The challenge of the century in men’s college basketball might have been following Billy Donovan as Florida’s head coach.
Despite a promising start, Mike White did not meet it, choosing a back door exit to Georgia over trying to turn a program that had lost much of its forward momentum — or at least its upward trajectory — in Gainesville. His departure leaves Florida with a clean slate and Gator Nation with the knowledge that what Donovan built was no guarantee of future success.
Now, athletic director Scott Stricklin faces a new and different challenge: Replacing the man after the man, much like Jeremy Foley had to do after Ron Zook’s failure to follow Steve Spurrier to higher heights. And he will do so without anyone as surefire a hire or fit as Foley had available when he fired Zook and set his sights on Urban Meyer.
That’s not an excuse for Stricklin to not aim high.
Make a call
The charge from some in the Florida fan base who had pitchforks and torches out for Mike White was that he was “Mid-Major Mike,” a decent man who was in over his head at a program like Florida. The logical next step, then, is pursuing the sort of coach who would not fall into that category.
Here are a few of those names, all of which I would consider longer than long shots.
Jay Wright, Villanova men’s head coach
Wright is one of the best coaches in college basketball. His two national titles with Villanova — which came in a span of three years, and bookended a third clearly title-caliber team — mark him as such to the point that the previous sentence needs no qualification. He also took over the Wildcats after Steve Lappas’s good-but-not-great tenure following the legendary Rollie Massimino, so he’s been in the situation that Florida’s next coach will be in before, and obviously thrived in it.
But Wright, 60, is also a Pennsylvania native who is utterly entrenched at Villanova, will have that job for as long as he wants it, and makes a fortune. Villanova is also a private school, which affords all sorts of advantages in college athletics. Okay: Florida can still deliver a message that its check is blank and his contract is for life — and that retiring to and living in Florida is pretty great.
There are very, very few Roy Williams-style candidates out there — ones who have great jobs, would seem like absolute locks to have success at Florida, and could still conceivably end up at Florida if the Gators move heaven and earth to make a truly astounding offer happen. Wright is one of them. And while his hypothetical contract would have to be jaw-dropping, a call to assess whether he might listen to overtures costs nothing except the price of having someone know about it. If there’s even a one percent chance he’d want to take on a different challenge, I’d want to know about it.
Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations
Stevens is another coach I would consider an absolute lock to have success at Florida — and an incredible long shot to listen. I truly believe he’s in the professional ranks for good now and might be an NBA coach once, twice, or thrice more before he truly considers coming back to college ball.
But are we sure he’s there for life? Would he be interested in the same sort of “this contract is a blank check that runs for 10 years” deal that I would offer Wright? He’s 46 in October, and the only coach since Billy Donovan to make back-to-back men’s NCAA Tournament finals who is still working in basketball. (The other? Roy Williams.)
Again, if there’s a sliver of a dream of a chance, I’d like to know.
Tommy Lloyd, Arizona men’s head coach
It seems distinctly possible to me that Florida missed out on one of the best head coaching candidates in some time — and maybe one of the best new head coaches in a while, too — by not being on last year’s carousel. Lloyd, who had spent 20 years under Mark Few at Gonzaga — whose time in Spokane actually predates Few’s hiring as head coach, in fact — has made Arizona one of the nation’s best teams in his first season in Tucson.
Renowned as a world-class and globe-trotting recruiter for Gonzaga, Lloyd hit the ground running with what was left of Sean Miller’s program, adding pieces that fit the existing roster perfectly and installing the sort of up-tempo, fluid offense that resembles where basketball is going rather than what is has been. Arizona is a No. 1 seed in this NCAA Tournament because of it, and has as good a shot to win it all as anyone — with a first-year head coach who had never been a head coach before.
No, Lloyd would not come cheap — he probably wouldn’t come at all, duh. And the Herculean task that would be hiring him away from Arizona would be at least minimally complicated by the Wildcats not wanting to lose another coach to Florida after women’s soccer coach Tony Amato came to Gainesville last year.
Again, though: Would he rather be in Florida or Arizona? What about the rest of his family? Are there any relatives anywhere who would like to spent their final seasons in the Sunshine State instead of in Arizona? If all it costs to know whether the expected no is a full sentence and the end of a conversation is a call, I make the call.
Becky Hammon, Las Vegas Aces head coach
You want an off-the-wall call? Here it is: Scott Stricklin should go after the first coach he ever pursued as Florida’s athletic director for a second time, but this time in hopes of making Becky Hammon the leader of Florida’s men’s basketball program.
Hammon finally moved on from the San Antonio Spurs — and the coaching graduate program that is working under Gregg Popovich — in December, with the Aces plucking her from the Spurs’ bench to lead a team that is expected to be in the mix for WNBA titles. This is, after many years of waiting and interviews, the opportunity that Hammon has chosen to be her first head coaching job.
But the one that presented itself to her first, so far as anyone knows, was the big chair of Florida’s women’s program, a role Stricklin ardently pursued her for in 2017, before hiring Cameron Newbauer. While Hammon reportedly turned the Gators down then, her stock hasn’t diminished in the slightest since, and the widely-held expectation that she would be the first woman to serve as head coach of an NBA team has only sort of been diminished by her choosing an elevation within the WNBA instead.
And if Florida wants to do something truly groundbreaking with its men’s basketball program, Hammon’s an appealing possibility. Plucking coaches from Pop’s tree has yielded NBA successes like Mike Budenholzer and Ime Udoka, and Hammon’s own force of personality is generally considered to be a level above most.
Dawg Sports — which will now have to account for and opine on hiring Mike White after audaciously reporting that Georgia had reached out to Scott Drew, a coach who would have generated national shock had he left Baylor for a program that has made the Sweet Sixteen twice ever — posted an interesting article late last week that included an argument for Georgia hiring Dawn Staley as its men’s basketball coach, including this argument (edits mine):
I can’t imagine that in the short-term Staley wouldn’t be a wild success, bringing interest, with it an economic boon, to a program that is one of the most irrelevant in the sport. There is zero doubt that this would be criticized and praised equally and roundly. Some would call it a publicity stunt; others would say far worse, if we are being real. But, eventually the novelty would wear off and Win and Losses would be left as the only metric to decide the choice.
Hammon would be greeted by a lot of the same fanfare that Staley — or whatever woman does become the first head coach in big-time men’s basketball, likely sooner than later — would receive, and although she doesn’t come with Staley’s fully awesome record of building programs at both Temple and South Carolina, I have a lot of confidence that she’ll be a success at whatever levels she chooses.
If money is her primary concern, unlikely as that is, Florida snagging her from the professional ranks by exceeding what the Aces — a deep-pocketed WNBA team that is reportedly paying Hammon about $1 million per year, far more than players get — are paying her would not be hard, as Florida was paying White about three times as much as she’s getting; the bump in prestige and interest for coaching men instead of women, sad as this is to say, would also be considerable.
And while Hammon would be an obvious NBA flight risk if she succeeds, Florida — and Stricklin — would get plenty of credit for thinking outside the box and taking a chance whether or not she does. The call is worth making.
Dawn Staley, South Carolina women’s head coach
Of course, Florida snagging Staley from South Carolina would do all of the above and instantly make Kelly Rae Finley’s job a lot easier.
I have Staley below Hammon on this list — which isn’t in any order, really — because I think Staley’s oft-declared interest in boosting women’s basketball — and supporting a rising crop of Black coaches in the sport — is as sincere as it gets, because I think she’s ultimately going to stay at South Carolina for as long as she wants to, and because the pre-existing relationship between Hammon and Florida might mean something. Hell, there might be a better chance of Staley, a Philly native, succeeding Wright at Villanova than there is of her leaving for Florida’s men’s job.
