What will the future hold for Mike White with the Gators?
In the nearly two decades under Billy Donovan, Florida basketball was prospering like never before. He led the Gators to their first national title game in 2000 before winning a pair of championships in 2006 and 2007. With the incredible talent he recruited to Gainesville, the Gators remain the most recent program to repeat as national champions. Before departed for the NBA, Donovan delivered a fourth Final Four in 2014, coming on the heels of three straight Elite Eight appearances.
When the Oklahoma City Thunder came calling in 2015, Donovan left Florida with a massive opening at the top job. Any coach who took the job was facing enormous pressure to replicate or even come close to Donovan’s success. Mike White had spent four years as the head coach at Louisiana Tech after a long run as an SEC assistant at Ole Miss. He had success as a head coach, winning 101 games and three conference titles, and the experience in the conference.
White’s first five years in Gainesville have been a mixed bag. He’s done a solid job at recruiting and bringing talent to Florida, even as the rest of the SEC strengthens, but the results haven’t always been on the court. In just his second year, he led the Gators to the Elite Eight, his very first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach. They’d win games in each of the next two Tournaments but were certainly behind teams like Kentucky and Auburn in the league.
This past season’s disappointment certainly raised the temperature on White’s seat, especially considering the expectations. Many prognosticators had Florida as a top team, especially with the addition of Kerry Blackshear. Unfortunately, the Gators didn’t live up to expectations, falling flat early against Florida State and Connecticut, and eventually tying for fourth in the SEC. The NCAA Tournament was canceled, but the Gators were not going to receive a very attractive seed had it happened.
One thing that’s important to remember is that anything could have happened in that NCAA Tournament. In 2000, the 5-seeded Gators upset three higher seeds on their march to the title game but nearly lost in overtime to Butler in the very first round. Reputations and legacies can be written in the Tournament, and it’s very possible this Florida team could have finally gelled on college basketball’s biggest stage.
However, White is still competing with Donovan’s legacy and what he built in Gainesville. There isn’t the expectation or requirement that White is going to win back-to-back titles immediately, but there remains a disappointment. Auburn and LSU are shining on the national stage, Ole Miss and Tennessee are markedly better in recent years, and Alabama and Arkansas are both trending upwards under new head coaches. Florida’s role in the SEC seems to be changing after years of dominating the league alongside Kentucky.
Florida will have a talented roster this upcoming season, but can they take full advantage of it? They’ll no longer have Blackshear, but Keyontae Johnson and Scottie Lewis should both play an impressive role on next season’s team. White’s Elite Eight run in 2017 certainly bought him some good will, but he can’t afford to stall as the rest of the SEC improves around him.
This Florida team could make a run at the Final Four and cement White’s place with the school, but it could all fall apart and lead the Gators to a new head coach in 2021.