Mike White won’t be in Gainesville for long.
No, I don’t have insider sources telling me the third-year coach wants out, or that he’s unhappy, or that other teams have called about him. He’s just too good of a coach to stay at Florida forever.
Before the season began, UF coach Mike White questioned if the Gators can compete with “griminess” and resilience. The play of point guard Chr…
White has turned what was a lifeless (16-17) team in former coach Billy Donovan’s final season at UF into a legitimate title contender in under three years. And he’s done so by building a culture of teamwork and player development rather than big-name recruiting classes.
In fact, White hasn’t recruited well to this point. But he’s gotten better. Florida was rated as the No. 69 class in the country two seasons ago by 247Sports. Last season, it was No. 19. And this year, the Gators sit at 15th. Those numbers figure to rise further with the way Florida is playing so far this season, which means White’s success should continue.
That’s all theoretical, sure. Players can be busts. But regardless, White’s system can make no-namers into stars. The most obvious example is Justin Leon, who came to Florida specifically because of White. He’d been committed to White at Louisiana Tech, and he followed him to UF.
Leon averaged over seven points per game last season — good for sixth on the team — as the Gators marched to the Elite Eight.
White’s history also shows a pattern of success. He went 18-16 in his first season at Tech and never lost more than nine games again before arriving in Gainesville. Again, he didn’t have a great first season. His 21-15 record sent the Gators to the NIT. The next year, his team was in the Elite Eight. This year, it already nearly knocked off No. 1 Duke.
Putting statistics and records aside for a second, it’s not just the numbers that make White an ideal candidate for NBA teams or elite basketball programs like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina, should any of those jobs become available. He’s also one of the most personable, honest, relatable coaches you’ll ever meet. He’s basically the antithesis of Jim McElwain.
As someone who covered McElwain for the past two years, I can tell you, at least as far as his public persona, he was a bit of a bumpkin. References to turnip trucks, players “having a leg” when they suffered a leg injury and mentions of his folksy Montana roots were as common as his sockless, boat-shoe-wearing feet.
White, on the other hand, will tell you exactly what an injury is as soon as he knows. He’ll tell a joke without overdoing it. He’ll even contradict players, like after the team’s loss to Duke on Sunday, when guard Chris Chiozza said fatigue played a factor in UF’s loss. White was asked if he agreed.
"No I don't, and we're going to have a conversation about that, because I think fatigue played a factor for both teams," White said. "They were tired, too.”
It’s rare to hear a coach at this level speak so candidly. Especially after the school’s most visible coach for the past two-plus years never did.
A comparison that comes to mind is Boston head coach Brad Stevens, who was hired away from Butler University to coach the Celtics in 2013. Stevens showed sustained success and an ability to strategize and get the most out of his players in college before making the jump to the NBA.
White has done that so far at Florida. Don’t be surprised when he follows Stevens.
Ethan Bauer is a sports writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ebaueri.