But if we’re talking about pie-in-the-sky candidates, she merits inclusion on the list.
Shaka Smart, Marquette men’s head coach
Once upon a time, Smart was the guy who was going to be Florida’s guy. By winning like no one ever had even at VCU, a program that has churned out high-major coaches, and playing a press-heavy and thrilling style of basketball, Smart made a brief stint as a Donovan assistant into the tenuous link to Florida that kept him atop the If Billy Leaves List — and then removed himself from that hypothetical sheet of paper by decamping for Texas months before Donovan actually left Florida.
And if Florida had been in the market for a new head coach last year, Smart would have made all the sense in the world, as he was in a similar plight to White’s: A defensible, up-and-down tenure that didn’t merit a firing but also didn’t resemble the trajectory fans and administrations crave left him staring at an uphill climb, so when a prestigious job in his home state opened up, he jumped at the chance to coach at Marquette.
And Smart has the Golden Eagles in this NCAA Tournament and pointed upward, so it would seem strange for him to leave for Florida after one year. But he would be embraced warmly at Florida, and would have a clearer path to national championship contention — something he obviously wanted enough to leave a VCU job he could have stayed at forever for a Texas program with great resources and great expectation — at Florida than in the Badger State. This is a call I’d be keen to make, even if I were sure going in that the answer would be a polite no.
Billy Donovan, Chicago Bulls head coach
Finally, we have the guy who merits a call — but really only to catch up.
I am as certain as I can be that Donovan is done with college basketball. He has had his Hall of Fame career at this level already, and left Florida not because of a desire for a different challenge within college hoops — which was already increasingly leaving Donovan, who had matured from a recruiting-first burner of midnight oil into a master developer and teacher, disenchanted with the skullduggery required to keep up on the recruiting trail — but because of a desire for the challenge of the NBA.
He’s also been a rather successful NBA coach, with Klay Thompson busting out a flamethrower in one Western Conference Finals game preventing him from winning a title with the Thunder before the dissolution of the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook partnership and his second act with the Bulls seeing him lead a team that counts DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine as its top duo toward 50 wins and contention in the Eastern Conference. (An incredible trivia answer: On the day I write this, Donovan had a higher winning percentage as the Thunder’s head coach than Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have in their careers — which speaks to him being able to take over the Thunder at an opportune moment, yes, but also to just how good he was there even without Durant.)
And, crucially, Donovan chose the Bulls over coming back to the college ranks when he was fired by the Thunder. If the great hypothetical of his career — what if he leaves Florida for Kentucky or another genuine blue-blood? — hung like the Sword of Donovancles over much of his time in Gainesville, it does not seem to apply now.
Florida — maybe in the form of Jeremy Foley, Donovan’s friend for life — can and probably should reach out to Donovan as part of its coaching search. His acumen and his contacts are worth tapping. But Florida luring Donovan back from the NBA would be more surprising to me than Florida hiring any of the candidates above him in this section — and this section is a dreamer’s wishful thinking.
Don’t waste the time
Consider this a category that contains two types of coaches: Those who would or might be upgrades on White but whom I think are not even worth pursuing, and those who don’t even have that sort of upside in my eyes.
Penny Hardaway, Memphis men’s head coach
Chris Mack, former Louisville head coach
Gregg Marshall, former Wichita State men’s head coach
Sean Miller, former Arizona men’s head coach
Kevin Ollie, Overtime Elite head coach
Bruce Pearl, Auburn men’s head coach
Rick Pitino, Iona men’s head coach
Kelvin Sampson, Houston men’s head coach
Will Wade, strong-ass former LSU men’s head coach
Marshall was essentially as abusive at Wichita State — or more, maybe — than Cam Newbauer was. (Throw in an allegedly, if you must.) He’s a non-starter. So is Mack, who just oversaw an implosion at Louisville far worse than anything that happened at Florida under White, though the unsavory baggage he will carry was packed mostly by Dino Gaudio.
It’s more than a little unfair to Penny to group him in with Miller, Ollie, Pearl, Pitino, Sampson, and Wade — who are certified-by-the-NCAA cheaters, not I-used-to-coach-an-AAU-program-and-hey-look-those-kids-are-coming-here cheaters, though the severity of their “crimes” differ — but Florida isn’t going to hire any of them, and I didn’t want to invent an entire standalone category for Penny, who will have to prove out his tenure by winning with those AAU-connected players. And he is at Memphis. Pretend it’s only the first part of the J. Cole bar that applies to him, if you must.
The rest of these coaches are successful ones that Florida should not hire because it has proven — not just under Donovan, and not just in men’s basketball — that it can win big without doing the sort of brazen cheating that gets caught, because that is preferable to winning big and getting caught, and because Florida has not yet figured out that adhering to the stupid rules of a broken game is a loser’s and fool’s errand, and that it should redefine “a championship experience with integrity” to mean “we’re going to win and blow up the model of amateurism because it’s both the right thing to to do and the path to greatness.”
Hall of Famers / coaches already at pinnacle jobs
Geno Auriemma, UConn women’s head coach
Rick Barnes, Tennessee men’s head coach
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse men’s head coach
John Calipari, Kentucky men’s head coach
Mick Cronin, UCLA men’s head coach
Mark Few, Gonzaga men’s head coach
Tom Izzo, Michigan State men’s head coach
Juwan Howard, Michigan men’s head coach
Bob Huggins, West Virginia men’s head coach
Danny Hurley, UConn men’s head coach
Lon Kruger, retired former Oklahoma men’s head coach
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke men’s head coach
Jon Scheyer, incoming Duke men’s head coach
Bill Self, Kansas men’s head coach
Tubby Smith, retired former itinerant men’s head coach
Tara VanDerveer, Stanford women’s head coach
Gary Williams, retired former Maryland men’s head coach
Roy Williams, retired former North Carolina men’s head coach
This list should seem pretty self-explanatory. Just in case: Most of these coaches would obviously be received as clear upgrades over White by most Florida fans — or the ones still sort of tethered to reality and not triggered by the inclusion of women’s basketball coaches manifestly qualified for this opening on this list, anyway — but are already in position to compete for national championships on a regular basis and/or to eventually retire rather than be fired; those coaches would, in turn, be insane to leave those jobs. (And, hey, so would the folks in the first section — but this is my hypothetical list, so I get to pick the names I’m asking agents about only to hear chuckles.)
The coaches on this list who are still plausibly in danger of being fired one day (Howard and Hurley, for two) are still in possession of great jobs that they would only voluntarily leave to avoid such a firing or a hot seat, and would probably need to end up in a situation like the one Florida and White just found themselves in to do so.
And I don’t think Florida is capable of luring Lon Kruger or Roy Williams out of retirement. Smith and Gary Williams are two more living coaches with national titles in about the last 25 years, but I suspect they’re well and truly done with coaching; Gary Williams is, anyway, and Tubby just stepped down from High Point, a level well removed from Florida.
There is a big name or two missing from this list, though. And I’ll get to them.
Too big or well-tied to pry
Mark Adams, Texas Tech men’s head coach
Chris Beard, Texas men’s head coach
Ed Cooley, Providence men’s head coach
Greg Gard, Wisconsin men’s head coach
Nate Oats, Alabama men’s head coach
Matt Painter, Purdue men’s head coach
Mike Woodson, Indiana men’s head coach
Adams, Beard, Painter, and Woodson are all at their respective almae matres. Indiana and Texas are proud schools — and Indiana, at least, is proud for good reason when it comes to basketball — that are unlikely to lose coaches to other schools, even if Florida comes calling; Texas Tech, which just lost Beard to Texas, would probably sooner pay Adams $5 million a year than lose him after one season as head coach.
