A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
MIKE WHITE WILL BE COACHING AT UF NEXT YEAR … MAYBE
Let’s get one thing clear. The University of Florida is not going to fire Mike White. Scream until your throat is sore and your lungs ache, but the only way Mike White will not be the basketball coach next year is if he decides to leave on his own accord. No one is going to show him the door here in Gainesville.
The loss to Oral Roberts has a majority of the Gator Nation shaking their heads. Some want White fired and those that don’t think athletic director Scott Stricklin should have him on a short leash for the 2021-22 season. There is also a rather large number of fans and booster who remain solidly in White’s corner, but even they know there is ample room for improvement.
Monday, I answered a lot of phone calls and text messages about White. I found that even White’s detractors think he is a very nice man who has conducted himself and the Florida basketball program with a high level of integrity. The fact that so many blueblood programs experienced bad seasons and so many also await their judgment day with the NCAA Committee on Infractions seems to tilt in White’s favor among Florida fans. While so many think he is not the right fit as Florida’s basketball coach, they would rather have White in charge than to be facing probation. It is my opinion that the UF administration has no plans whatsoever to relieve White of his job.
Here is a list why:
1. Florida is the only SEC team to make the NCAA Tournament every year since 2017: The Gators made the NIT in White’s first year on the job and they’ve made the NCAA the four years the tournament has been held since then. John Calipari (Kentucky) has won more games (122-46) but wherever Cal goes there is always the shadow of suspicion. Bruce Pearl is 112-52 since the 2017 season but Auburn self-imposed postseason sanctions that included no tournaments this year in an effort to lessen the hit from the NCAA due to evidence in the college basketball recruiting scandal. Rick Barnes (Tennessee) is 108-54 but he hasn’t made the tournament every year.
2. No scandals and players that graduate: The Gators make the NCAA Tournament every year, they haven’t had the NCAA sniffing around and they meet or exceed the NCAA academic progress rate (APR) every year. That resonates with the powers that be.
3. Money: The University Athletic Association isn’t teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and UF hasn’t had to cut staff or salaries because of lost revenues in the pandemic year. That’s not to say UF hasn’t tightened its belt. White is under contract through 2024-25 season and while the buyout isn’t enormous ($1.75 million) if White were fired without cause, there is still the cost of compensating assistants and staffers who would be let go plus the cost of bringing in a new coach.
4. Keyontae Johnson and COVID-19: The Gators lost 31 days of basketball, 18 after Keyontae Johnson collapsed on the floor in Tallahassee, 13 due to COVID-19 protocols in February. Four non-conference games were lost during the first pause, three in February. When Florida reconvened its season after Keyontae’s collapse, the Gators got in two practice days. They got in three practice days in February but only one when everyone on the team was present. While it’s true that programs like Texas A&M lost the entire month of February without playing a game and two pauses cost Iona 51 days, the UF administration thinks White did an exceptional job of getting the Gators into the NCAA Tournament under the circumstances.
5. The people in charge like Mike White and they’re willing to be patient: Everybody who meets Mike White likes him. It is very difficult not to like him. He is a high character man who is committed to bettering the lives of the kids who play for him. General consensus in the coaching community and in the UF administration is that White is going to be a big winner over the long haul.
It is fair to ask the question does Mike White want to be in Gainesville? This isn’t an easy job because there is a precedent of success at the highest levels. There aren’t a lot of coaching gigs that offer a $3 million-plus salary and a program that has won two National Championships, made four Final Fours and eight Elite Eights since 2000. Not even Kentucky can match those credentials among the schools in the Southeastern Conference.
The National Championships, Final Fours and seven of the eight Elite Eights were achieved under Billy Donovan, who will be in the Basketball Hall of Fame in the very near future. Donovan is a legend and following a legend isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do but White understood that when he took the UF job. To his credit he never backed down or used that as an excuse. Still, following a legend isn’t the easiest task in the coaching profession.
