Recent developments have proven that barring a Herculean reversal of fortunes, at some point in the not-so-distant future, the current Gators’ basketball coach will be replaced. Most fans, save for a small but loud minority, have shifted the primary topic from “will Mike White get fired?” to “when will Mike White get fired?”
Of course, when you do fire a coach, you need to replace him. Keep in mind that surefire Hall Of Famers like Billy Donovan, Jay Wright, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and Bill Self are off the table. Also keep in mind that Florida has already blown their chances at guys like Chris Mack (who was my first choice back in 2015 when Donovan left), Tony Bennett, Mick Cronin, Nate Oats and Eric Musselman. We need to firmly plant our feet in the world of reality before beginning this conversation; none of those aforementioned guys are coming.
But part of planting our feet in the world of reality means realizing that the Florida Gators’ men’s basketball head coaching job is a top fifteen job in the country. No, it’s not a top five job and the Gators won’t be getting anybody to make anything close to a lateral move to come to Gainesville, but it is one of the most prestigious and enticing college basketball head coaching jobs in America and Florida can get almost anybody it wants. Hopefully, Scott Stricklin will act quickly enough that some of these guys I’m about to list won’t make career moves that add them to the aforementioned “off-limits” category.
So with all that in mind, who should Florida target to succeed White as the Gators’ basketball coach?
1: Chris Beard, Texas Tech (and formerly Little Rock)
Age: 46 | Record: 122-44 (73.4%)
Synopsis: grand slam hire; first choice. Beard lifted a historically inept Texas Tech program to an Elite Eight in his second year, and built off of that by taking the Red Raiders to the national championship game in his third year, where they lost a heartbreaker to Virginia. Now in his fourth year, he again has the Red Raiders at a healthy 16-8 and in contention to again reach the NCAA Tournament despite being forced to orchestrate a complete program facelift following the majority of last year’s team leaving. Before Texas Tech, he took Little Rock to a Sun Belt regular season and tournament title before guiding them to a first round upset win over Purdue in the NCAA Tournament in his lone season there. He also has a proven track record of recruiting and then developing first round NBA Draft picks, such as Jarrett Culver (drafted 6th by Phoenix in 2019) and Zhaire Smith (drafted 16th by Phoenix and traded to Philadelphia in 2018). And on top of all that, he’s only 47 years old, meaning he could be in Gainesville for a long, long time.
Chances to land him: coin flip. There’s a $3M buyout to be dealt with, but Florida has an affluent enough array of donors that the school should have no problem ponying that up in addition to giving him a raise to tip the scales in his mind. Even if Florida were to simply match his current $4.575M salary at Texas Tech and not bump it up to an even $5M a year, the other factors would probably be more than enough to persuade him: Florida is a better job in a conference that’s easier to win than the Big 12, boasting a better history, with a better local recruiting base, better facilities and a better booster base. Put simply, nobody worth his salt stays in Lubbock for too long; if Florida wants to take him away from Texas Tech, they will. The real problem could be Texas, as in the University of, where Beard went to school. Shaka Smart’s days are numbered, so UT boosters may not care that Beard’s buyout doubles if he were to move to another Big 12 school. Which means that they may be more than prepared to engage in a bidding war with Florida’s booster base for his services should it come to that- even starting out $3M in the red. Therefore, Florida had better move fast if they want him. Beard almost certainly comes off the board following the 2020-21 season and probably will after this season.
2: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State (and formerly Winthrop)
Age: 56 | Record: 517-197 (72.4%)
Synopsis: home run hire. While Marshall is a decade older than Beard and likely would not stay at Florida for as long as Beard would, he also has a long, proven history of consistent success at schools with a very limited ceiling. So the prospect of giving him a school without a true ceiling is exciting. He took little Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament in seven out of nine years and even pulled off a first round upset over Notre Dame in the 2007 NCAA Tournament before taking the Wichita State job. Despite leading the third most prestigious program in the state of Kansas and thus being severely handcuffed on the recruiting trail, Marshall made the most of what he had and took the Shockers to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, even leading them to the Final Four in 2013 as a nine seed. But he’s taken them as far as they can go. I’d make the first call to Beard due to the higher upside, but Marshall is tied for the safest high level hire out there with the next candidate on the list.
Chances to land him: strong. In order to fight off an attempt by Alabama to poach him in 2015, Wichita State raised Marshall’s salary to $3M a year until 2018, at which point that number rose to $3.5M annually. But Alabama isn’t Florida, at least not in hoops. Marshall would have a very difficult time passing up the allure of an elite basketball program where the ceiling is what you make it, and in a state that breeds talent like few others do. The bottom line with Marshall is the same as it is for Beard: nobody stays in Wichita forever. But now throw out the part where he’s the logical top choice for another school that’s impatiently waiting for the season to end so it can fire its coach. If Stricklin is willing to put together a sweet enough compensation package for him, Marshall likely won’t hesitate to make the move.
