About 30 minutes before the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday, CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein released a tweet that the good majority of Gator fans had been waiting a long time for:
This was huge news for the Gator Nation, who had grown beyond tired of Mike White's mediocrity as coach of the Gators. Not only is he gone, but it also allows Florida to not have to buyout the rest of his contract, which is helpful considering Mullen's buyout is on the books for the next five or so years. On top of this, the Gators meet the Dawgs (Mike White's new destination) twice a year every year, so they will get a crack at Mike, who's now at the at the helm of a Georgia program that hasn't been to the tournament in seven years. So overall, everything went about as good as you could have hoped for as a Gator fan. The question now begs: who do we hire next?
I have put together a list of candidates that I believe all could be great hires and who are experienced coaches who the Gators could realistically get. These are in no particular order and without further adieu lets get into it.
Brad Underwood, Illinois
While getting Brad Underwood might seem like a stretch considering the success he has had at Illinois recently, taking them to two straight NCAA tournaments including a number one seed last season, it might not be as far fetched as you might think. Underwood left Oklahoma State for Illinois after just one season with the Cowboys by getting offered more money from the Illini, so the Gators could lure him in with an enticing deal. The Gators would have to PAY Underwood however, as he currently makes around $4.1 million a year, but not having to pay a buyout to Mike White certainly saves a lot of money. He most likely would be offered big contracts from other big time schools if Florida went after him though, with LSU being somewhat linked to possibly getting Underwood after Will Wade was fired. The plus side for the Gators though is the storied history of the program, the resources at the university and the access to plenty of high-level talent in the state of Florida and the southeast to recruit from. I don't know if Underwood would be open to leaving Illinois, but don't be surprised if you hear his name floating around come the offseason.
Buzz Williams, Texas A&M
Although Buzz Williams might not be looking to leave College Station anytime soon, I still think that his name should be brought up in this discussion. Williams is widely known for being a fantastic program builder, taking Virginia Tech to the NCAA Tournament in three of his five years there after the Hokies were labeled as on of the toughest rebuilding projects in the nation at the time. He currently coaches at Texas A&M which, like Virginia Tech, also was seen as a huge rebuilding project. He most recently took his Aggies to the SEC Tournament final on Sunday after a 23-12 season and, what I believe, got snubbed from the NCAA Tournament. He's proved that he can win everywhere he's been and Florida would be a great opportunity for him to finally go to a place with an established winning culture, a great fan base and great resources and see what he can do.
Rick Pitino, Iona
I don't even have to give this guy an introduction. Pitino has been a winner at every school he's been too and has turned Iona into a consistent mid-major team. He led the Gaels to the NCAA Tournament last year and a 25-7 season this year got them an NIT bid, with their first game coming against the Gators at the O'Dome. What are the odds of that? Pitino has certainly been one of the most popular names amongst Gator fans on twitter and while he had issues at Louisville, people believe he deserves a fresh start and another chance in major college basketball. On top of all that, he was one of Billy Donovan's biggest mentors so he has ties to Florida in some way through Billy. I don't know if this is actually something Scott Stricklin will pursue, but, hey, you never know.
Andy Kennedy, UAB
Andy Kennedy is a name that is sure to be floating around in many coaching searches this upcoming offseason. This year, he has led the UAB Blazers to a 27-7 record that included a Conference USA tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance, the school's first since 2015. He also led UAB to a 22-7 season last year, for a total record of 49-14 as the Blazers head man. He went to UAB after being let go by Ole Miss during the 2017-18 season, but he wasn't a slouch in Oxford. During his time with the Rebels, he was twice named SEC Coach of the Year, compiled 245 wins, good for 18th on the SEC All-Time list, won the 2013 SEC Tournament and brought the Rebels to a couple of NCAA Tournaments as well. Going to Florida would be the perfect opportunity for Kennedy to get back to coaching big time college basketball after having much success in just two years at UAB. For Florida, they would be getting a guy who not only has SEC coaching experience, but has had success coaching in the SEC and who is hungry for a second chance at a big school.
Jerome Tang, Baylor (Assistant)
Tang is a guy who's name has come up in a lot of coaching search conversations so far, specifically LSU, Kansas State and Missouri. Having never been a head coach at the college level, Tang has been a Baylor assistant under Scott Drew for his entire 19-year tenure as Baylor's head coach. He is currently the associate head coach and was one of the main factors behind the meteoric rise of Baylor's program from a bottom feeder in the Big 12 when they arrived to one of college basketball's elite. What the Gators would be getting is a guy who, while not having head coaching experience, has the winning DNA from his time at Baylor and plenty of knowledge of how to succeed at a high-level in college basketball. And that is exactly what the Gators need right now.
Matt McMahon, Murray State
A young, proven winner at the mid-major ranks of college basketball, Matt McMahon is ready to make the jump to a power six job. Since becoming the head coach at Murray State in 2015, McMahon has taken the Racers to three NCAA Tournaments, won four Ohio Valley regular season and three conference tournament championships, had four 20+ win seasons and is currently having his best season yet, with the Racers heading into the tournament with as a 7-seed with a 30-2 record. What Florida could offer McMahon is the opportunity to finally get that big power six job that has been coming for him at a school desperate for a winner. While hiring a mid-major coach is something Gator fans would be skeptical of after how Mike White's tenure went, McMahon is a proven winner and at 43 years old, is a great young basketball mind ready to burst onto the scene in major college basketball.
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State
Like McMahon, Gates is another name that Gator fans might flinch at due to the fact that he comes from a mid-major school. However, like McMahon, he has found success at his school, leading the Vikings to a 19-8 season with an NCAA Tournament appearance last year and a 20-10 season with an NIT appearance this year, after going just 11-21 in his first season three years ago. Gates is another guy who is a great young basketball mind at just 42 years of age and is ready for a leap to major college basketball. I don't know if he is a guy who will be in contention come decision time, but keep an eye on him as the discussion heats up.
Now with all of those names being possibilities to take the job, recruiting is also impacted by White's decision to go to Georgia. Currently, the Gators have three commits for the 2022 class: Five-star forward/center Malik Reneau, four-star forward Jalen Reed and three-star combo guard Denzel Aberdeen. Both Reneau and Aberdeen are from Florida and go to school in the Orlando area, with Reneau going to powerhouse Montverde Academy and Aberdeen going to Dr. Phillips. Reed, however, is from southern California and this could entice him to maybe flip his commitment to a school closer to home or follow White to Georgia. Reneau and Aberdeen both being in-state kids is big for the Gators as it could be a selling point to keep them committed. Don't be surprised if all three stay committed to the Gators, but also don't be shocked if a couple flip their commitments elsewhere.
Feature Photo Credit: GatorSports.com