Cooley has been a perennial hot board fixture for all sorts of jobs, but he was also born and raised in Providence, and has stuck with the Friars — and had them stick by him — through thick and thin; he is also probably in line for an extension after an excellent year.
I’d be interested in Adams, but he’s a Lubbock-and-West Texas lifer and has a single season as a head coach under his belt that isn’t as promising as Lloyd’s is — and while he’s a defensive genius, Tech plays a style of basketball that wouldn’t be an easy sell to Florida fans, and Adams himself is far more of a personality fit for lower-key Lubbock.
Painter probably isn’t leaving Purdue, but also isn’t an obvious upgrade. Gard definitely isn’t leaving Wisconsin, and isn’t an obvious upgrade. And one suspects that Alabama, especially with Greg Byrne running its athletic department, definitely isn’t going to lose a head coach it wants to keep — to Florida, anyway.
Likely last stops
Dana Altman, Oregon men’s head coach
Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s men’s head coach
Mike Brey, Notre Dame men’s head coach
Leonard Hamilton, Florida State men’s head coach
Jim Larrañaga, Miami men’s head coach
Altman has over 700 wins. Hamilton and Larrañaga have over 600 wins. Brey is a couple of seasons away, if he wants to continue coaching. All four are over 60 — Hamilton is 73 and Larrañaga is 72 — and likely to be Hall of Famers; none is leaving his job for Florida, even if Florida is arguably a step up from all of their programs listed.
Bennett is a genuinely interesting name, and would be a fascinating zag away from conventional wisdom, but he’s 60 in June, his international-heavy recruiting might not work unless he can do it on the level Lloyd has at a high-major program, and he’s been on the West Coast for most of his adult life. He’ll also pass 500 wins at Saint Mary’s in a year or two; that would be a Hall of Fame-level accomplishment, in all likelihood.
A realistic assessment of assistants
Kenny Payne, New York Knicks assistant
Jerome Tang, Baylor men’s associate head coach
Payne had been Kentucky’s point man in recruiting for essentially John Calipari’s entire tenure before somewhat surprisingly leaving the program to join Tom Thibodeau’s bench. Louisville fans have been practically panting about bringing Payne back to the college ranks, so Florida probably wouldn’t be first in line for him, but Hammon now having a head coaching job means there may be no current assistant coach in all of basketball with a higher profile than Payne — including Tang, who has been with Drew at Baylor since the very beginning.
And, well, that’s an issue for Florida. If there were a clear-cut choice for the Gators working as an assistant today, we would know about it — and would probably expect him or her to be hired. That person does not exist — unless we count a certain de facto coach elsewhere in the state, whom I don’t think counts, but will get to anyway — and Florida probably ought to hire a coach that fans have heard of to avoid some of the skepticism that dogged White, so Florida is probably better served not trying to squint at an assistant and see a runaway candidate.
If Payne is qualified to be the head coach at Louisville, though, he’s qualified to be the head coach at Florida — and if the unspoken belief about him being ready and willing to compete with John Calipari on an existential level that is foundational to his Louisville candidacy is actually true, it would be an asset in Gainesville, too. Florida would have to work to sell Payne’s hiring; if he were beating Kentucky regularly, that would sell itself.
If Tang is ever going to leave Baylor, he could obviously do a lot worse than Florida. Considered the Bears’ big man coach and lead recruiter, he gets credit for players like Quincy Acy, Taurean Prince, and Isaiah Austin, and is maybe the assistant most qualified to lead a program in men’s college basketball at the moment. But he would be something of a hard sell, too, especially if a perception exists that Florida might have a puncher’s chance at just wooing Drew and getting Tang in the deal.
Stricklin could pull off hiring an assistant for his head coaching vacancy. I’m not sure I want to see him try — or see how fans would react to anything but instant success.
Deep cuts from mid-majors
Kim English, George Mason men’s head coach
Ronald Nored, Indiana Pacers assistant
Luke Yaklich, Illinois-Chicago men’s head coach
I’ll be clear: No members of this trio is Florida’s next head coach. But I could imagine all three having success at Florida, and would guess all three have chances to be a factor if this hire doesn’t pan out.
English is a sentimental favorite of mine because of his thoughtful and entertaining Twitter presence as a Missouri player who was famously a journalism major more than a decade ago, but he’s turned the gregariousness and intelligence that shined through even then into a sterling career as an assistant coach and ace recruiter. His first year as a head coach at George Mason went fine, but not great — the Patriots posted a 14-16 record with wins over Maryland (one that probably sounded the death knell for Mark Turgeon), Georgia, and Dayton, and maybe their most impressive result was trailing by just five with under five minutes left at Kansas. The bet on English is on him remaining a force on the recruiting trail and improving as a coach to match; given that he’s just 33 and has shown plenty of ability to learn, I’d be interested in the wager.
Nored was maybe the smartest defensive player I have ever seen when he played at Butler under Brad Stevens, and his thousands of minutes on the floor for Bulldogs teams that played in back-to-back national finals despite woeful career shooting percentages — about 44 percent on twos, and a Kenny Boynton’s first two years-level bad 28 percent on threes — speaks to just how much value Stevens placed on the defensive play of a player who was six feet tall in sneakers and probably weighed his listed 175 pounds only after a big lunch. Nored just turned 32 on March 1, but has already worked for four different NBA organizations, joining Stevens with the Boston Celtics, leading the G League’s Long Island Nets, and working as an assistant for the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers. If he’s not a college or NBA head coach someday, and maybe a very good one, it would surprise me.
Yaklich gets to be included here because of his reputation as a secret sauce for both John Beilein at Michigan and Shaka Smart at Texas. A long-time Illinois high school coach, Yaklich initially came to the college ranks at Illinois State in 2013, helped the Redbirds eventually roll out what was a top-20 KenPom defense in 2017, then got imported to Michigan and swiped by Texas while keeping a rep as a defensive savant. That rep has been tarnished by two seasons at UIC since then, but the Flames have seen much more bad than good for about two straight decades, and are only spared being Chicago’s worst college program by Chicago State’s status as both an HBCU far removed from basically any peer program and one of the worst Division I men’s basketball programs in the sport’s history; if Yaklich gets UIC anywhere near an NCAA Tournament, it will be a feat. But we’ve already seen what high-level athletes can do with Yaklich coaching defense, and my guess is he’ll get his own chance at doing that again as a head coach at some point.
High-major profiles and “proven names” — but nope
Jamie Dixon, TCU men’s head coach
Brian Dutcher, San Diego State men’s head coach
Andy Enfield, USC men’s head coach
Steve Forbes, Wake Forest men’s head coach
Chris Holtmann, Ohio State men’s head coach
Frank Martin, former South Carolina men’s head coach
Archie Miller, former Indiana men’s head coach
Fran McCaffery, Iowa men’s head coach
Eric Musselman, Arkansas men’s head coach
Steve Pikiell, Rutgers men’s head coach
Brad Underwood, Illinois men’s head coach
Mike Young, Virginia Tech men’s head coach
Want an unfairly derisive name for this group? They’re the You Followed Mike White With This Guy? Guys.
Dixon isn’t exactly setting the world on fire at TCU — the Horned Frogs haven’t posted a winning record in Big 12 play in his tenure and made just their second NCAA Tournament under Dixon this year — but he also had significant success at Pittsburgh more than a decade ago, when Pittsburgh was in a different conference and the college basketball world was entirely different, and I’ve visited a message board or two in my day.
Dutcher is possibly the best coach on this list, but has almost no name recognition beyond diehard college basketball fans, has largely been successful as an assistant coach to and then extension of what Steve Fisher did at Michigan and then San Diego State, and seems fairly set in Southern California. And he has one fewer NCAA Tournament win as a head coach than White got in each of the last three NCAA Tournaments — despite the Aztecs playing in two winnable No. 6 vs. No. 11 games on either side of the matchup.
