Ridaught: Mike White will win at Georgia

A total of six SEC teams received a bid to the NCAA Tournament — Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU. 

Florida, as expected, was not one of them.

Head coach Mike White surprised many by announcing on Sunday he was leaving UF for the University of Georgia. The Bulldogs recently fired Tom Crean after just four seasons.

The Gators were one of six teams with a win in each of the previous four NCAA Tournaments, joined by Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan, Villanova and Florida State. 

UF was also one of 12 teams nationally and the only Southeastern Conference team to reach every NCAA Tournament in that span (since 2017).

From 2015-21, Florida won 63 SEC games and had six NCAA tournament wins under White. Only Kentucky won more conference games (77) and NCAA tournament games (nine) among SEC teams.

During that same span, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Missouri, and Vanderbilt had no NCAA wins.

White, along with John Calipari, Rick Barnes and Bruce Pearl, are the four active SEC head coaches whose winning percentage in conference games rates in the SEC’s all-time top 20. Billy Donovan who coached at Florida from 1997-2015, ranks ninth (.645).

In four of six full seasons under White, the Gators played the toughest non-conference schedule of any SEC team.

Florida’s non-conference schedule strength has rated among the top six of all power conference teams every season under White, including No. 1 twice (2015-16 and 2016-17) and No. 3 in 2019-20. 

It remains to be seen if White would have had a job at UF next season after failing to make the NCAA tournament this year.

So White did accomplish a lot during his time as head coach, but for years a lot of Gator fans wanted him to be fired.

Florida basketball is in its 103rd season.

The Gators have an overall record of 1,488-1,148 and a 670-676 record in the SEC.

That’s hardly Blue Blood material so Florida was never considered a ‘basketball school.’

White’s back was already up against the wall the moment he took the Florida job as he followed Donovan, a Hall of Fame coach who won two national titles (2006 and 2007), made four Final Fours, won six SEC championships, and won four conference tournament championships.

Since 2000, Florida is fifth in the country with eight Elite Eight trips, behind Kansas (10), Kentucky (9), Michigan State (9) and North Carolina (9).

Donovan set the bar very high.

As far as potential replacements, I’ve heard Rick Pitino (Iona), Anthony Grant (Dayton), a longtime assistant under Donovan, and Scott Drew (Baylor), among several others.

“Mike White informed me this afternoon that he was accepting another job,” Florida Athletics Director Scott Stricklin said on Sunday. “It’s been a pleasure having Mike, Kira and the White family with us in Gainesville, and we wish them well. They are a wonderful family who always represented the Gators in a first-class manner. The search for the next Gator men’s basketball coach has already begun, and I look forward to identifying a leader who will embody the UAA’s vision of providing a championship experience with integrity.”

So “with integrity” eliminates Pitino, given his indiscretions in the past.

Drew would be a great hire, but I don’t think Florida will be able to offer him what he’s worth. White’s decision to leave for another school helps with any potential buyout if he had been let go, but Drew’s pedigree would allow him some negotiations to improve his current salary of $3.35 million.

White’s salary of $3.2 million is 22nd among the top 25 highest paid college basketball coaches and I believe it’s wishful thinking for Florida to pay something in the neighborhood of what Tony Bennett of Virginia makes ($5.2 million).

Grant deserves a phone call, and an interview if he’s interested.

Former assistant Shaka Smart might be worth a look, but he’s only been at Marquette for one year.

All-in-all this may be a win-win situation.

White still has a job, he gets to remain in the SEC, and I do believe he will win at Georgia. Plus, Gator fans who wanted White out get their wish for a new coach.

But sometimes you must be careful what you wish for.

“We are thrilled to welcome a coach with Mike White’s integrity, character and competitive excellence,” University of Georgia President Jere Morehead said in a statement.

There’s always a gamble when hiring a coach.

Crean took Marquette to a Final Four and he coached three Sweet 16 teams at Indiana before Georgia hired him.

But this past season, Crean’s Bulldogs went 6-26, the most losses in school history. The Bulldogs went 1-17 in the SEC. 

Georgia has only made the NCAA tournament three times in the past 20 seasons.

Mark Fox, who was the previous coach at Georgia, got them to two NCAA Tournament appearances (2011 and 2015) in his nine seasons as coach.

Fox was hired in 2009 after winning 74.1 percent of his games at Nevada (123-43). He also guided the Wolf Pack to five postseason appearances in five years including three NCAA tournaments.

In my opinion, White will get Georgia to the NCAA tournament twice as many times as Fox (two) and Brean (none) and in less time than the two combined (13 years).

I always liked White. He ran a clean program, was a very likable guy, and he reminded me of Donovan.

But there were deficiencies and the program lacked consistency.

This was a good hire for Georgia. White never had a losing season in the SEC in his seven years at the helm.

Meanwhile, Florida did receive an invite to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and will play Iona at 9 p.m. on Wednesday. However, associate head coach Al Pinkins will serve as the interim head coach for the Gators.

 

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