3: Mark Few, Gonzaga
Age: 57 | Record: 593-123 (82.8%)
Synopsis: home run hire. Few and Marshall are kind of 2A and 2B on my list, but I went with Marshall ahead of Few because Few faces far less resistance on his way to the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis than Marshall does. Which does admittedly rub a little bit of the shine off the fact that he’s guided the Zags to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 20 seasons there. Still: Few has proven time and again that his team can play with the big boys, taking Gonzaga to five consecutive Sweet 16’s, including three Elite 8’s in that stretch and the 2017 NCAA Championship Game. And he can win quickly, too. Gonzaga was absolutely nothing before he got there, and he immediately lifted it off the ground by guiding it to its second ever Sweet 16 in his inaugural year before gradually building it into the perennial top 15 program in the nation that it is today.
Chances to land him: moderate. Probably slightly less than a coin flip. In other words, if forced to lay down my life’s savings on whether or not Few would leave Gonzaga for Florida, I’d go with no, he would not. But before you dismiss the possibility out of hand, it’s worth noting one critical thing: he makes $1.78M a year. With the resources it’s got at its disposal, Florida could easily double or even triple that salary, plus incentives and perks, if it came down to that. Then throw in the more fertile local recruiting base, higher program prestige and ceiling that I’ve been citing with Beard and Marshall and it becomes a real debate. Yes, Gonzaga fans will tell you he’s about more than just money, and yes, he’s built a life on the West Coast and may not be actively looking to move across the country, but money talks and it’s as sure a bet as the sun will rise tomorrow that he will at least listen.
4: Dana Altman, Oregon (and formerly Creighton, Kansas State and Marshall)
Age: 61 | Record: 663-345 (65.9%)
Synopsis: solid hire. Altman is not quite in the top tier of guys on my list due to the combination of his age, which could mean he’s only here for five or six years and then burns out, and a possible lack of desire to start over somewhere else while he’s got something rolling in Eugene. But the credentials are there. After a brief stint at Kansas State, Altman rebuilt a historically impoverished Creighton program and left it in far better shape than he found it when he left fifteen years later for Oregon. There, after a rocky first year, he quickly began an impressive program turnaround and ripped off five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, winning at least one game each time and guiding the Ducks to an Elite Eight in 2016 and the 2017 Final Four. The Ducks dropped off over the next two years, but Altman led them to an unlikely Pac-12 tournament title and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2019 and now has them quietly poised for another special season in 2020.
Chances to land him: coin flip. Oregon is far from a blue blood basketball program, but they’re not a historical bottom feeder, either. With Nike all but naming them their official university, they’ve got instant brand recognition, a deep booster base and natural program recruitability. Then again, Florida can match that brand recognition with its Jordan sponsorship and Oregon’s booster base with an equally deep booster base of its own and beat the Ducks at everything else they have going to keep Altman: a more talent rich local recruiting territory to complement that natural recruitability, at a more prestigious program that’s been to the top before, and most importantly, a sweeter offer. Altman currently makes $2.8M a year to coach Oregon, which Florida can undoubtedly top. But at this point in his life, Altman may just want to settle down and retire a Duck.
5: Ben Howland, Mississippi State (and formerly UCLA, Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona)
Age: 62 | Record: 494-270 (64.7%)
Synopsis: solid hire. The way that UCLA dropped off in the back half of his tenure there is worth an eyebrow raise. But everything else checks out. Howland hit the jackpot by signing Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Kevin Love in a three year span and made the most of them, taking the Bruins to three straight Final Fours from 2006-2008 before everything kind of fizzled out for him in Westwood. But then Scott Stricklin hired him at Mississippi State, where he slowly turned things around after a rough start. Now Howland has arguably the worst basketball program in the SEC poised for back to back trips to the NCAA Tournament, which suggests that the end of his UCLA tenure could have been the anomaly and not the rule.
Chances to land him: very strong. It’s very difficult to imagine Howland turning Florida down if Stricklin makes him an even semi-enticing offer. Refer back to the prior paragraph if you already forgot who hired him last his last job. He only makes $2.05M a year, which Florida could top with ease. This would be a golden second chance for him at the highest level of college basketball, a shot at redemption after things fell apart in Los Angeles. And it would continue the pattern of Florida using Mississippi State as its farm system: Florida has already poached their athletic director (Stricklin), their football coach (Dan Mullen), the majority of Mullen’s assistant coaches and administrative employees there, their top kicker recruit (Evan McPherson) and someday soon their top linebacker recruit (Diwun Black), so why not add their men’s basketball coach to that list?
