Florida Gators women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler will not return to coach the Gators in 2017-18, the school announced Monday.
Florida’s release includes quotes from both athletic director Scott Stricklin and Butler.
"Amanda obviously loves the University of Florida. She worked tirelessly trying to grow this program and help it achieve consistent success, and her efforts will always be appreciated," Stricklin said. "These decisions are always difficult, and more so in this instance because of the person Amanda is and how well she is liked throughout our department.
"We will immediately begin the process of finding a new women's basketball coach. I believe this program has the resources and support to achieve sustained success and compete for championships."
"I appreciate the opportunity that was given to me as a young head coach to return to my alma mater, a place I love and where I developed many special relationships and memories," Butler said. "The future is bright for the program."
Butler’s tenure with the Gators was marked by short spates of great promise and longer spans of mediocrity or worse, and Florida’s 2016-17 campaign captured much of that in microcosm.
Led by do-everything senior forward Ronni Williams and versatile guard Eleanna Christinaki, Florida began the season ranked and looked poised to compete in the SEC and position itself for a rare NCAA Tournament run. But the Gators struggled against the best teams they saw in non-conference play, then lost Christinaki to a stunning mid-season transfer — after Butler attempted to suspend her for half a game due to a “violation of team culture” — and floundered in SEC play, finishing 5-11 against conference foes and at 15-16 overall.
The Gators’ final loss of the season came to Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament, and exemplified just how outgassed and outgunned Florida was by season’s end. Florida led at halftime, and by seven points early in the third quarter, but was outscored 49-27 in the second half, and finished the game by allowing an extended 47-21 run.
Christinaki was one of the most talented players Butler had ever brought to Florida, and her emergence as a little-known freshman from Greece enabled the Gators to play a freewheeling, up-tempo style that led them to 22 wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016. But, much as with fellow surprising transfer Sydney Moss, Butler’s disciplinarian style was likely one of the primary reasons for her departure.
That style — and the lack of an always-elusive breakthrough to consistent competitiveness in the ascendant SEC for her program — was never without its detractors, though it did win loyalty from many players who stayed in Gainesville.
While the suspension of Christinaki inarguably backfired, she was not the only Gator Butler suspended for the same incident — and the other one, freshman Delicia Washington, was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Year after stepping up in Christinaki’s stead.
Ultimately, though, Butler’s departure from the program is a reflection of her results as much or more than it is her process. Florida made the NCAA Tournament four times under her leadership, thrice winning a single game but never making the Sweet Sixteen, and finished as high as tied for fourth in the SEC, never challenging for a conference title during the twilight of Pat Summitt’s career at Tennessee and the rise of Dawn Staley’s dominant South Carolina program.
The Gators also had three losing season in 10 tries under Butler, including two in the last three years — which is part of why Butler’s contract extension in the summer of 2015, after one of those losing seasons, was greeted with puzzled looks.
But while former athletic director Jeremy Foley was fiercely loyal to Butler, a former player who starred for the Gators in the early 1990s, Stricklin does not have the same ties to her.
His decision to part ways with Butler closes the chapter on an embattled and rocky tenure, and gives him a chance to try his hand at rebuilding what has historically been the least accomplished varsity program in Florida’s athletic department.