With plenty of hype about Murray State’s Matt McMahon and San Francisco’s Todd Golden as hot mid-major men’s basketball coaches, many Florida fans coveting such a coach for the program’s new vacancy probably tuned into the NCAA Tournament first round game between their teams on Thursday night as a means of scouting.
And those fans surely liked plenty of what they saw, as the Racers and Dons played a thrilling overtime game that Murray State won, 92-87, despite the Dons erasing a late lead with a 10-0 run that spilled into overtime.
So it should be little surprise that Florida has hired one of the coaches from that game — but just a bit of a surprise that it’s Golden, not McMahon, headed to the SEC. The news was first reported — with Florida “targeting” Golden, often sports reporters’ code for “negotiating with, with a positive outcome expected” — by Pete Thamel of ESPN and Golden’s hire confirmed by Matt Norlander, among others.
Norlander also reports that Florida gave Golden a six-year, $18 million contract worth $3 million annually. A flat pay progression with no room for escalation would be an unusual deal for college athletics, however.
Florida announced the hire shortly after 5 p.m. on Friday. Its release includes quotes from both Golden and athletic director Scott Stricklin.
“I’m energized by the opportunity to lead an elite program at Florida, and I’m ready to get started,” Golden said. “Florida has a championship-level athletic department, university and men’s basketball program, and I embrace the standard of excellence at Florida and the passion of Gator Nation. We couldn’t be more excited about what the future holds in Gainesville.
“I also want to express my thanks to the University of San Francisco, Joan McDermott and Rev. Paul J. Fitzgerald for the incredible support they’ve given me over the past six years at USF and the opportunity to lead a special group of young men.”
“We’re incredibly excited about bringing in Todd, who is an innovative, relationship-oriented coach, to lead our men’s basketball program,” Stricklin said. “Todd brings a smart and analytics-driven approach to the game and a relational approach to leadership that puts student-athletes first. He has a wide range of experience, particularly for a coach his age, and brings an outstanding track record and high level of integrity to the job.”
Golden spent the last three years at San Francisco turning the Dons from a good program to one that made the program’s inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection a no-brainer — difficult, though not impossible, in the West Coast Conference. But he’s not the sort of personality fit in Gainesville that, for example, McMahon would’ve been.
That said, I’m bullish on Golden’s potential as a basketball coach, as I wrote in a comprehensive breakdown of what I saw as the sweep of candidates earlier this week.
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.
I did finish that section by saying that Golden “may not be the first name Florida should cross off its list of mid-major names,” but that was a hedge based on fit and what I thought was a fairly unlikely chance that Stricklin would try the trick of importing a coach with less experience at the mid-major level than Mike White had when Jeremy Foley hired him from Louisiana Tech to succeed Billy Donovan.
But Golden, unlike White, has an NCAA Tournament appearance to his name, if not a win. And winning at San Francisco, even if it comes on the coattails of mentor Kyle Smith’s own strong tenure there, is at least as tough as winning in Ruston. And if you saw Thursday’s game, you have probably seen enough of the Dons to sense that Golden’s on-court style is a fairly good fit for Florida fans.
And still, this is every bit a big bet on Golden’s potential.
Florida made one of those on White; it didn’t pay out. But it made one on Donovan, too, and made many of bets like these on coaches a lot like Golden over the course of Foley’s tenure. There’s a long history of those bets paying off in Gainesville.
And now Gator Nation will have to hope this one does, too.