Enfield is a very good recruiter and has enjoyed the halo of the magical Dunk City run that he went on with Florida Gulf Coast — before, well, you know what happened — but has made one Elite Eight run at USC and has never earned a No. 5 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, even with UCLA being down (like, coached by Steve Alford down) for most of his tenure in Los Angeles. He might actually be the most logical candidate for Florida based on his in-state ties — he was a Florida State assistant before getting to FGCU — but his tenure at USC does not compare favorably to White’s at Florida — at best, it’s about a wash, and at worst it’s slightly inferior. Florida hiring Enfield after White would excite some fans who only check in on basketball in March, but I think Florida can do far better.
Oh, and Enfield might be the most accomplished of this bunch when it comes to a combination of consistent success, recruiting prowess, and deep NCAA Tournament runs.
Forbes had a well-regarded tenure at East Tennessee State — which, uh, included getting routed by a White-coached Florida squad in the NCAA Tournament in the Buccaneers’ only actual March Madness trip, though ETSU would have played in a 2020 NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed — and has coached a Wake Forest team that just missed this year’s field and is now 0-for-2 on March Madness trips in his short tenure. Musselman also lost to a White-coached Florida team in the NCAA Tournament, and though he’s started hot at Arkansas and made an Elite Eight in 2021, I have some questions about how sustainable his coaching style — which strikes me as quite heavy on exhortation of players and personal bravado — can be if he hits cool water for any length of time on the recruiting trail.
Holtmann — who also took an L to a White-coached Florida team, in case you’re sensing a theme here — hasn’t gotten Ohio State to a Sweet Sixteen despite being a No. 2 seed and a No. 5 seed, and the best season of his Ohio State tenure by win total came in his first year, which sure does sound somewhat familiar. His Butler stint was impressive, but with distance, it seems possible that he was coasting on Stevens’ fumes, and mostly won there by being the adult in the room after Brandon Miller’s one-year flameout.
Martin has taken some losses to White’s Gators, too — but he’s also won a fair few games against them, most notably in the 2017 Elite Eight, and generally given Florida fits with physical, defensive-minded South Carolina teams once he got the program turned around after Darrin Horn’s dismal stretch in Columbia. He’s also a native Miamian who coached at three of the city’s high schools, and it would certainly be interesting to watch him attack the Sunshine State as a recruiter — being integral to getting Michael Beasley to Manhattan, Kansas is one of many feats of his career — and unleash high-tempo and swarming defense in the O’Dome. But that 2017 Final Four trip is South Carolina’s only NCAA Tournament appearance under Martin, and his Kansas State tenure yielded only one run to the second weekend, though it was an utterly thrilling ride to the Elite Eight. And Martin certainly would not be viewed as a fresh name — thanks to his firing at South Carolina, he’ll be a retread. At least he would come cheap?
McCaffrey — hey, here’s a guy without a loss to Mike White to his name! — has not gotten Iowa to the Sweet Sixteen despite being in Iowa City since the 2010-11 season, though he’ll have a chance with an offensively proficient squad this season.
Miller’s four-year run at Indiana was the White experience condensed and without an Elite Eight run. He will assuredly work in college basketball again, but he will also probably need to do so at the mid-major level before jumping to a high-major gig, barring a friendly athletic director swooning over him.
Pikiell has done a wildly-impressive-to-those-paying-attention job at Rutgers, which was disgraced by Mike Rice and then decayed under Eddie Jordan. The Scarlet Knights won three Big Ten games total in their first two seasons under Jordan, then three each in Pikiell’s first two years, and yet they pulled off a third straight season of .500 or better ball in conference play this winter, and would be going to a third straight NCAA Tournament in a world without a pandemic (in theory, anyway). Rutgers knows what it has in Pikiell, though, and just extended him through 2030; if Florida’s going to truly break the bank on a coach, one imagines it can do better than Pikiell, a UConn grad who will inevitably be a flight risk if the Huskies need a coach again during his career.
Underwood converted three great years culminating in NCAA Tournament trips (and two wins, impressively) at Stephen F. Austin into a single season at Oklahoma State, then flipped that into the Illinois job — where he has one NCAA Tournament win in five years, and collected it as the coach of a No. 1 seed that lost its second-round matchup with in-state Loyola of Chicago by 13. Should the Illini falter again this year, his reputation for NCAA Tournament performance will take a significant second hit — and that probably outweighs Illinois sharing the Big Ten’s regular-season title this year.
Young had a long and stellar tenure at Wofford, has a great rep for coaching offense, and has made Virginia Tech shockingly adept at ... well, let’s avoid a certain word in this context and just say throwing basketballs into buckets. And he also lost to a Mike White-coached Florida team in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Awkward!
If you really wanted to, you could argue that Florida could upgrade from White with any of these coaches. But there is not a sell job anyone could do to convince me — or most rational fans, I suspect — that any of these guys is guaranteed to be better than White at Florida when they have had runs at high-major schools that were inferior to White’s at Florida and/or have coached teams inferior to White’s at Florida. (And, frankly, there are a few names here that don’t seem like great personality fits for Stricklin or Florida, which is a bit higher on the list of requirements for this position than pleasing me.)
Tad Boyle, Colorado men’s head coach
Wayne Tinkle, Oregon State men’s head coach
Bruce Weber, former Kansas State men’s head coach
This group is here solely to help cover the entirety of the list of coaches who have either finished in the top 10 of KenPom and/or made an Elite Eight since White was hired at Florida 2016, at least matching in one part what Florida did in both parts under White in 2017.
Boyle’s Buffaloes finished No. 9 in KenPom a season ago, but took a No. 5 seed into the NCAA Tournament and lost to Florida State in the round of 32 — doing so by a larger margin on a neutral floor than Florida did to the same Seminoles team in Tallahassee after players sobbed on the court in response to Keyontae Johnson’s collapse. Colorado hasn’t made a Sweet Sixteen under Boyle despite five NCAA Tournament trips.
Tinkle promptly followed up Oregon State’s incredible run to the Elite Eight a year ago with a 3-28 campaign in 2021-22 that defies both description and belief. The Beavers currently sit at No. 234 in KenPom, between James Madison and Howard, and did not win a game in 2022. If Tinkle remains the coach in Corvallis, he should consider himself one of the luckiest humans working in athletics.
Weber took Kansas State to the Elite Eight in 2018 partly thanks to the best Tournament luck-up of all-time: The No. 9 seed Wildcats won their first round matchup with Creighton, then got immediately rewarded with the first second round game against a No. 16 seed in the history of the men’s NCAA Tournament, then beat Virginia vanquisher UMBC.
To Weber’s credit, K-State also beat Kentucky — on a nightmarish day for Big Blue, as Calipari’s bunch made just 16 shots and P.J. Washington missed 12 of his 20 free throws — to get to the Elite Eight. But the Wildcats still managed to lose to a lower seed in that Elite Eight, with Loyola of Chicago pounding them by 16 — more than six points the Greyhounds beat Florida by in Gainesville earlier that season, naturally — en route to their Final Four. Oh, and Weber hasn’t won 15 games in a season since, and stepped down at K-State earlier this month, lamenting a lack of respect on the way out.
The short(ish) list(s)
Now that I’ve made you read through all of the coaches whom I think won’t be Florida’s next men’s basketball coach, here’s the (series of) list(s) I think might well include that person.
And, yes, I’m doing groups again.
Tony Bennett, Virginia men’s head coach
Scott Drew, Baylor men’s head coach
Along with Jay Wright, these are the two coaches who have won national championships in the men’s NCAA Tournament this century that I can squint really hard and wish-cast into Florida’s plans.