I’m reminded of something Lou Holtz told me back in the 1970s when he was the football coach at North Carolina State. There was speculation that Woody Hayes would be retiring at Ohio State, where Holtz was once a Hayes assistant. Asked if he would like to be the Ohio State coach when Hayes retired, Lou replied, “I don’t want to be the coach who follows a legend, but I wouldn’t mind being the coach who follows the coach who follows the legend.”
Depending on your perspective, White has either had the advantage of taking over a program that was elevated to such heights by a legend or he has had the misfortune of trying to deal with expectations that aren’t exactly realistic. We tend to forget, Mike inherited a Florida program coming off a losing season in Donovan’s final year. Billy didn’t exactly rip and shred on the recruiting trail in his final couple of seasons here either so there was no guarantee of instant success. Fans tend to think that this is Florida and if Donovan could do it, then why can’t Mike White. At some point, White might have a career that matches Donovan’s but that will take more patience than fans have at the moment. And, until he can match Donovan by making numerous Final Fours and Elite Eights and perhaps winning a National Championship or two, White will be thought of as an underachieving basketball coach in the eyes of Florida fans.
If White elects to leave UF, it will be for a job that he thinks he can win at and where there is considerably less pressure from the fan base to match the accomplishments of a legendary predecessor. There are already rumors circulating that Utah has an interest in White and the interest is reciprocal. Utah last week fired Larry Kryskowiak after 10 years in which he made the NCAA Tournament only two times so the fan base is hungry for a coach who would be viewed as an upgrade.
Utah has an NCAA championship in its history (1944 under coach Vadal Peterson). Utah made two Final Fours under Jack Gardner and Rick Majerus took the Utes to the Elite Eight in 1997 and the national championship game in 1998. Facilities are among the best in the Pac-12 and with billionaire alums like John Huntsman there is no shortage of booster money. Would Utah invest $3 million in Mike White? That remains to be seen. Again, at this point it’s only rumor and speculation.
Prediction: Right now there is nothing to substantiate the rumors that White could bolt for Utah. My guess is that is exactly what it will remain, a rumor. I believe heis going to be the basketball at the University of Florida in 2021-22. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.
GATORS REMAIN TOP FIVE IN ALL POLLS
By rebounding from a midweek loss to Florida State with a 3-game sweep of Texas A&M in their first series of the Southeastern Conference schedule, the Florida Gators remained in the top five in all the college baseball polls. The Gators are as high as No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball and are No. 5 in the other polls.
Center fielder Jud Fabian was named the Southeastern Conference Co-Player of the Week after hitting two home runs and driving in four in the Texas A&M series. Fabian also had the key defensive play of the series when he made a home-run robbing catch in game two.
The Gators travel to South Carolina this weekend in their second SEC series of the season.
Collegiate Baseball poll: 1. Vanderbilt 15-3; 2. FLORIDA 16-5; 3. Ole Miss 16-4; 4. Texas Tech 16-4; 5. Arkansas 14-3; 6. Mississippi State 16-4; 7. Louisville 14-5; 8. East Carolina 16-3; 9. Texas 14-6; 10. Michigan 9-2; 11. UCLA 12-6; 13. Oklahoma State 12-5-1; 14. LSU 16-5; 15. Oregon 10-4; 16. Arizona State 12-5; 17. North Carolina 12-6; 18. Pittsburgh 11-4; 19. Georgia Tech 11-6; 20. Oregon State 13-4; 21. Notre Dame 9-3. 22. Southern Illinois 17-1; 23. Arizona 13-6; 24. Alabama 15-5; 25. Florida State 10-6; 26. Stanford 12-3; 27. Tennessee 17-4; 28. Indiana 9-2; 29. San Diego 13-4; 30. Hawaii 11-3.
