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Thursday, January 20, 2022
<p>Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.</p>

Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.

When the Gators take the court tonight against No. 12 Tennessee, one of the team’s greatest assets won’t see any game time.

More accurately, two of the team’s greatest assets.

Following a lackluster 13-17 campaign in which UF failed to reach any form of postseason play, head coach Amanda Butler knew that things needed to change. And the first place she looked was her own coaching staff.

She called on two people.

First was Bill Ferrara, a former graduate assistant and UF alumnus who was hired away after a two-year stint at George Washington University.

And then there was Shimmy Gray-Miller, who was the head coach for seven years at the University of Saint Louis from 2005-12 and last served as an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska.

The two share many similar traits, starting with their energetic personalities. However, their paths to Gainesville were very different.

Ferrara was a coach at a very good program in George Washington University when he got a call from Butler. Even as an alumnus of UF, he said his decision to "come home" was not an easy one.

"We had just won the Atlantic-10 Championship the day before. I had been celebrating all day and then here, not expecting something, shock. Shock would be the way I would describe it," he said.

"It wasn’t as easy of a decision as a lot of people would think it would be. It’s my dream job to get back here, but also I was at an amazing position working for a top-25 team at GW, working with great people. (Coach Butler) really did a great job of selling it to me and basically closed it with ‘Bill, it’s Florida and Florida doesn’t come around more than once.’"

Gray-Miller had even less motivation to come to Gainesville than Ferrara did, having attended the University of Michigan and never having coached anywhere near the state of Florida. Initially -- at least so she says -- Butler contacted her only to ask if she could recommend anyone. Eventually, Butler asked her why she didn’t recommend herself.

"Well, why would I do that? I’m pretty happy where I am," Gray-Miller said.

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But a few days later, after giving the new opportunity a lot of thought, she decided that maybe UF was a good fit for her after all.

Once they arrived, they began making a mark immediately with their personalities alone.

As mentioned previously, the two are incredibly energetic.

If you ask Gray-Miller who’s more energetic, though, she says it’s no contest.

"Bill definitely. Absolutely Bill," she said. "If Bill thinks it’s a competition, he won hands down. I concede. I cannot compete with him in the area of sideline enthusiasm."

Unsurprisingly, Ferrara didn’t think it was so cut-and-dried.

"That’s a tough one," he said.

"We have a lot of these moments where we both look at each other when we’re doing something dumb and then we high-five and we laugh about it. We love working together and we both love being Gators. That makes it a lot of fun."

Regardless of who’s more energetic, the two are both undeniably upbeat and engaged both in games and in practice. And from the way the team has played so far this year, the energy appears to be infectious.

Redshirt senior guard Carlie Needles feels that Bill’s energy in particular has paid dividends for her on the hardwood.

"He has so much energy, and I feed off that," she said.

"He never lets me off the hook and is always telling me to go harder. I love that about him."

Sophomore forward Haley Lorenzen feels that Gray-Miller’s personality has also made her a better player.

"She’s just really goofy. She can be very serious, though," Lorenzen said.

"She’s your friend, but she’s also going to be your coach. That’s the best thing about her."

Since her and Bill’s arrivals, the tandem has already helped orchestrate an early-season turnaround, with the team being one win away from matching last year’s season total only one game into SEC play.

However, the Gators’ SEC record is 0-1, and the schedule doesn’t do them any favors.

Bill, Shimmy and the rest of the Florida coaching staff visit Knoxville to take on the Volunteers tonight at 7:30.

Follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri

Amanda Butler calls out a play during Florida's 64-56 loss to No. 6 Tennessee on Feb. 8 in the O'Connell Center.

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