For Bennett, 52, the draw of Florida would largely be in leaving a program that will forever be no better than third in its league in prestige for a program that could at least be second. If it wants to, Florida can exceed even what Virginia is paying; it could also eliminate job security as a worry.
But Bennett doesn’t really make sense as a fit. His notoriously slow pace of play and defense-first philosophy work at Virginia like they did for him at Washington State and his father at Wisconsin, outposts where success can be more valuable — especially to a program that has not had much, historically — than style.
Florida fans just got done watching a 19-13 season in which the big win was a 63-62 triumph over Auburn predicated on defense — and many of us acted as if this was akin to being waterboarded and/or spent more time legislating several dozen students rushing the court afterward than actually enjoying the result.
Bennett’s best teams tend to win big games in that fashion.
I do not think Florida fans are suddenly going to embrace that style of play unless it comes with immediate results, and do not know that I’d expect Bennett to win big in a first season — he did so at Wazzu by inheriting a squad from his father, and was 31-31 after two seasons at Virginia. And so chasing after Bennett may be a fool’s errand or a bet that an impatient and frustrated fan base might not just change a tune but pick up new instruments.
But if Bennett, Drew, and Wright represent the very small pool of champions whom Florida could swing for the fences with, I think Bennett is the most “gettable” of the three — and yet, given that Bennett did not leave Virginia for Wisconsin, where his father’s name is on the floor, at any point in the last decade, it seems pretty likely that he’s in Charlottesville for good, barring the sort of offer that I might rather give to to the other two parts of the trio.
Drew would not have the problem of his style being coolly received. His rebuild of the Baylor has turned the Bears into monsters on the court who play athletic defense and efficient offense, and their NCAA Tournament breakthroughs in recent years — after a long and oft-mocked string of March meltdowns — are proof that staying the course even if things look rocky can bear fruit.
Drew is also a very good recruiter — on top of a small but growing list of NBA players, he has top-five 2022 forward Keyonte George set to come to Waco next year — who has consistently found the talent to be competitive in a league with Kansas reigning and Texas and Texas Tech rising, and he would likely have little trouble finding athletes of a similar caliber at Florida, although recruiting Texas and recruiting Florida’s footprint are different challenges. And he’s 51, young enough to have plenty more tread on his tires.
And, as every Gator on a message board will suddenly know to be crucial over the next few weeks, Drew and Stricklin have history, in that they were both employed by Baylor for a period in 2003 so brief it is best measured in days. Stricklin, not Drew, was the face of the men’s basketball team for much of that summer, serving as the public-facing spokesman for a team thrown into chaos by the sad and sordid murder of player Patrick Dennehy and a cover-up of it by Drew predecessor Dave Bliss. And Stricklin was off to the SEC footprint again just days after Drew was hired.
But the sense — from both the text of the story above and from the fact of it being published on Florida’s website while Florida was employing another men’s basketball coach — is very much that Drew made a lasting impression on Stricklin. And because he inherited White, Jeremy Foley’s final head coaching hire, at Florida, Stricklin’s only hire of a men’s basketball coach to date was the rather bold nabbing of Ben Howland, a year removed from a firing by UCLA, at Mississippi State.
Put two and two together and you have, in Drew, a candidate that will be lusted after and boosted often by the faction of Gator Nation that wants the biggest name possible.
Whether Drew is actually gettable is another story. Baylor knows what it has in him, and he seems at home in Waco despite being a born-and-raised Indianan. Florida’s chances with Drew are probably better than theirs with Wright — but both hailstones and snowballs don’t stand much of a chance in the heat.
Stricklin might swing anyway. Targeting Hammon — and then Chip Kelly, and then Scott Frost — suggests that the penchant for going after big game did not disappear at Florida, even if Amato and Billy Napier are definitely and probably not in that category.
The high-major profiles with a “proven name” — and, well, maybe?
Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State men’s head coach
Yeah, he lost to Mike White, too. But Boynton at least did so on the road in Gainesville, something all the above did not do — and he did it with a team hampered by an NCAA ruling that ending up punishing players four and five years after the assistant coach at the heart of it had been fired by the school, mostly because said assistant didn’t play ball with the NCAA. If you haven’t seen Boynton get fired up and cry tears on behalf of his players in the wake of that ruling being announced, you should — and my bet is you’ll be impressed.
Boynton has also had a relatively impressive tenure at Oklahoma State, a place where it has proven hard to win consistently since the days of Eddie Sutton — you know, the coach who lost to Billy Donovan in the 2000 Elite Eight? He took over a program that Underwood abandoned — with the NCAA’s scythe looming, mind — and has shepherded it admirably, all things considered. Even though Oklahoma State’s only NCAA Tournament appearance under Boynton came with Cade Cunningham a year ago and ended in the second round — at the hands of the Oregon State team that seems like it may have made the flukiest Elite Eight run in the history of the NCAA Tournament in retrospect — the ability to get a recruit like Cunningham to Stillwater (and, by hiring Cunningham’s brother, spit in the eye of the NCAA while doing it) shows both some recruiting chops and insouciance that I like.
But here’s the really interesting thing: Boynton’s only 40, and while he was born in Brooklyn, he played at South Carolina and bounced around the Southeast before ending up on Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin staff. And while Cunningham is from Texas, he also finished his high school days at Montverde Academy, the Orlando-area prep powerhouse that produced Michael Frazier II, Kasey Hill, and Andrew Nembhard — among a staggering list of hoopers that includes Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and many other NBA players — and ought to be a fixture of Florida’s men’s basketball recruiting.
If Florida’s uneven recruiting under White was or is the issue that needed a major fix for the program — debatable, but possible — then “excellent recruiter” probably ought to be part of the next coach’s resume. (Boynton theoretically being able to retain former assistant Erik Pastrana — who might be the key to Florida holding together a very good recruiting class that might help stave off a losing season in 2023 — rather easily would be a feather in his cap.) And if Florida doesn’t end up executing a heist of a high-major coach with championship credentials, I reckon that its search is probably going to lead to a coach similar to Boynton, but perhaps without high-major head coaching experience — which would make me interested in hearing how his long-term vision for a program might differ, for better or worse, from coaches hailing from the mid-major ranks.
And, hell, at least Florida fans would have to find a sobriquet other than “Mid-Major Mike” for Boynton. Make ‘em work, I say!
Porter Moser, Oklahoma men’s head coach
Another one of the coaches Florida could have theoretically competed for a year ago, Moser is now probably ensconced enough at Oklahoma that he would see no need to leave. But Moser beat White twice — with both Loyola of Chicago and the Sooners — and diced up Florida’s defense in doing so. Oklahoma was also a tough out in this year’s rugged Big 12, taking five losses in regular season or tournament play by fewer than five points or in overtime, and beat Baylor and Texas Tech — and what Moser accomplished at Loyola in the last five years obviously stands up with some of the best mid-major runs in history, even if it took him seven years to get to an NCAA Tournament in the first place.
Yet Moser also just doesn’t make a ton of sense for Florida. Born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, he went to Creighton and has mostly been in relatively close proximity to the Mississippi River as a coach, venturing no further into the current SEC footprint than he did on short stints at Arkansas-Little Rock and Texas A&M. And though Oklahoma will obviously be joining the SEC footprint shortly, my bet is on Moser mostly mining the Midwest and dipping into Texas for recruits while in Norman, which would seem more comfortable and logical for him than suddenly trying to recruit what should be Florida’s stomping grounds.
I think there’s a chance that Moser could have a 10- or 15-year run at Oklahoma — which, notably, just came off Lon Kruger’s graceful final act in coaching, a fine decade-long stint that included a Final Four in 2016 and a glide path to being competitive but not championship material since. I think there’s a chance that Moser could have a similar run at Florida. Coaches like Moser almost never swap one such prospect for a nearly identical one unless they have to, and doing so after a single season would be almost unheard of.