D1baseball.com poll: 1. Vanderbilt 15-3; 2. Arkansas 14-3; 3. Mississippi State 16-4; 4. Ole Miss 16-4; 5. FLORIDA 16-5; 6. Texas Tech 16-4; 7. Louisville 14-5; 8. East Carolina 16-3; 9. Texas 14-6; 10. UCLA 12-6; 11. Georgia Tech 11-6; 12. Tennessee 17-4; 13. TCU 13-7; 14. Notre Dame 9-3; 15. Pittsburgh 11-4; 16. Oregon 10-4; 17. Florida State 10-6; 18. Michigan 9-2; 19. Miami 9-7; 20. Oklahoma State 12-5; 21. Oregon State 13-4; 22. LSU 16-5; 23. Louisiana Tech 13-5; 24. North Carolina 12-6; 25. South Carolina 12-6.
Baseball America poll: 1. Arkansas 14-3; 2. Mississippi State 16-4; 3. Vanderbilt 15-3; 4. Ole Miss 16-4; 5. FLORIDA 16-5; 6. Texas Tech 16-4; 7. Louisville 14-5; 8. East Carolina 16-3; 9. Texas 14-6; 10. Georgia Tech 11-6; 11. North Carolina 12-6; 13. Oregon 10-4; 14. Pittsburgh 11-4; 15. Florida State 10-6; 16. Tennessee 17-4; 17. UCLA 12-6; 18. Miami 9-7; 19. Michigan 9-2; 20. South Carolina 12-6; 21. Arizona 13-6; 22. Virginia Tech 10-8; 23. Alabama 15-5; 24. Texas Christian 13-7; 25. Indiana State 11-6
USA Today Coaches poll: 1. Vanderbilt 15-3; 2. Arkansas 14-3; 3. Ole Miss 16-4; 4. Mississippi State 16-4;5. FLORIDA 16-5; 6. Texas Tech 16-4; 7. Louisville 14-5; 8. East Carolina 16-3; 9. Tennessee 17-4; 10. Texas 14-6; 11. UCLA 12-6; 12. TCU 13-7; 13. Georgia Tech 11-6; 14. Notre Dame 9-3; 15. Oregon 10-4; 16. LSU 16-5; 17. Oklahoma State 12-5; 18. Pittsburgh 11-4; 19. Michigan 9-2; 20. Oregon State 13-4; 21. Florida State 10-6; 22. Miami 9-7; 23. South Carolina 12-6; 24. Alabama 15-5; 25. North Carolina 12-6.
MARCHING TO THE MADNESS With its 96-77 win over Maryland of the Big Ten Monday night in the East Regional, Alabama (26-6) joined Arkansas (24-5) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. LSU dropped an 86-77 decision to No. 1 seed Michigan in the East Regional.
No. 3 Arkansas will face 15th-seeded Oral Roberts Saturday in the South Regional semifinals while Alabama will face 11th-seeded UCLA on Sunday.
The other Sweet 16 matchups: In the South Regional, Saturday, No. 1 Baylor will face 5th-seeded Villanova. In the Midwest Regional, No. 8 Loyola of Chicago will face No. 12 Oregon State and No. 2 Houston will face No. 11 Syracuse.
Sunday in the East Regional, No. 1 Michigan will face 4th-seeded Florida State. In the West Regional, No. 1 Gonzaga will face 5th-seeded Creighton and No. 6 Southern Cal will face No. 7 Oregon.
Power 5 Conference records: Pac-12 9-1; Big 12 7-6; SEC 6-4; Big 10 7-8, ACC 4-5.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: If you aren’t already sick of both Georgia fans and an adoring media proclaiming the Poodles to be the greatest thing since the invention of non-clumping cat litter, then brace yourself because in two months the first preseason football magazines will hit the stands. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one or two magazines predicts a national title for Kirby Smart and the Poodles. What makes me believe it’s not going to happen at least in 2021 is game one. Circle it on your calendar. Georgia faces Clemson in Charlotte. I can’t see Clemson losing that one just as I can’t see Georgia ending a drought of more than 40 years since the last national title.