6: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall (and formerly Iona)
Age: 44 | Record: 233-181 (56.2%)
Synopsis: low risk, high reward hire. Willard is definitely a riskier option than Altman or even Howland, and his first five years in Essex County were definitely shaky. But there’s no denying the job he’s done at Seton Hall since then has been masterful. Despite being stuck at a historical bottom feeder program in the shadows of nearby Villanova and having to fend off local talent raiders like Michigan State, Duke, UNC and Kentucky on the Garden State recruiting trail, Willard has constructed Seton Hall into a yearly tournament team and has developed Myles Powell into one of the best players in college basketball. Also, he’s in his mid-40’s, so if he finds success in Gainesville he’s likely to stick around for a long, long time. But some guys are just meant to be head coaches at the mid major level, not at the Power Five level, like Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart. And though most coaches probably get away with far worse, he was suspended two games for transfer tampering. That’s no reason to ultimately steer clear of him, but it is a reason to go after the safer options first and then carefully vet him.
Chances to land him: very strong. Willard has already turned down Virginia Tech, but Florida is a much better basketball program than Virginia Tech. Just ask Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Hudson or even Kerry Blackshear. If you’re a good enough coach, it’s much easier to win the SEC at Florida than it is to win the Big East at Seton Hall with only a Kentucky program that rarely keeps a starter for more than one year standing in your way. And for Florida to double Willard’s $1.56M salary would be a drop in the boosters’ bucket. With even a semi-tempting compensation package, Willard would take the job in a heartbeat.
7: Steve Pikiell, Rutgers (and formerly Stony Brook)
Age: 52 | Record: 248-216 (53.5%)
Synopsis: medium risk, high reward hire. Pikiell’s first three years at Stony Brook were atrocious, going a combined 20-67. Throw those out, though, and Pikiell’s record as a low-level Division I coach at Stony Brook and Rutgers is 226-147, or about 60%. So the obvious question becomes: if he can do that at horrible programs, what could he do at a great one? He undoubtedly left the Sea Wolves better than he found them, and now he can say the same thing at Rutgers. This is a Scarlet Knights program that has been to six NCAA Tournaments, ever, and not one since 1991. He had a Herculean cleanup job ahead of him at Rutgers upon arrival, and after three years of watching the postseason from home he seems to have finally put it all together. To have arguably the single most impoverished Power Five basketball program not named Northwestern ranked in the top 25 is nothing short of astonishing, and that alone throws his hat in the ring. But there’s also no hard evidence against the theory that Pikiell is a one-trick pony with this one team, and after screwing up the White hire, there’s no need or reason for Florida to take another chance on a different guy with several more proven, safer and realistic options available.
Chances to land him: certain. Going from Rutgers to Florida is like going from eating a gas station hot dog to eating at a five star restaurant. The interest level on Pikiell’s end won’t be the reason he ultimately doesn’t make the move if he doesn’t. He makes even less than Willard, meaning Florida could double his salary without a moment’s hesitation in exchange for him taking the keys to an exponentially more prestigious and better situated program. And double Pikiell’s salary ($1.40M) would still be less than what Mike White makes now ($3.01M). As is the case for his Garden State counterpart in Willard, the job is Pikiell’s is Florida makes him a feasible offer.
8: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State
Age: 60 | Record: 66-24 (73.3%)
Synopsis: medium-high risk, medium-high reward hire. Right off the bat, the fact that he’s 60 years old and has only been a head coach for three years is a concern. The data to support bringing him onboard is woefully incomplete. That said, he’s been around the game for a long time and does have a proven track record of success as an assistant to Steve Fisher. Most impressively, he had a hand in recruiting the famous “Fab Five” to Michigan and in signing Kahwi Leonard at San Diego State. He’s currently got the Aztecs in consideration for a #1 seed next month, meaning he obviously learned something under Fisher’s stewardship. But again, the central issue is that there are several other, younger candidates with far more accomplishments under their belt. As far as lower tier options go, though, Dutcher is a strong one.
Chances to land him: moderate. Money won’t be the issue here. Dutcher makes $800,000 a year to lead the Aztecs, meaning that Florida could multiply his annual salary by time and a half and pay him $1.2M, pay White’s full $1.75M buyout and still wind up paying less to head basketball coaches than the $3.01M a year it’s currently paying White now. The issue will be if Dutcher wants to be off on his own for the first time ever after having been groomed in one place. And this isn’t the guy to hand a blank check to. It might take more money than is reasonably worth for such a risky hire to make this arrangement work.
