Michael White embraces challenge as new Florida Gators head basketball coach

By Adam Silverstein
May 11, 2015

Measured and calm, Michael White was introduced Monday as the 20th head basketball coach in the history of the Florida Gators.

While White did not come right out of the gate with a ton of energy or promises, he was deliberate in his statements and accepting of the tall task ahead – replacing legendary coach Billy Donovan. He opened with a lengthy, prepared statement before taking questions from the gathered media, all of which has been captured and broken down here on OnlyGators.com.

Opening statements

Athletic director Jeremy Foley:

“I think it was 19 years ago, not quite to the day but close, that we introduced Billy Donovan in this room. And I can remember the excitement within our program when we did that, and I can tell you right now, the excitement is exactly the same. Obviously, getting Mike White to join us has energized the entire department. You saw the press conference a week or so ago the emotions and the sadness, but we’ve moved forward. Never moved out of our heart, Billy never will, but now the excitement about what’s going on and what the future is going to hold, you can feel it throughout the whole program.”

“We researched a lot of different people. Mike’s name just kept coming up aces every time. It’s amazing to me what he’s accomplished. We love the fact that he coached in this league, played in this league, love the fact that he recruited the state of Florida. … He’s a winner. I think that’s been evidenced throughout his entire career. That excited us. … Absolutely amazing, his reputation in this profession.”

Head coach Mike White:

“It’s an emotional time for all of us. … I’ve had great staff members, and I’d like to thank all of my former players at Louisiana Tech that afforded my family and I an opportunity to come to the University of Florida. Dr. Kent Fuchs and Jeremy Foley, for this unbelievable opportunity, I couldn’t thank you more.

“It’s such a pleasure to join such a prestigious institution, a top 10 public university in this country, and the most Googled university in the world. I’ll be using that one a lot. That’s pretty cool. Also, very fortunate to be a part of this athletic department, an athletic department that’s won 34 national titles, including 16 in eight different sports since 2006. An athletic department that’s finished in the top 10 in the national All Sports rankings in each of the last 31 years, absolutely amazing.

“Lastly, very fortunate to inherit such a successful and proud Gator basketball program, a program that’s won three of the last five SEC Championships, won two National Championships, has been to five Final Fours, has won four SEC Tournament Championships, and has produced 11 first-round draft picks. It’s an absolute honor of mine to replace Billy Donovan, one of the best coaches in the history of this game. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the legacy that he leaves, and it’s my charge to continue the momentum that he’s maintained for an amazing 19 years.

“As committed as Dr. Fuchs and Jeremy Foley are to the academic and athletic excellence of this institution, I’ll be equally as committed to our Gator fans and family to maintain the national reputation of this program. In doing so, we’ll continue to recruit talented players with high character, that best represent UF and develop them on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.

“We’ll continue to recruit nationally, but the state of Florida consistently produces some of the best talent in the country, so I’m eager to continue building relationships with coaches in our home state. I also very much look forward to connecting with former Gators as I know how crucial they’ve been to all of the success that Coach Donovan has had here. I’m extremely eager to work with our current players. I’ve met most, and I’ve been really impressed with them as people and as young men. I’m anxious to be a part of their continued development.

“In closing, it’s an amazing blessing and an honor to be here today. We were committed, my family and I, Kira and I and our five kids, to staying at Louisiana Tech until something really special presented itself, and this is certainly special. The strength and the University of Florida brand name and an opportunity to work with Jeremy Foley, his staff and its culture make this extra special.

“I’m looking forward to getting Kira and the kids down as soon as possible. We left the kids in Ruston with Kira. They’re locked in the house with her, so they didn’t ruin this press conference. And when they get down, we can’t wait to entrench ourselves in what we hear is an unbelievable community to live in – Gainesville.”

Florida born, not Florida bred

Much has been made about White being born in Dunedin, Florida, and his recruiting acumen within the state, leading many to believe he is a native of the Sunshine State. Well, while that is technically true, in a larger sense it’s not exactly accurate.

According to White, he left Florida when he was two weeks old and has never really lived in the state in his 38 years. Due to his dad’s job – an athletic director who changed positions throughout his childhood – he bounced around the country before ultimately deciding to attend Ole Miss.

That is where he met his future wife, Kira. The odd part of the story? Kira is also a Florida native … but not just that … she was born and raised in Dunedin.

“Incredible how it all works out,” he said. “She’s just as excited, if not more excited, to come back home. So it’s just a really special opportunity.”

About 150 miles southwest of Gainesville, Dunedin has a population of just 35,000+ (as of 2010, likely less when Kira grew up). While she attended Clearwater Central Catholic High School before attending Ole Miss and playing volleyball, White’s visits to Florida mostly occurred during the summer when he came back to visit his extended family.

His parents “bought a place on the east coast about 10 years ago,” so one way or another, the White family has “always been drawn here.”

But while Kira was easy to convince, White’s kids – all of which are eight years old or younger – are still a work in progress.

