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The Gators Substandard

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Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 1:15 am

Florida women’s basketball coach Amanda Butler has made the goal of the program perfectly clear.

“We’re not trying to be one of the best. We’re not trying to be top five. We’re trying to be the best,” Butler said.

Butler is the only coach in Florida history to achieve postseason berths in each of her first four seasons. But of those four postseason trips, Florida has been to the Big Dance just once.

The Gators made the NCAA Tournament in 2008-09. But they went 17-13 this year in a regular season marred by failures in close games and against lesser opponents, and accepted their second straight bid to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.

Butler admits there is still work to be done but says she doesn’t have a timeline for success.

Five players transferred in Butler’s first three years as head coach, impeding the Gators’ chances of elevated play. And at least two of those players — Tessah Holt and Trumae Lucas — pointed to Butler’s treatment of players, coaching style and anger issues as reasons for their departure.

Surprisingly, the intensity and passion that made Butler an acclaimed hire in 2007, and not the lack of improvement, might prove to be her downfall.

***

“Coach Butler is the type of person that looks for perfection,” Holt said in a recent phone interview. “That can be good at times, but it can be wrong at times.”

Butler, a four-year starter at point guard for Florida during the early 1990s, once took a blow to the head and had to get stitches during a game. She returned within minutes.

As a coach, Butler frequently marches out onto the court barking instructions at her team and routinely slams water bottles in frustration after a mistake or blown play. Last season, she ruptured her Achilles tendon playing flag football and couldn’t stand on the job, so she used a chair with casters and ferociously wheeled up and down the sideline.

Butler, a part of the first Florida team in school history to make the NCAA Tournament, expects that same level of competitiveness from her players. But some say she expects too much and that her aggressive personality can become abrasive, especially when the wins are not piling up.

“You can get sick of it, but she’s the coach, and you have to do what she says or you’ll be on the bench,” Holt said.

Or out of town.

Holt loved Florida. Her cousin played at UF, and she wore the same jersey, No. 12, when she arrived. But she said Butler’s expectations were surprising.

“I felt like freshmen are going to make mistakes, so when you come to me and say I don’t have room to make mistakes, I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Holt said.

Current shooting guard and team captain Jordan Jones said Butler tends to hold point guards to a higher standard because of her past at the position. Jones said Butler takes the point guards aside for individual work in practice, something she rarely does with other position groups.

“She holds a special place in her heart (for point guards), and she definitely demands so much,” Jones said. “I have so much respect for them for what they kind of, not put up with, but what she demands of them.”

Butler said she doesn’t feel she has an abrasive personality as a coach and that her players know what to expect from her.

“I’d really prefer to think that I’m direct. I do that out of respect,” Butler said. “They’ve got to know that you love them. They’ve got to know that you care for them. They’ve got to know that you’d be willing to do anything for them that you can, within the rules, to get a response out of being tough on them.”

The problem is that Butler’s actions make her words tough to believe.

***

Infuriated with her team after a first-round loss to Auburn in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last season, Butler erupted in the locker room and provided what Holt said was the tipping point in her decision to transfer.

“She broke a whiteboard. … It shattered,” Holt said. “Which is kind of shocking to me because … you expect for a coach to hold her temper in or whatever and be the mature person.

“But when she broke that board, I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Who is this person?’ It was something for me — I wouldn’t say I was scared, but it was just shocking.”

Lucas agreed. She said the act didn’t scare her, mainly because it wasn’t the first time Butler had taken her anger out on an inanimate object.

“It was kind of her routine talk after a loss,” Lucas said. “Then, all of a sudden, I guess the anger she had built up just kind of came out, and she took it out on the board. I mean, she hit the board. It wasn’t even like the game-board, the clipboard. It was the board in the locker room that they had given us to use. She hit that, and it broke.”

Lucas said Butler also threw a piece of jewelry at the wall in a fit of rage.

