“Fire Mike White” is a popular cry on Twitter these days.
It probably won’t be one here — at least not from me.
The Florida Gators are massively underperforming their lofty preseason expectations, sure. They entered the year as a top-10 team in the eyes of the pollsters and a possible Final Four outfit in the eyes of the pundits who comprise the college basketball intelligentsia.
Now, they’re 12-8, mired in the middle of the pack of chasers in the SEC — one of six teams tied for fourth in the league at 4-3 in conference play — and appear to be a whole lot closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble than to cutting down nets.
Add to that the Gators’ three-game losing streak in which they have conceded leads of eight, eight, and 15 points, and the natives are restlessly churning up some of the ol’ noise in the system.
Except, well: That noise is on Twitter, and on message boards, and not in any way reflective of how the powers that be feel about White.
My read is that White is pretty firmly backed by a power structure that sees his record to date — an NIT run with a team that Billy Donovan couldn’t get to .500 a year before, an Elite Eight run a year after, and two more NCAA Tournament trips with wins — as slightly more valuable than his team’s record this year.
No, Scott Stricklin didn’t hire White — and Stricklin’s most prominent basketball hire, Mississippi State’s Ben Howland, just handed him a dismaying loss — but he also gave him an extension last year, and hasn’t seemed like a reactionary athletic director when it comes to hirings and firings in college athletics’ showcase sports. He never really threatened Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, allowed Rick Stansbury to “retire” rather than chasing him out the door, and showed Rick Ray that same door after three years, arguably a year later than he could have considering Ray’s Bulldogs dropping 13 consecutive SEC games to close their 2013-14 regular season.
White’s teams have consisted of upstanding citizens who have represented Florida well, too — a small contrast to Donovan’s last few teams, which featured a few oft-suspended regulars, fully forgivable given his two decades of piloting good and clean teams. And for all of the furor over this year’s team on the court, it has mostly been a flawed, maddeningly inconsistent, and somewhat unlucky one, rather than a truly bad one: The Gators rank 39th in KenPom after their three-game skid, but that’s the worst their ranking has been all year, as they have mostly bounced from the mid-20s to the mid-30s and back.
As I see it, Mike White’s cardinal sin in a lot of ways is not being Billy Donovan, and not (yet) coaching teams that appear capable of reaching the dizzying heights Florida did under Donovan. He is being measured against a towering shadow, and his year of greatest expectations is being compared to Donovan’s years of greatest success — and not, like, the similarly freighted-with-expectations years in which LaDarius Halton broke Brett Nelson’s jaw or Christian Drejer left the team with no notice in mid-February.
Donovan was mostly given a pass for those early-2000s years because of the 2000 NCAA Tournament run, and eventually delivered on his immense promise with the best college basketball team of the century — or the only one that won back-to-back titles, anyway. He nearly left Florida after that, and had more ebb seasons before finding his flow anew, and his tenure arguably divides rather neatly into three cycles of up and down, rather than sustained greatness.
It was worth it for Florida — and Florida fans — to stick it out with Donovan.
My gut and brain say it will be the same for White, hard as that may be to see right now.
But this is a Friday Forum, so this isn’t just about me. What do you think? Should White be fired if he can’t get this team into the Sweet Sixteen? If Florida fails to make the NCAA Tournament? Is he safe until next year no matter what?
I’m genuinely curious about your answers, and I’m happy to chat about ‘em in the comments.