I suppose making a call would not be entirely out of the question. Hearing anything but no would utterly floor me.
Mid-major matches without Gators credentials
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State men’s head coach
A position from a devil’s advocate, arguendo: Would Florida fans be happy with Florida State’s last seven years grafted onto the Gators?
No, the Seminoles haven’t made a Final Four, either; yes, FSU’s basketball history is bereft enough of actual history to celebrate a season without closure in an embarrassing-to-everyone-else way. But FSU is one of those other schools that had made and won in the last several NCAA Tournaments, and it added two Sweet Sixteen trips to go with its Elite Eight around that season without closure, which arguably wiped out the program’s best team. And few programs nationally have been more talented than Leonard Hamilton’s program of late, which has churned out one-and-done lottery picks — Jonathan Isaac, Patrick Williams, Scottie Barnes — who don’t need to be massive stars in Tallahassee to merit NBA looks.
I know well enough to know that some of the loudest Florida fans would mostly be faulting that program for its failures to break through in March. But FSU fans have been thrilled with this stretch — and the Seminoles’ history means they’re just about at the point that Florida fans were at with Billy Donovan up to and in next couple of years after 2000.
So, hey, why wouldn’t Florida consider hiring one of the primary reasons for all that?
Gates began his tenure in Tallahassee in 2011, and while he was flanked by very good assistants at FSU — Stan Jones has been Hamilton’s primary offensive assistant for decades, and C.Y. Young, another superb recruiter, joined the staff shortly afterward — the Seminoles’ ascent from a program overachieving with good players to arguably underachieving with elite talent tracks most closely with his time on the trail wearing garnet and gold.
He’s also off to an excellent start at Cleveland State, recovering from not being able to retain a promising point guard named Tyree Appleby entering his first season by steering the Vikings to a 19-8 mark and an NCAA Tournament appearance (albeit one that saw them thrashed by Houston) in a COVID-shortened 2021 season and a 20-10 record and a trip to the NIT this year. The Vikings have been very dependent on seniors and super-seniors in this two-year run, but Gates being able to add a few key transfers to what he had on hand and make things shake is probably more testament to his coaching and transfer recruiting than it is a concerning reflection of an inability to get recruits to Cleveland State — and, obviously, he’d have some advantages at Florida that he could never match there.
If Florida were cursed — by, like, P.K. Sam, or something — into having to hire a former FSU coach route, I think I might ultimately prefer Young, a Miami native, to both Gates and Enfield. But Gates, at 42, is by far the youngest of the three (Young is 50, Enfield is 52) and is probably going to get a high-major job at some point. Florida snagging him now might prevent FSU from doing so when Hamilton retires.
Todd Golden, San Francisco men’s head coach
He’s just 36. He’s an Israeli-American. His coaching lineage traces to Bruce Pearl, whom Florida fans have little affection for, Randy Bennett, whom Florida fans do not care about, and Kyle Smith, whom Florida fans have never heard of. He coaches at a smallish private school in a big city in California, a situation that is very, very different than the one in Gainesville. There are reasons Todd Golden makes no or very little sense for Florida, at least on paper.
Todd Golden also has San Francisco’s men in the NCAA Tournament, which had not been previously done this millennium, and has them at No. 21 in KenPom, which is absurd — oh, and he’s done this in a season in which West Coast Conference leviathan Gonzaga looks like the nation’s best team again and perpetual WCC second-placer Saint Mary’s is pretty good.
Chances are good that, if you’re reading this, your awareness of San Francisco’s men’s basketball program may have begun with seeing the Dons show up in the 2022 NCAA Tournament bracket; I do not think there are many Jamaree Bouyea fans in the Alligator Army readership or Gator Nation. But Golden’s turned what was a good program under Smith, who parlayed his own decent stint at the USF that isn’t pretending Tampa is South Florida into the top job at Washington State, into a potentially great one that plays attractive, efficient, up-tempo ball.
The Dons have, in their three Golden years, established themselves among mid-major programs by knocking off teams like Davidson, Nevada, UAB, Virginia, and Yale, and while they have admittedly struggled with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s, San Francisco has been about even with BYU — a much bigger school with a better-funded and more established program, and thus not really a peer program for most of the WCC — of late. They will also get a chance to take on an excellent team without high-major advantages — though, as I will get to, not without athletes — in this Big Dance, with No. 7 seed Murray State opposite them on their dance card.
But betting big on Golden, whom many in college basketball’s swath of pundits, observers, and junkies — myself included — think highly of, would be expressing a lot of confidence in the future potential of a coach whose success at his current stop would be a much harder sell to Florida fans than to that aforementioned swath. And he may not be the first name Florida should cross off its list of mid-major names, either.
Ron Hunter, Tulane men’s head coach
Unmentioned to this point in this post is the chance Florida now has to hire the first non-white head coach of its men’s basketball program. That is not — or should not be — an insignificant consideration for Scott Stricklin, especially given that Florida’s behind just about all of its SEC and in-state rivals in that regard — Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, Kentucky, Miami, and Tennessee have all employed Black men’s basketball head coaches, with multiple schools on that list employing more than one — and that more than half of Division I men’s basketball players are Black, making them a crucial population to appeal to in the recruiting pool.
Of course, Florida is not going to hire a Black coach because that coach is Black as some sort of stand for racial equality or diversity — not only is that not how the world actually operates outside of the fever dreams believed by denizens of fetid swamps, doing so would be the sort of move that stands a decent chance of yet again inflaming tensions between UF and Florida’s state government, prolonging a thoroughly unnecessary and childish conflict just as President W. Kent Fuchs is on his way out the door.
But there are plenty of qualified head coaches who are Black. Ron Hunter is one of them. And Ron Hunter really should be a high-major head coach at some point — so why not at Florida, and soon?
Hunter has spent a career at the sorts of programs politely called outposts — IUPUI, Georgia State, and Tulane — despite those programs’ locations in cities. He is the most successful coach in IUPUI’s history. He is either the most or second-most coach in Georgia State’s history — and if he’s second, it’s to Lefty Driesell, whom I might be selling short if I call him a top-10 coach in the history of college basketball instead of a top-five coach. He has, in three seasons, gotten Tulane from No. 283 (its 2019 finish under Mike Dunleavy Jr.) to No. 99 in KenPom. He gave the world one of the best March Madness moments ever. Charisma comes as easily to him as breathing does to most of us.
Hiring Hunter would mystify more than a few Gators. My guess is that he would enchant those same folks shortly afterward — oh, and win. Would he win enough? I don’t know. But he would have fun doing it. I’d be down for that ride.
Jeff Linder, Wyoming men’s head coach
Want someone specializing in resurrection? Linder might be the man for that job.
Larry Shyatt, who was instrumental in transforming Florida’s program under Billy Donovan, did yeoman’s work at Wyoming in the early 2010s, taking over a Cowboys program that had not seen .500 in conference play since 2005 and getting it to an NCAA Tournament in 2015. But after a losing season a year later, Shyatt retired — and though successor Allen Edwards sped things up for two season in Laramie, he also failed to win 10 games in 2019-20, leading to his firing and Linder’s hiring.
Two pandemic-pockmarked years later, Linder has the Cowboys back in the NCAA Tournament, and has done so by punching opponents with a one-two combination of Hunter Maldonado and Graham Ike, neither of whom is really a traditional ball-handler, an even decent distance shooter, or an NBA talent.
But Maldonado is among the nation’s best playmakers, Ike is a load and a half down low, both of them shoot free throws by the bushel, Drake Jefferies joins them in a we-don’t-really-sit trio and fires threes, and Wyoming wins a lot as a result.