Ten days later, Lucas announced her decision to transfer. Then, on March 16 and 17, immediately before Florida was to play South Florida in the WNIT, Christal Caldwell and Holt announced their departure plans.

Holt and Caldwell were roommates, and  Lucas lived in the same building. But all three insisted they made their decisions individually.

“We didn’t actually decide together,” Lucas said. “Of course it was a conversation, and it wasn’t just a conversation amongst us three players.

“I’m pretty sure if I had a conversation with one of (the current players) it would spark the conversation of leaving,” Lucas continued. “It wasn’t just the three of us that had the talk of leaving, but I don’t want to put anyone else’s name out there. … She’s still there.”

Holt and Lucas listed Butler’s personality as one of their main reasons for leaving, and that intensity was never more apparent than after the loss to Auburn.

Asked if she would say Butler has a temper, Jones said, “Yes. I would. Definitely. …She’s gone through her fair share of boards.”

Fellow captain Azania Stewart tried to justify the situation, saying, “Everyone is used to it. She does have a temper on her, but that’s how she’s been her whole Florida career.”

Stewart, Lucas’ roommate, said she never considered transferring.

“This is my place for the long run,” Stewart said. “Florida has done everything for me. So, there’s no way. There are tough times, but I think that’s for the weak. You’ve got to put those aside.”

But Stewart also wonders what might have been if Lucas was still a Gator.

“If (Lucas) had stayed, I think she would’ve been starting for us and contributed a lot of big minutes and maybe big plays,” Stewart said.

Jones said much of the same.

“I think if she was here, she would have such an impact on our team,” Jones said. “We have no experienced guards. I was the only guard returning. This would have been her season.”

Holt, Lucas and Caldwell chose to go elsewhere, but they weren’t the only ones to leave the program.

***

Butler didn’t have much recruiting to do her first year with returning stars Depree Bowden, Sha Brooks and Marshae Dotson filling out the lineup. She brought in a class featuring Ndidi Madu, Ebonie Crawford and Kerri Simpson.

Simpson transferred after playing just 2.6 minutes her freshman season.

Next, Butler brought in Lucas, Tailor Jones and Stewart, all highly touted recruits. But Tailor Jones transferred to Northwestern after her freshman season, where her sister, Morgan, the high school Central Florida Player of the Year, will be joining her next season.

Faced with recruiting the guard position heavily, Butler and her staff nabbed Caldwell and Holt for the 2009 class.  Again, both were prized recruits with numerous accolades to their names.

In three seasons, five players left Florida for the presumably greener pastures of Northwestern, Stetson (Simpson), West Virginia (Caldwell), Delaware (Lucas) and Boston College (Holt).

However, Butler said it didn’t concern her because “that’s something that’s not unique to Florida.”

“I’m not going to coach or be less of me, as my staff is not either, because I’m afraid someone’s going to transfer,” Butler said. “If someone can’t see what a tremendous opportunity it is to play here and compete here and be able to call themselves a Gator, and they think that there is something better out there to go find, then good luck.

“Good luck and let me know when you come up with that. Because there’s not.

“I don’t think I’m respecting you if I sugarcoat the truth or if I try to tiptoe around what we need you to do so that I don’t hurt your feelings,” Butler continued. “That’s how you treat children; that’s not how you treat adults. We want players to act as, play as, compete as women — not little girls.”

However, those who left said they are pleased with their decisions.

Caldwell declined to be interviewed, but Holt and Lucas said they couldn’t be happier about leaving Florida. At Boston College, Holt said she finally has “a coach who really believes in me.”

“(Coach Sylvia Crawley) is always on our tail in practice, but she doesn’t cuss me out,” Holt said. “She doesn’t call me out by my name, so it’s like I really have someone that believes in me.”

Lucas echoed that sentiment. But both said things could have been different.

“It’s like guaranteed happiness here [at Delaware], and I’m not even playing,” Lucas said. “If it wasn’t for that particular coaching staff, I might still be (at Florida).”

“If I didn’t play basketball,” Holt said, “I’d still be going (to Florida) to this day.”

