Tech head coach Michael White to the same position, the school announced Thursday night.

Just one week after Billy Donovan's departure for the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder, and three days after a farewell press conference in Gainesville, Jeremy Foley has found the future Hall of Fame coach's successor.

"I have an incredible amount of respect for the University of Florida, and I am so excited to be a Gator," White said. "Not only is Florida home for me, but the tradition and success that the Gators have built make this an incredible opportunity. I know about the great home court advantage in the O’Connell Center, which is a testament to the fans and the Rowdy Reptiles. There’s an unbelievable commitment to excellence athletically and academically at UF, and it starts with the leadership of Dr. Fuchs and Jeremy Foley. I look forward to returning to the SEC where I have a lot of great memories, and I can’t wait to create many more alongside The Gator Nation."

"Michael White is someone who came to the top of our list very quickly and he checks all of the boxes we were looking for," Foley said. "He is a winner who has a high level of integrity, plays an up-tempo style of play and has the respect of his peers and the basketball community. He has experience in coaching, recruiting and playing in the Southeastern Conference and has a strong pedigree. He has a certain authenticity with people and is not afraid of challenges."

"Coach White brings with him a distinguished career and an extraordinary record of success," UF President Kent Fuchs said. "I have no doubt he will uphold high standards on and off the court, and am delighted to welcome him to the Gator Nation."

The school's release notes that White's has agreed in principle to a six-year contract "at an average of $2 million per year." It is likely that White's compensation begins at a figure lower than $2 million, and rises above it as the deal progresses; if so, it is possible that White will only be making slightly more than half of what Donovan made to coach the Gators — as of 2007, when he signed an extension with Florida worth about $3.5 million annually.

Obviously, White lacks Donovan's two national championships — and, like Donovan did at the time of his hiring in 1996, has yet to steer a team to the NCAA Tournament.

Louisiana Tech was an impressive 101-40 in White's four years in Ruston, and White's career winning percentage (.716) is actually incrementally higher than Donovan's (.708). But the Bulldogs have come up short in two conference tournament finals (in the WAC Tournament in 2012 and the C-USA Tournament in 2014), and lost to UAB in Birmingham in the semifinals of the 2015 C-USA Tournament. The Bulldogs have played relatively competitive non-conference schedules, but those leagues have all been solidly on the far side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, all producing just one tournament team.

White's Bulldogs have been especially good over the last three years, going 83-24 and winning at least a share of three conference regular season titles by compiling a staggering 44-8 record in conference play. (Florida, for comparison, is 81-28 overall and 40-14 against the SEC in the last three years — a span that included the best season in program history by record.) And the Dunkin' Dawgs have been even better at home: Louisiana Tech last lost on its home floor on December 4th, 2013, and last lost a conference game at home on January 28th, 2012 — more than three full seasons ago.

They've done it with high-octane offense and defense. White's four teams have all ranked inside the top 100 nationally in tempo, per KenPom, and his last three have finished within the top 50. Those figures are the products of brisk, efficient offense (all four White teams at Tech have averaged under 17 seconds per offensive possession, or less than half the shot clock) and pressing defense, which landed the Bulldogs among the nation's top 20 in defensive turnover percentage in each of the last three years.

Those teams have been well-regarded by per-possession metrics, with White's last three finishing within the top 100 of KenPom. The 2014 Bulldogs' No. 34 ranking was second only to No. 30 SMU among teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament.

No, the Bulldogs haven't made the NCAA Tournament under White, but no coach has led them to March Madness since 1991, and they had gone just 12-20 in 2010-11, the year before White's arrival. The picture of White's Louisiana Tech program that emerges from a detailed look is one that was rapidly built into one of the best mid-majors in the country, and from humble beginnings.

That story is even more compelling than the one Donovan had authored at Marshall in his two years as a head coach. The Thundering Herd went 35-20 in Donovan's two years in Huntington, and got slightly worse in his second season, sliding from 18-9 to 17-11. Still, he was just 30 at the time of his hiring, thought of as a hard-charging young coach, and had previous SEC experience.

White, 38, doesn't have the ties to Rick Pitino that Donovan also had; his previous work experience consists of three years at Jacksonville State, and another seven as an assistant to Mississippi head coaches Rod Barnes and Andy Kennedy (now, unbelievably, second to only Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings in tenure at the same job among SEC basketball coaches) at his alma mater. (White helped the Rebels to three NCAA Tournament appearances, including the first NCAA Tournament win in school history, during his playing days.)

He does have Florida ties, as he was born in Dunedin, and is the son of Duke athletic director Kevin White, who coached at New Port Richey's Gulf High many moons ago.

And he does have more significant experience recruiting the South and developing players than Donovan had. White can claim partial credit for Jacksonville State's high-water mark as a Division I team in 2002-03, and partial credit for Mississippi's stellar guard play during his time in Oxford (most notably from 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year Terrico White), and the lion's share of the credit for making Louisiana Tech a mid-major success story.

White's current résumé is longer than Donovan's was in 1996. And while Donovan's shadow is long — as well it should be — White inherits a program that regressed to the mean in dramatic fashion one year after a Final Four trip in arguably the best season in school history.

If that sounds familiar, it's almost the same situation Donovan inherited after Lon Kruger's decision to leave the program. Kruger's Gators made the 1994 Final Four, but went 17-13 in 1994-95, exiting the NCAA Tournament without a win, and went 12-16 in 1995-96, which played a role in his departure for Illinois.

Donovan struggled to build winning teams and win over fans in his early going at Florida, too: His first two teams failed to break .500, as he began the work of installing his system and recruiting players who could help Florida compete deep into March. It wasn't until 1998-99, when Florida went 22-9 and made the Sweet Sixteen, that fans and observers were swayed to the notion that Donovan might well make something special happen in Gainesville.

White might well follow the same arc, at least at first, if he can't inspire many of the same players who helped Florida go just 16-17 in 2014-15 to greater heights, or keep together a four-man recruiting class that will give the Gators an infusion of talent if it remains intact.

But he's built a program once, and has resources at Florida he could never have dreamed of having at Louisiana Tech.

For Michael White and Florida, being doomed to repeat Billy Donovan's history wouldn't be so bad.