And Linder, who also pulled Northern Colorado out of a shallow grave this decade by following the more analytics-friendly blueprint of “make threes and don’t let your opponents take them,” has caught more than a few eyes as a result of that.
A Coloradoan by birth and an itinerant Westerner in his career, Linder also forked off the same Rex Walters coaching tree that produced Golden, and also worked under Leon Rice at Boise State. He’s certainly more likely to break into the Power Five in the Pac-12 than the SEC. At 44, though, he’s got some time to continue building Wyoming, if he wants — and if he can somehow do that, he’ll have plenty of bites at the apple.
Grant McCasland, North Texas men’s head coach
Another Drew Disciple — I always preferred Another Bad Creation, myself — on some radars is McCasland, who ended his time at Baylor by jumping first to Arkansas State and then heading southwest to Denton. He is in the middle of doing a very good job at making the Mean Green a force in Conference USA — you know, the league that a certain coach dominated in the regular season while at Louisiana Tech?
If that doesn’t make McCasland a hard enough sell, his teams’ recent pace of play does: North Texas has been 350th or worse in Adjusted Tempo in the last three seasons, and is No. 358 this year, which is last nationally — slower, even, than Virginia.
Some men just want to watch the world burn, and might try hiring a coach with Mike White’s pre-Florida pedigree who would almost certainly play ball at Tony Bennett’s tempo. Scott Stricklin is not that guy.
Matt McMahon, Murray State men’s head coach
There is no 1:1 comparison to Billy Napier available in the pool of potential coaching hires for a men’s basketball program. But if there’s a coach closest to it, that might be McMahon.
At 43, McMahon is about to lead the Racers to the NCAA Tournament for the third time, and will be wearing white jerseys in its first game, a rather astounding achievement for a team from the emaciated Ohio Valley Conference. Yes, McMahon built on a legacy left by Steve Prohm — who got the Racers to a No. 6 seed and an NCAA Tournament win, but flamed out at Iowa State afterward — but he also recruited Ja Morant, has built a program that Morant loves to be around, and both didn’t leave immediately after striking gold with the kind of superstar talent he may never coach again and persevered through a couple of tougher years before this year’s team coalesced around post-Morant recruits who are now sophomores and juniors.
The Racers also resemble the sort of team that Florida fans might love. They don’t play particularly up-tempo ball, but they can both score and defend well, and belonged on the court athletically with both Memphis (in a victory) and Auburn (in an understandable loss in which Walker Kessler controlled the paint against the smaller Racers) this season. They went undefeated in conference play and then won the OVC Tournament for good measure, staving off the sort of snub that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee would have loved to hand out to a 30-2 team that proved poisonous to one of the two big-name programs that dared to play it. (When the Racers had Morant as a sophomore in 2018-19, they played at both Alabama and Auburn — and lost to both teams by a combined nine points, with Morant averaging 31.5 points per game.)
McMahon’s profile to date compares favorably to White’s at Louisiana Tech, and he would probably have at least some success at Florida. His mid-major background would result in some grousing and grumbling, but as mid-major coaches go, no one else combines his youth, on-court results, and recruiting record — though landing Morant or planning on regularly bringing in players of his caliber would be more like catching a comet and then pretending that’s a sustainable plan, McMahon doesn’t really have anyone near Morant’s level on this year’s roster.
The biggest question about McMahon, for me: Does he actually want to leave Murray State for Florida? He’s from Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a half-hour from Knoxville, and it’s not inconceivable to think he could play his cards right to position himself to be the next men’s basketball head coach at Kentucky or Tennessee if he can keep building something. He and every other coach who will be in the mix for this job just saw White — who maintains plenty of the esteem within the college athletics world despite the opinions of Florida fans with Twitter accounts — get chewed up and spat out by it.
Wes Miller, Cincinnati men’s head coach
A year ago, when Roy Williams surprised many by announcing his retirement, a lot of those same people cast their eyes to the longtime home of the ACC Tournament for his successor, highlighting Miller — then the head coach at North Carolina-Greensboro — as a great candidate for the job.
And he was. Miller had led UNC-G to the NCAA Tournament twice, pushing Gonzaga and taking an understandable loss to towering Florida State as a No. 13 seed, and had done so following a long, slow build into a formidable mid-major program that began from significant depths (three consecutive seasons of single-digit wins before his arrival) and ended with Miller having equaled the program’s previous total of NCAA Tournament appearances — before turning 38.
That combination of youth, sustained success at a tough place to win, and Carolina roots — which include a book about his tenure as a sharpshooting guard in Chapel Hill — made him a logical candidate for the job.
It went to Hubert Davis. Miller went to Cincinnati, taking over for John Brannen after a two-year post-Mick Cronin tenure in which things went sideways, to be charitable — and my brain went to the possibility that Miller had taken a mid-level job where he could build again before getting another bite at the apple at UNC, should Davis stumble.
If that’s Miller’s plan, it’s still in play, though Davis recovered from a very rocky start to begin the 2022 season to mold the Tar Heels into the team that went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and rained dunks and threes on Mike Krzyzewski’s retirement ceeremony. But if Miller was good enough for Carolina then, in theory, he would probably also be good enough for Florida now.
Miller would, to be fair, be another sell job for Stricklin — though swiping him from Cincy, which would probably put up its dukes to prevent a one-year tenure following Cronin’s trek west, would earn some kudos from the pundit pulpit. But if Miller is probably going to be in the mix for big jobs one day, Stricklin accelerating that timeline might be a coup.
Jordan Mincy, Jacksonville men’s head coach
Only here because Tre Mann said he should be.
UF HAS to hire Jordan Mincy!! Florida basketball NEEDS him— Tre Mann (@tre2mann3) March 14, 2022
Mincy — one of the trio of well-respected assistants White brought from Louisiana Tech to Florida who have gone on to head coaching jobs, along with Florida Atlantic’s Dusty May and Radford’s Darris Nichols — had a superb first year at Jacksonville, reaching the ASUN Tournament championship. But the ASUN is a long way from Florida’s level, and Mincy himself would probably say he needs a bit more head coaching experience before taking on a job like Florida, even if he’d probably be a personality fit.
Niko Medved, Colorado State men’s head coach
Medved just inked an extension that will almost certainly keep him at Colorado State for a few more years — and given that this is a deal handed out by a program that has turned bigger schools, Florida included, ransacking its cupboard for football coaches into a reliable revenue stream, I imagine that deal might make hiring him away from Fort Collins into a pricey proposal.
He’s coveted for good reasons.
Medved, 48, is a bit older than the average mid-major name, but he’s also got head coaching experience at Furman, Drake, and now Colorado State, and while his rebuilding job at Furman left him better-regarded in South Carolina than he is in Iowa — Medved bolted for Colorado State after one .500 season in Des Moines — he has continued building apace with the Rams, whose No. 6 seed in the 2022 NCAA Tournament is the best seeding in program history. Should CSU prevail over Michigan in the first round, Medved will have secured the Rams’ fifth NCAA Tournament win ever, and just their second since 1989.
Colorado State also plays efficient offense to go with disciplined defense, and Medved secured the commitment of this team’s star, David Roddy — who has All-American potential should he return for a senior season — just months into his tenure in 2018, so he has recruiting acumen to go with the on-court stuff. And that experience across multiple time zones and in fairly divergent situations would be an asset at a bigger school.
The extension should make Medved getting to such a school costly for that school, at least. Someone will probably still pony up — if not this year, then at some point. I suspect Florida’s history with Colorado State coaches makes it less likely the Gators will be the bunch to do so, even if Medved is probably a fit.