“My twin boys, who are five years old, were sick when I told them that we were moving. We weren’t any longer going to be Bulldogs. I told them this the other day. And Jeremy had left some Gator hats, and they loved the Gator hats. They were sporting them around the house, but they didn’t like that we weren’t going to be Bulldogs.

“But when I said we were moving to Florida, they turned quickly, especially when we talked about the beach, and we talked about grandparents, and we talked about Mickey, and they were sold. They’re ready to be down here immediately.

“I’m not sure that they’re ready to be Gators yet. We still have to convert them, but everyone in the family is excited about living in Florida without question.”

Swatting expectations

Just days into being Florida’s head basketball coach, White wafted his arms (not literally) when asked to provide an expectation for the Gators in the first year under his leadership.

“I’m not sure I can answer that question. I’m sorry,” he said. “I think that’s for everyone else to decide.”

He’s right, and it was a smart move on White’s part because any promises made at an opening press conference can last with you throughout your tenure – especially if it is a short one – as a head coach at a major program.

“What I’m most focused on is getting better every day, being really competitive, doing our job helping these guys in the back of the room develop their skills and represent this university the way it deserves to be represented,” White continued.

“We’re going to play hard. We’re going to play fast to a certain extent. We’ve got to figure out what’s in this roster’s best interest. Off the floor, we’ve got to do the things we’re supposed to do. We’re going to act like men and represent this athletic department as well.”

Legendary advice

White expressed Monday how Donovan has already reached out to him on three separate occasions to educate him about the Gators team and Florida basketball program as a whole. But Donovan is not the only future/current Hall of Fame coach whose brain White has picked over the last few years.

Among others, Duke’s Krzyzewski has spoken with White “on several occasions” over the years, conversations which have resulted in “some great memories, some that I could probably share and some that I’d like to keep private.”

White said he was humbled when Coach K reached out to him in the past and ecstatic to hear from Donovan over the past week. There is also no shortage of coaches who have praised the hire nationally.

Making a point

Like Donovan, White has an affinity for the backcourt and admitted Monday that he is the most demanding of his point guards, which should not be much of an adjustment for Gators basketball fans.

“I’d like them to take more of a leadership role than anyone else, at least vocally during the game. I think leaders can be different in different ways. I also know how crucial it is to have really good point guard play,” he said.

White noted that he has coached and played with great point guards throughout his career, estimating that he’s had an “all-league point guard” just about every year he’s served on a bench.

Considering Florida is badly in need of improved point guard play for 2015-16, junior Kasey Hill and sophomore Chris Chiozza look to be headed towards a fun offseason program under White.

Notes and quotes

» White on why he turned down other opportunities but took the Florida job: “I’ve dodged committing to talking to certain institutions in particular, but we have had interest, my wife and I, because of the success that we’ve had. It’s been flattering. We’ve been courted by some really good institutions and some really good athletic directors. Timing is of the essence, and we’ve had family issues with adding to our family in the past, which has always been a little bit of a factor. But the biggest factor, again, is us being patient for the right one, and it’s amazing how God works, and it’s ended up that we’re in a place where my wife and I have dreamed about being at a place like this for a long, long time. Us both being from Florida, and her growing up and living her entire life in Florida until college, and again, with the opportunity to work with Jeremy and his staff, it’s an amazing opportunity.”

» White on evaluating the current roster: “[I’ve looked] a certain amount from just having a chance to talk to Coach Donovan again on the phone and just going back remembering four or five games I was able to watch last year on the SEC Network. I know that we’ve got some talent. I know that talking with them one on one over the past few days, I think we’ve got some really good people. Coach, obviously, confirms that as do our administrators. So if any of these guys signed to play here for Billy Donovan at Florida, they’re good players, obviously. They’re good players. We need to figure out how to best help them and continue that development that was taking place until now.”

» White on whether he considered going into sports administration, like the rest of his family, and why he’s now a coach: “My dad [Duke athletic director Kevin White] tried to talk me out of coaching early on, but it really, as a lot of coaches will tell you, it’s not work to me. It’s a passion. It’s been a life long passion. I love the game, I love being around it, and to be paid for what we do, it’s like stealing.”

» White on his time at Louisiana Tech and whether it was a success: “We accomplished 99 percent of [our goals]. An absolute success. We had 11 student athletes that exhausted their eligibility under me, and nine have graduated and the other two will have graduated by the end of this course. … We have nine all league players. We won three consecutive championships. We’ve rejuvenated the fan base. The Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston has become a really, really tough place to play. We’ve won 49 out of the last 50 games at home, which out of the last 50 is number one in the country. I keep saying ‘we.’ I still feel a part of it. But now, obviously, I’m excited to be a part of the O’Connell Center and the home court advantage here.”

» White on going up against his former boss, Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy, in league play: “I’ll have to look up, of course. He’s a big dude. Andy’s a big dude. It will be exciting, really. It will be probably emotional a little bit just going back and thinking about how much he helped me, really, and how much I learned from him and continue to learn from him just by watching his teams play. He’s the winningest coach in Ole Miss history. He gave me a great opportunity to coach under him and work under him. It will be rewarding.”

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