New Florida Gators men’s basketball head coach Todd Golden’s first major task in the role is apparently done, with his coaching staff now filled officially or reportedly.
A Thursday report from Jeff Borzello of ESPN adds UNLV assistant Carlin Hartman to a staff that had already added Richmond assistant Kevin Hovde and Mississippi State assistant Korey McCray, each of whom was announced as part of Florida’s staff earlier this week.
Borzello also first reported that San Francisco assistant Jonathan Safir, who served as a bench coach under Golden for the Dons, is also joining Florida’s staff, but not as an assistant coach, which implied that Safir — renowned as an analytics-minded coach, but still very young for the profession as a 2015 graduate of Vassar — was likely to serve in a behind-the-bench capacity for the Gators.
Florida confirmed that report later in the afternoon, announcing Safir as director of basketball strategy and analytics, a title not previously existent in Florida’s program.
This staff construction could be something of a coup for Florida, and might protect Golden’s program against attrition of assistants, one of the problems successful programs quickly face.
First and most importantly, pairing Hovde — renowned as a fine offensive coordinator under both Golden mentor Kyle Smith at San Francisco and then Golden himself, and a somewhat surprising hire because of his departure from San Francisco to work at alma mater Richmond a year ago — with McCray and Hartman, who both have more than a decade of experience recruiting the East Coast and Southeast, would seem to provide coverage of various needs.
While Hovde gets strong reviews for his offensive design, he’s simply not as experienced a recruiter as either Hartman or McCray, and didn’t really get to reveal his quality as a recruiter of what should be Florida’s more fertile grounds south of the Mid-Atlantic in a single season at Richmond.
Golden is also bringing some familiarity to Florida with Hovde and Hartman, as all three of them worked at Columbia with Golden under Smith — which Safir did, too, albeit as a staffer and not a coach and with only Golden and Hovde. (Hartman left Columbia for a third stint at Rice in 2014; Safir only joined the Lions in 2015.) While McCray does not have the same ties to the Smith/Golden coaching tree, his time in the SEC and the SEC’s footprint are probably more important than his lack of familiarity with his new colleagues, as he’s the only coach to have consistently been working in the region for most of the last 20 years.
And while Hovde presumably coordinates Florida’s offense, it would seem likely that Golden, Hartman, and McCray will do significant work with position groups: Golden is a former point guard, Hartman has often worked with bigs, and McCray has generally tutored guards. That would probably be their division of labor in Gainesville, too, though Hovde will obviously also work with players and there is almost always at least some measure of cross-training in basketball programs these days; that might be even more the case in Golden’s system, which utilizes multiple ball-handlers, than most.
Finally, Safir stepping back from being an assistant coach and instead taking a role that will keep him with Golden sets him up as the obvious successor to any chair that opens up. If, for example, Hovde moving back to Richmond for a year was an effort to position himself to succeed long-time Richmond head coach Chris Mooney someday, and that someday comes, Safir probably gets the first shot at a bench coach position.
And if Florida wins with this configuration of coaches, that success also probably justifies keeping whatever role Safir is going to take as part of its organization chart going forward — which, in turn, might make it easier to get young, analytically-minded basketball junkies to take jobs at Florida even if they aren’t full-fledged assistant coach jobs. (Golden, mind you, is extraordinarily high on Safir, saying in the release on his hiring that “It wouldn’t surprise me to see him running an NBA franchise someday.”)
That’s the best-case scenario, of course.
But the worst-case scenario is, well, the whole thing foundering. And while Golden getting the band back together is different from importing much of his coaching staff — something that Mike White did by bringing Dusty May, Jordan Mincy, and Darris Nichols with him to Florida from Louisiana Tech and that Billy Donovan did before him by bringing Anthony Grant, Donnie Jones, and John Pelphrey with him to Florida from Marshall — it is only slightly so.
Golden wasn’t going to be able to bring Chris Gerlufsen, his USF offensive coordinator, with him; the Dons barely waited to tab Gerlufsen his successor. White, by contrast, was able to bring May with him to Gainesville partly because Louisiana Tech opted to hire Miami assistant Eric Konkol to succeed White rather than promote May. And while a staff of Hovde, Hartman, and Safir would have made some sense, bringing in McCray makes more sense.
The bet Golden is placing is on being able to keep the structure and alignment of a staff that has mostly worked together off and on for a decade at a new place and with a new face in the midst; it is not unlike the one White had to place when replacing May, who left to take the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic, with Al Pinkins. While that did not ultimately elevate Florida as a program, it did work out fine in terms of Pinkins fitting with White (and Mincy and Nichols), to the point that Pinkins has been strongly rumored to be following White to Athens as part of his first staff at Georgia.
In any case, Golden’s got his staff — and at least the first member of the support staff that Florida might build to rival the “army” Billy Napier is still assembling.
The next step? Building his Florida rosters.