The White light
Andy Kennedy, UAB men’s head coach
It’s arguable that no single coach did more to shape Mike White’s career than Andy Kennedy. Kennedy retained him at Ole Miss after Rod Barnes was fired, which probably saved White a few years of working back up the ranks to an assistant’s role that he could turn into a gig like Louisiana Tech, and the Rebels’ early success in the Kennedy era boosted both coaches.
Kennedy also stuck it out for just long enough in Oxford that the Florida job opened before Ole Miss came calling — and though White famously turned down Tennessee before leaving for Florida, the way his days in Gainesville played out makes me wonder whether he might have been able to have a lot more job security by churning out 20-win seasons there.
So it would be fitting symmetry for Kennedy to now benefit from a move by White, and come back to the SEC ranks as a slightly older and wiser version of maybe the best coach Oxford ever saw. But it is fair to wonder whether he, much like White, would be likely to keep Florida floating at a certain level rather than elevating it to the stratosphere — and fair to remember the saga that began with his 2008 altercation with a taxi driver in Cincinnati being the sort of thing that plays out in the background when you are the head coach at Ole Miss and makes headlines that shadow tenures if you’re the head coach at Florida.
Kennedy is doing a fantastic job at UAB, and doing so in unusual circumstances: Jerod Haase was a rising star with the Blazers for several years, and left assistant Rob Ehsan a fine program when he departed for Stanford, but Ehsan had been treading water in Haase’s wake before he bolted to Stanford to join Haase’s staff, and Kennedy has meaningfully improved the Blazers since then. (And with Haase expected to be let go by the Cardinal, it’s hard to say either he or Ehsan made the correct calls.)
Kennedy isn’t quite young — he turned 53 on Sunday, which would make White leaving for Georgia one hell of an inadvertent birthday present for one of his mentors, should Kennedy end up at Florida — and is probably more like a very good coach and recruiter than an elite one. But I’m about to spend several paragraphs making a case for another failed SEC coach, and I think Kennedy merited one, too.
Anthony Grant, Dayton men’s head coach
Rashon Burno, Northern Illinois men’s head coach
Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat forward/enforcer/rice and beans consumer
Rob Lanier, Georgia State head coach
Matt McCall, former UMass men’s head coach
Mike Miller, Houston HS (Germantown, TN) boys’ head coach
Brett Nelson, Holy Cross men’s head coach
Eddie Shannon, Chattanooga men’s assistant
Let’s be real here: Grant is the only one of these men who has even sort of a shot at being Florida’s next head coach.
Haslem has essentially been a coach who sometimes checks into games to commit fouls for the Heat for most of the last decade, and learning under Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra was good enough to get Juwan Howard a job as big as his alma mater’s without any time in a head coach role, but I think it might take Miami sinking into the sea for UD to actually leave the 305 area code — and we’re still at least a few years from that. McCall just got fired by UMass after a second consecutive losing season, and even if the former Donovan assistant, Florida alumnus, and well-liked coach would be a popular pick for some, it’s a non-starter for the wider fan base. Miller isn’t going to jump from high school to running the show in the O’Dome, even if he was briefly a Memphis assistant under Penny, has some strong AAU ties to go with his NBA bona fides, and would almost certainly end up with his sons, both very good players, following him to Gainesville.
Burno is too early in his head coaching career to call him a good head coach, and is tasked with something Herculean in DeKalb. Lanier is too early into his second pass at a head coaching career (after a tenure that tailed off at Siena) to make the jump to Florida; though his long and impressive career as an assistant probably should’ve netted a big chair before now, he did smartly wait until a job a situation as decent as following Hunter as Georgia State was on the table to return to the head coaching ranks. Nelson has won 17 games in three seasons at Holy Cross; while he’s executing a to-the-studs teardown and survived winning just eight games in his first two years, it’s fair to say he’s a lot closer to getting fired from that job than he is to being ready to take the Florida gig. Shannon would be a fine addition to Florida’s next staff, but I’d want him to run a program before hiring him at Florida.
Grant, of course, is different.
He took over the Dayton program that Archie Miller made potent — to the point that at least one idiot considered him the best choice to succeed Billy Donovan — and made it better, with his 2019-20 Flyers going 29-2, never losing in regulation, and standing as a true national championship contender that could see eye-to-eye and go mano y mano with the heavyweights of the sport. How much of that was tied to Obi Toppin, a superstar of the caliber Grant will never again land at Dayton, is up for debate — and those Flyers’ potential championship credentials will always be, too, thanks to their sensational season coinciding with a cancelled NCAA Tournament.
There is no question of whether Grant did a great job with that specific team — he did.
His overall body of work with the three programs he’s led since leaving Gainesville as Donovan’s first significant protégé is somewhat more uneven. He thrived at VCU, coaching the Rams team that famously upset Duke in the 2007 NCAA Tournament behind the brilliant Eric Maynor and making another NCAA Tournament before leaving a stocked cupboard that Shaka Smart was able to cook with.
He struggled at Alabama in a tenure not entirely dissimilar to White’s at Florida, getting snubbed for an NCAA Tournament berth with a 25-win team in 2011 and drawing a tough Creighton team as a No. 9 seed in his only trip in 2012. But he also only had one losing season in Tuscaloosa, and the Crimson Tide’s men’s basketball history is surprisingly poor given the school’s incredible football history and burgeoning rep as an all-sports force; there is a case to be made that Grant brought Alabama respectability that Mark Gottfried earned by winning big early in his tenure and burned by flaming out on his way out of town.
And though they would have earned a No. 1 seed in that fantastic 2020 campaign at Dayton, Grant hasn’t gotten the Flyers to a staged NCAA Tournament, falling short in 2019 and 2022 despite 13 and 14 Atlantic 10 wins, respectively.
Florida fans just spent the better part of seven years watching the Gators scrap and battle in a lot of the sorts of games that the program needed to win comfortably to get into NCAA Tournaments stress-free, with one season as a notable exception. Grant’s teams have been doing that for the better part of a decade, with one season as a notable exception. You may see the point of this parallel.
And Grant is also the sort of decent, dignified human that White is, if also maybe the sort of soul who would probably privately chafe against outlandish expectations and vitriol spit if they do not get met and publicly take the high road at all available forks — with Grant having been through a wringer at Alabama and knowing Florida’s expectations rather intimately being two obvious and likely important differences. He could stand the rain of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune for a while — but why choose that over being beloved at Dayton, unless he yearns to chase a national title with Florida’s resources?
Grant turns 56 in early April — he’s less than a year younger than Billy Donovan, for perspective — and is more than a bit older than Florida would probably ideally like its hire to be. The Gators have been hiring coaches in their late 30s and early 40s with the hopes that they will turn into Becky Burleigh or Billy Donovan since Jeremy Foley, uh, hired Becky Burleigh and Billy Donovan; that strategy has yielded not just Burleigh and Donovan but Mouse Holloway and Kevin O’Sullivan and Roland Thornqvist and Mary Wise and you get it.
Yet Grant does not seem anywhere near his retirement age, and there are precedents for taking a big job in Florida and having substantial success with it north on 75 and west on 10 and south down the Turnpike and across the Tamiami Trail, even if Grant would need to win bigger at Florida than Leonard Hamilton has in Tallahassee or Jim Larrañaga has in Coral Gables to truly consider a tenure in orange and blue a success. Outfit him with an old hand — McCall would be a blindingly obvious choice to join Grant as an assistant — and a recruiter or two (holding over Erik Pastrana would work in this context, too) as assistants, and you would probably have a vision that a lot of folks could believe in.
I can talk myself into that vision, too. I just think Florida has the resources and history to justify aiming higher than Grant, at least at first — and I would want to hear Bennett or Drew or Wright say no to my best offer before making one to Grant.