Florida coach Mike White leaves for Georgia after seven seasons as Gators head basketball coach

By Adam Silverstein
March 13, 2022
Florida coach Mike White leaves for Georgia after seven seasons as Gators head basketball coach
Basketball

Image Credit: Courtney Culbreath/UAA

The Florida Gators and head basketball coach Mike White parted ways Sunday with White being hired away from Florida by the SEC rival Georgia Bulldogs. The move comes just a few days after the Gators were bounced in the second round of the 2022 SEC Tournament, their earliest exit from the postseason event since 2009.

“I am extraordinarily grateful to the leadership of Scott Stricklin and to the entire Florida Athletics staff for an amazing experience during my tenure,” White said in a statement Sunday night. “Thank you to each and every one of our current and former players. Your hard work, commitment and dedication was and continues to be an inspiration. I will cherish our relationships forever. In addition, the Gainesville community has been wonderful to my family and I. We are truly thankful for our time at the University of Florida.”

Sources close to the situation told OnlyGators.com that Florida was expecting to move on from White at the conclusion of the season, perhaps after the NIT. The Gators believed other programs would have interest in White’s services and thought a separation could come without needing to buy out his contract as they did with head football coach Dan Mullen less than four months ago. Instead, Florida will actually receive around $1 million from Georgia for White.

It was thought that Ole Miss, White’s alma mater, would be in play given the team’s poor performances across the last three seasons. However, the Rebels appear set to retain coach Kermit Davis despite not having a winning campaign since 2018-19. Whether that job opens or not, White had an opportunity to get out from under his toxic tenure at Florida by accepting a job with plenty of potential. It just so happens to be with UF’s biggest rival.

“Mike White informed me [Sunday] afternoon that he was accepting another job,” said athletic director Scott Stricklin in a press release. “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 [University Athletic Association’s] vision of providing a championship experience with integrity.”

The loss in the SEC Tournament was Florida’s fifth in the last eight games, and it capped a third straight season in which the Gators were unable to amass 20 wins. Based on its resume, UF was not a candidate for selection in the 2022 NCAA Tournament, an event it will miss for the first time since 2016 (White’s inaugural season). The Gators went 2-8 against the 68-team field, 1-7 against such teams from the SEC, when it was announced Sunday night. Their two wins were by a combined four points.

Florida finished 19-13 overall this season and 34-23 across White’s final two campaigns, the program’s worst record over consecutive seasons by the same coach since Billy Donovan’s first two years (27-32). The Gators also finished 9-9 in SEC play for the third time in seven years under White; Donovan was .500 or worse in league play just four times across 19 seasons, including his first two.

The long-embattled White led Florida to the Elite Eight round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, but the Gators fell to a higher seed in SEC rival South Carolina and have failed to advance past the second round as no better than a No. 6 seed in three appearances since.

Florida has not finished better than fourth in the SEC standings since 2018. The Gators became a middle-of-the-road team under White’s tenure during a time in which SEC basketball is stronger than its been in years thanks to a concentrated effort throughout the league. Six teams received bids to the NCAA Tournament, and there are star coaches and players littered throughout the conference.

Florida used to battle Kentucky for top billing in the SEC every season; it has become a complete afterthought in the league. Furthermore, the Gators were neither playing nor recruiting well enough for White to be thought of as the future of the program.

Though White and the team were unable to capitalize on the talent of star Keyontae Johnson across the last two seasons — Johnson collapsed on the court with a heart issue early in the 2020-21 campaign — White had plenty of time to build and rebuild his roster. This past offseason, Florida lost four players to transfer. While White did recruit acclaimed transfers to replace those departures, the team was built without a second ball-handler or strong post player; instead, he added a swath of inefficient spot shooters who contributed heavily to poor offensive performances throughout the campaign.

White was hired out of Louisiana Tech after he led the program to 27+ wins in three straight seasons. He was seen as bright, youthful hire for Florida who many compared to Donovan given his success at a lower league, young age, personality and potential.

However, White never led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament, and detractors believed that the Gators should have swung bigger for Donovan’s replacement given the basketball program was far more established and successful compared to when Donovan took over two decades earlier.

Florida will now begin a national coaching search. If it goes the way of its effort to replace Mullen with a specific target in mind, Stricklin may be able to act quickly. However, with the NCAA Tournament set to begin, many of the nation’s top coaches could be busy for the next few weeks.

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