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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Mike White looks for a fresh opportunity at Florida’s rival school

The former Gators head coach joined Georgia in the offseason

<p>Mike White departed from Florida in March to become the head coach at Georgia. White ended his time in Gainesville with a 142-88 record over seven seasons. </p>

Mike White departed from Florida in March to become the head coach at Georgia. White ended his time in Gainesville with a 142-88 record over seven seasons. 

Former UF head Coach Mike White shook the college basketball world when he left Florida and crossed enemy lines to become the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs March 13, 2022.

White left the Gators to fill the void of former Georgia head coach Tom Crean, who was the head man in Athens for four seasons. UF hired White in 2015 as the successor to Billy Donovan, who coached in Gainesville for 19 seasons and led the Gators to back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. 

White never lived up to the expectations set by his predecessor. After seven seasons at Florida, he only made it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament once. As the years went on, he faced pressure from fans, and it all culminated in his final season. 

The Gators finished 20-14 in the 2021-2022 season, and White left Florida three days after its loss to Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference tournament. However, his offensive struggles never slowed. In his last season, his team finished 36th in 3-point attempts but 329th out of 350 teams in 3-point percentage. 

The fans created a toxic atmosphere for White and his family, which led to his departure, according to a tweet from the Associated Press’ Mark Long

In his first press conference at Georgia, White said he considered himself a family guy and emphasized it. He said the University of Georgia is a family place, and he was proud to be a part of it. 

“First and foremost, more than anything in life, those are the most important people to me,” White said. “I feel family when I’m here.”

His next chapter sets him up to rebuild a Bulldogs team that hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since the 2014-2015 season and finished 6-26 last season. The team has to improve in every aspect, White said. 

White took on a rebuild at Florida when the Gators hired him. Florida had finished the prior season with a below .500, 16-17 record. After he coached the team to the NIT tournament, his second season found major success. UF finished 27-9 and advanced all the way to  the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. However, his second season would also be his peak, as the team’s performance declined in the following years. 

The decision to join Georgia happened within a day, White said. Florida extended his contract last season, but the two-year extension was not enough to keep him away from one of UF’s biggest rivals.

“I just jumped at the opportunity, and before you know it, six, eight hours later, Kira and I were sitting these kids down telling them that we’re moving to Athens, Georgia,” he said. 

When White left, there were mixed emotions from Gators fans about his departure, but the overwhelming emotion around the fanbase was happiness. Calls for him to be fired started in the middle of his tenure and reached their peak in what would be his final season.

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Although White’s team’s failed to make deep tournament runs, his ability to recruit was on full display with Florida. In his seven seasons, the Gators secured three 5-star recruits. In 2019, Florida landed the eighth-ranked class according to 247Sports, thanks to five-star recruits Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann. Both of those players would go on to be selected in the 2021 NBA Draft. 

In his new position at Georgia, White will have the opportunity to show off his pedigree recruiting  in the Peach State. White said he will recruit throughout the nation, but his search starts within Georgia and the Atlanta area. 

“I think the state of Georgia is as fertile as any state in the country to recruit,” White said.

Despite the recruits he brought into Florida, it never resulted in NCAA Tournament success. However, the 2019-2020 season, White’s fifth season at UF, was projected to be one of his best. The team featured all three of White’s 5-star recruits and SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Kerry Blackshear Jr. 

The 2019 Gators went into the season ranked No. 6 in the AP preseason poll, but after a 2-2 start, they  became unranked and never re-entered the top 25. Florida finished 19-12 and never had a chance to dance in the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19.

Living in the shadow of the coach who helped build the Florida basketball program proved to be too much for White. In 19 years, Donovan won two national championships, made four Final Fours, won six SEC regular season championships and four SEC Tournament championships. 

White never won an SEC Tournament Championship. His highest finish in the conference was second in the 2016-2017 season. In Donovan’s 19 years at UF, he only lost 10 or more  games in a season eight times, while White’s teams lost 10 or more games six times in his seven-year tenure.

The decision to stay in the same conference as Florida and join the rival Bulldogs had less to do with staying in the SEC and more about being a part of the Georgia program, White said.

“This is about an opportunity and a place that I really wanted to be,” White said. 

It will be an uphill battle for White to get the Bulldogs back into SEC contention. In the past five seasons, Georgia has finished in the bottom three of the conference each year except for 2020-2021when it finished tied for 10th. 

White left the Florida program with an overall 142-88 record and a 72-52 SEC record. Although he never lived up to the expectations set by the fanbase, he did finish his time with the Gators with a solid record against the rival school he now coaches.

The Gators dominated Georgia under White. He went 11-3 against the Bulldogs and won his last six games against them. 

White did not work out for UF, but his move to Georgia adds a new layer to the historic Florida-Georgia Rivalry. The former coach will return to Gainesville Jan. 7 when Florida hosts the Bulldogs at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. 

Contact Jackson Reyes at jacksonreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.

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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.


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