Welcome to the discussion.

12 comments:

  • Kimber posted at 9:51 am on Fri, Apr 1, 2011.

    Kimber Posts: 1

    Are you kidding me????????? Has anyone watched or listen to Pat Summit is the past 10 years. Amanda has passion and wants to be #1. I agree, slimy and underhanded article. We are lucky to have Coach Butler and we are heading in the right direction. As Summit stated 2 weeks ago, sometimes you have to talk a certain way to get the job done. Do not clip our Coaches wings....

     
  • WBBFan posted at 7:58 am on Fri, Apr 1, 2011.

    WBBFan Posts: 9

    gatorkid123, keep in mind that Peck won 9 games her last year. Butler came in and immediately won 19 with the same players. That's coaching. I don't think I've read any prior comment here that says we're satisfied with going to the WNIT. But having watched Carol Ross, Carolyn Peck and Amanda Butler, I think that the program is headed in the right direction. I look at next year as a pivotal year - with the entire team save one returning, I think it will tell us a lot about the program. Do you really think Jeremy Foley is going to accept mediocrity? Hell, no. But he knows that you can't completely turn around the women's basketball program in four years.

    I objected to the article because I thought it was slimy and underhanded. As soon as I read the word "barking" to describe Butler on the sideline I knew the writer had an agenda. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you have a problem with the direction of the program then be a man and say it directly. Don't hide behind players who left a year ago. That's old history now. An entire season has transpired since then. What the writer should be doing is analyzing the team as it is today and what it needs to be moving forward.

     
  • gatorkid123 posted at 2:33 pm on Thu, Mar 31, 2011.

    gatorkid123 Posts: 2

    It's funny people are trying to make it seem like Amanda Butler s doing a good job and how if this was a male coach, it would b no big deal how intense she is. If the coach of the men's basketball team or football team had this type of lack of success, people would be calling for her head. So face it she had one good year with players that were here before she got to UF and since then the women's basketball team hasn't been good or anywhere near good. If this was football or men's basketball, she would be fired and few would argue that decision. People start questioning Billy D as a coach after two straight NIT appearances and that was after he won back-to-back nationahl championships.

     
  • WBBFan posted at 1:17 pm on Thu, Mar 31, 2011.

    WBBFan Posts: 9

    Um, g8torwbb, he did interview current players. And we're not settling for the WNIT. You did read both articles, right? I'm inclined to give Butler more than 4 years to develop a championship team, especially in SEC women's basketball.

     
  • g8torwbb posted at 11:38 am on Thu, Mar 31, 2011.

    g8torwbb Posts: 1

    If you were to interview the current players, I am sure they would share the same concerns as the departed players. We as Gator fans should be concerned that we are settling for the WNIT. That tournament should not count as "post season" play at Florida. Look at the other sports on campus. We should be a consistant NCAA team and we are not. Billy wins close games. We all know what the difference is.... coaching!

     
  • UFlawgator posted at 1:48 am on Thu, Mar 31, 2011.

    UFlawgator Posts: 1

    Wow, what an incredible sport's expose. A coach displays emotions and has a temper. Really, is this news? Tell that to the temperamental Pat Summitt who has won more games in men's and women's basketball than anyone. You have to be tough to play tough. The two negative and complaining players you quoted that transferred LAST YEAR have moved on, our Gator team has moved on, and Watts, you should move on, too. Let's focus on the positive and support our team. Go Gators!

