Florida basketball coaching candidates: Eight names to know as Gators aim to replace Mike White

By Adam Silverstein
March 13, 2022
Florida basketball coaching candidates: Eight names to know as Gators aim to replace Mike White
Basketball

Mike White departed the Florida Gators before the program could make a move in determination of his future, jumping to take over as the new head basketball coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. With the program looking to make just its second coaching change since the departure of Billy Donovan following the 2015 season, finding the right candidate will be a tough task for Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin.

The Gators hired White, in large part, because he shared a lot of the characteristics Donovan possessed when he took over the team. This despite fans at the time wanting Florida to bring in a more experienced power-conference coach who could continue the program’s string of postseason success that Donovan fostered during his extended tenure. While White did have a few bright spots, the Gators largely underachieved across his seven-year tenure and missed the NCAA Tournament this season for the first time since 2016, his inaugural campaign leading the program.

There’s no question that the Florida job is a unique one. Any coach who takes over the Gators has to be prepared to deal with Final Four expectations. While that was understandable for UF under Donovan, it has become a middle-of-the-road program in the SEC across the last few seasons under White, this as the conference is stronger top-to-bottom than its been in decades. (Six SEC teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament this season.)

The next coach will be facing a rebuild not only of the roster but the fan base. They must instill a strong recruiting culture and demand success as Florida seeks a return to national relevance on the hardwood.

So with all of that known, let’s take a look at where the Gators may turn to replace White. This may be an extended coaching search due to it beginning at the start of the NCAA Tournament, but athletic director Scott Stricklin showed in replacing head football coach Dan Mullen that he can act swiftly and decisively when he finds his top candidate.

Florida coaching candidates

Matt McMahon, Murray State coach: There’s no doubting McMahon’s success at Murray State, particularly this season as the Racers completed a 30-2 campaign and won the Ohio Valley to earn the No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament. McMahon, 43, has led Murray State to four OVC regular-season championships and three tournament championships across the last five seasons. For all of these reasons, he will have plenty of suitors this offseason, meaning Florida would have a lot of competition if it makes him the primary target. However, if the Gators could land McMahon, exciting, fast-paced offensive basketball would make its way back to the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

Scott Drew, Baylor coach: Whether Drew is truly available remains to be seen, but clearly a number of programs believe that he might be looking around despite leading the Bears to the national championship last season and their third straight NCAA Tournament berth this year. Baylor is 54-8 across the last two campaigns with two first-place finishes in the Big 12, and Drew is one of the best program-builders in the game. LSU is likely going to make a significant pitch to Drew hoping for another Brian Kelly-level hire, but given the Tigers’ recent swath of major NCAA violations, they are hardly a runaway favorite to land him (again, if he’s even available). Drew is going to command top-10 coach money one way or another in this cycle. The Gators need their program rebuilt, and they may need to open up their coffers to do it. Florida’s tax-free state status could help if Stricklin is truly willing to pay. This would be quite a swing, but he’s probably a pie-in-the-sky candidate.

Anthony Grant, Dayton coach: The name on this list most familiar to Florida fans, Grant has been up-and-down since joining Dayton ahead of the 2017-18 season. The Flyers have three seasons of 20+ wins and would have been one of the top seeds in the 2020 NCAA Tournament had it been played after going 29-2 (18-0 Atlantic 10) that season. Grant was tremendous at VCU after leaving Donovan’s side, going 76-25 with the Rams. However, his extended tenure at Alabama showed promise early but fell off massively with a 31-33 mark across his final two campaigns. While Grant is a fan favorite who would be welcomed back in Gainesville with open arms, is he the right hire for a program looking to make an upgrade from a coach with a similar level of success?

Rick Pitino, Iona coach: There is no coach that has come out of the mouths of more Florida fans than Pitino. Given he’s the well-known mentor of Donovan and currently coaching at Iona — where he’s remarkably turned the Gaels around from 12-6 last season to 25-7 this year — it does make some sense. However, Pitino would bring a lot of baggage with him to Gainesville from his time at Louisville, and the University Athletic Association frequently claims its aim is to win championships with integrity. Given Pitino’s indiscretions and advanced age (69), he’s not exactly the right fit for a team that is looking for long-term, sustained success. Perhaps if Pitino’s hire came with a succession plan, it is something that could be sold. But that’s a big ask.

Archie Miller, former Indiana coach: Miller was considered one of the top candidates for the Florida job when Donovan left for the NBA. He won 24+ games across his final four seasons at Dayton where he made four NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run into the 2014 Elite Eight. However, Miller was unable to turnaround Indiana across four seasons. He finished 67-58 with the Hoosiers and never made the NCAA Tournament. His wide-open offense and pack-line defense would fit what Florida fans like to see from their teams, but not turning IU around may be too much to overcome. Miller’s brother, Sean, the former coach at Arizona, falls into a similar category as Pitino and is likely to be given a show cause penalty anyway.

Mike Rhoades, VCU coach: The latest in a long line of successful coaching hires, Rhoades has led the Rams to a 40-14 mark across the last two seasons. He appears primed for a bigger job and will likely make a move this offseason, but he’s never won an NCAA Tournament game. This would be a hire based on potential, and while Rhoades is plenty experienced, he would be a tough sell for the Gators.

Dennis Gates, Cleveland State coach: A fast riser in the industry, Gates has crossed the country numerous times with his longest tenure coming as an assistant at Florida State under Leonard Hamilton (2011-19). During his time on his alma mater’s bench, the Seminoles advanced to seven NCAA Tournaments with two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight. He was plucked away by Cleveland State, which he turned from an 11-21 team in Year 1 to a squad that has gone 39-18 across the last two campaigns with two Horizon League titles. Given his high upside and experience in the Sunshine State, Gates makes for an interesting candidate.

Jerome Tang, Baylor assistant coach: The main non-head coach being floated as a serious candidate for a significant job this hiring cycle, Tang enters the postseason with a lot of hype as Drew’s longtime assistant. And when we say longtime, we mean longtime as in 19 seasons. Drew has constantly credited Tang for his recruiting prowess, which helped rebuild the Bears, but one wonders why it has taken so long for him to be legitimately considered for head coaching jobs.

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