     
  • crazygator posted at 11:54 pm on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    crazygator Posts: 1

    First question. Would this article have been written if it were a male coach? Obviously not. I remember one of my first gator softball games when the head coach was ejected. You think maybe he was angry? What about Coach Spurrier throwing his visor/ head set fifty million times a game? You think he was angry? News Flash: Steve Spurrier getsangry and yells at his players! So, let's look at the facts: three players left in one year to go to schools with inferior programs. Do you think maybe they left because they weren't good enough to start for an SEC basketball team, or they weren't getting enough playing time, or they didn't practice hard enought? One of these players went to Delaware (not exactly a renowned women's basketball program) and admits she isn't even playing... wonder why? Did this player really say “You can get sick of it, but she’s the coach, and you have to do what she says or you’ll be on the bench.”? I'm sure it is different at Tennessee. Coach Summitt probably doesn't expect her players to do what she says. If you followed women's basketball, you'd know that great programs have coaches that get angry, yell at players, and yes, occasionally they throw things. They have high expectations and they are demanding. Those of us who attend UF games and watch women's basketball on a regular basis support Coach Butler, love the fact that she is a Gator through and through and we appreciate the passion she brings to the sport. Go Gators and Go Coach Butler.

     
  • CrazyaboutBball posted at 9:03 pm on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    CrazyaboutBball Posts: 3

    Oh, and by the way, very flattering picture of Butler. I'm sure there was no slant intended. Right?

     
  • CrazyaboutBball posted at 9:01 pm on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    CrazyaboutBball Posts: 3

    Those of us that closely follow Florida Women’s Basketball are extremely proud and grateful for the leadership and character that Amanda Butler and her coaching staff bring to the University of Florida and our Gainesville community. It is easy for someone unfamiliar with the program to read this article and come to an unfair conclusion. So, we invite you to attend some games next season and see if you don’t come away feeling what we fans already know…Coach Butler is an effusive coach, a tremendous competitor and a relentless teacher - qualities which are needed to succeed at the highest level in any Gator athletics. When Jeremy Foley hired Amanda Butler I was excited for the future of Florida Women's Basketball. I still am.

     
  • g8rsrule posted at 8:41 pm on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    g8rsrule Posts: 1

    And your point is???? It's good to have intensity and passion for the game but not too much because it might offend some players? This is the SEC. It's not for wimps. If you can't take the pressure go home and make room for those who can. Go Gators! Go Coach Butler!

     
  • WBBFan posted at 7:51 pm on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    WBBFan Posts: 9

    So, Coach Butler is intense and demands perfection. Sounds like a lot of coaches out there - Geno, Pat, Vivian - are you listening? She has a temper? Did you see Kim Mulkey's assistant coaches put themselves between her and the referees dragging her away from the sideline because she was going ballistic over a bad call? Think she's intense? Think she's got a temper?

    Tessa Holt couldn't stand to have her name called out in practice? Are you kidding me? A good coach is going to demand perfection especially from her guards - particularly her point guard. Kim Mulkey said it the other night after her loss to Texas A&M, "It's all about guard play." The point guard runs the offense and if that point guard can't execute perfectly in practice under perfect conditions, how is she going to execute under pressure? How about under pressure at Tennessee against their ferocious defense and raucous fans?

    Players leave programs all the time. I, frankly, think Florida is better off that those players chose to leave and I wish them well. The current group of players are young and exciting to watch. They've gone through growing pains this year. They've given up big leads, but I have to think that they will learn from that and next year is going to be really good.

    The implication that Coach Butler's temper is out of control is unfair and unfounded. Does she have a temper? Apparently so, according to this article. But then so do other passionate Division I coaches - Geno, Pat, vivian - are you listening?

     
  • GatorPower posted at 11:03 am on Wed, Mar 30, 2011.

    GatorPower Posts: 1

    What a shame. My biggest complaint up until this article is that from what I observe, none of the players under Butler have improved. Many are just going on raw talent from high school and some I watched in high school are comparable then and now. That is a big issue. It is sad for the players and the school as well. Another question mark about Butler is her ability to coach real time. I dont believe she has what it takes to see what is going on the court and then making the proper adjustments. She seldomly deviates from the start to finish of the game in her coaching and game strategies regardless of what the other team presents. And the over the top lack of respect for the players based upon this article and observations from the stands certainly does not meet the criteria of being the best or being a gator. Hopefully Amanda will get some counseling and move back to TN to figure it all out.