9: Buzz Williams, Texas A&M (and formerly Virginia Tech, Marquette and New Orleans)
Age: 47 | Record: 264-166 (61.4%)
Synopsis: high risk, medium-high reward hire. Williams is a tricky one to evaluate, in part due to the fact that he has been around the block more than most 47 year olds. He built off a decent foundation at Marquette left by Tom Crean, guiding the Eagles to five consecutive Round of 32 berths, including Sweet 16 berths in the latter three of those years and an Elite Eight berth in the last one. After one rough year following the Elite 8 trip, he bolted for Virginia Tech, where he again flipped fortunes around. Williams guided a VT program that was 9-22 his first year to three straight NCAA Tournaments in his third, fourth and fifth seasons, highlighted by a trip to the Sweet 16 last year. Then he jumped ship again, this time for Texas A&M. So the ability to build a program and oversee year to year improvements is there. He’s a great coach. That’s not the question. But he’s already ejected twice from respectable programs, and for him to come to Gainesville would mean that he’s done it a third time. Florida is a better job than Texas A&M, Virginia Tech or Marquette, and it’s one of the top jobs in the country, but should one of the few jobs better open up- like Michigan State, Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Kansas or UCLA- it’s easy to fathom him leaving Florida with little to no warning.
Chances to land him: low. Williams makes $3.8M this year at Texas A&M and will make $100,000 more for each year he stays. While Florida does have the money to improve on that, the school and boosters also don’t really want to use it on anything they’re anything less than certain of. If each of the first several options turned Stricklin down and he started to get nervous that he might have to settle, maybe this would become conceivable, but it appears as though Texas A&M noticed the same trend of Williams fleeing programs after half a decade as I did and took strides to make sure that didn’t happen again.
10: Chris Holtmann, Ohio State (and formerly Butler and Gardner-Webb)
Age: 48 | Record: 174-117 (59.8%)
Synopsis: high risk, medium-high reward hire. Holtmann is clearly nobody’s idiot. He made Gardner-Webb much better off than it was when he first got there, he kept the Butler machine running with three straight trips to the Round of 32 and even took them to a Sweet 16, and now he’s got Ohio State on the brink of its third trip to the NCAA Tournament in as many years there after the Buckeyes failed to get there in the two years prior to his arrival. But there’s also the big question of what his ceiling is. He’s done fine on the recruiting trail at two prestigious jobs and performed satisfactorily with them, but it leaves me wondering if perhaps he’s already done the best he’ll ever do. In fairness, he hasn’t stayed at one job long enough to see it through, but that’s why he’s a big question mark. Because we really don’t know with him. And Florida can do a lot better than the unknown.
Chances to land him: moderate. Holtmann makes $3.1M a year at Ohio State, which is quite high for someone who’s never even made the Elite 8. Of course, that’s due in part to him not staying very long at one place. And of course, that begs the obvious question of how much money Florida really wants to spend on something that they simply don’t know to be a top-tier product. If Florida throws the checkbook at him they’ll probably get him, but for that reason I don’t think they will. And from his point of view, this is probably the closest thing to a lateral move as any candidate on this list would have to make to come to Gainesville.
11: Anthony Grant, Dayton (and formerly Alabama and VCU)
Age: 53 | Record: 248-141 (63.8%)
Synopsis: high risk, medium reward hire. Some guys just aren’t meant to lead major Power Five programs, and Grant might be the poster child of that theory. He did work some magic at VCU and seems to have figured things out again at Dayton, but it’s vital to remember what happened when he got his shot at the highest level. He was a colossal bust at Alabama, which, sure, isn’t an elite basketball program by any means, but that also means they have extremely low expectations, and he didn’t meet them. In his six years with the Crimson Tide, Grant made only one NCAA Tournament and that ended with an immediate first round loss. Then again, Grant did spend a decade in Gainesville under Billy Donovan, so if anybody is physically capable of recreating Donovan’s magic at Florida, you may as well make your first glance in the direction of his top assistant. So while Grant is by no means a hire worth setting up a parade for, you could certainly do a lot worse than him in a pinch. And who knows? He might surprise us all.
Chances to land him: certain. His salary at Dayton is pennies compared to what Florida could offer him if that was what it took to steal him. Plus, he’s from Miami, and he does have a lot of fond memories in Gainesville. Now throw in the better program, better facilities, etc. that would appeal to all the other candidates on here. Whether or not he would take the job if offered is not up for debate.
12: Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette
Age: 43 | Record: 114-75 (60.3%)
Synopsis: high risk, medium reward hire. Wojo spent a full fifteen years as an assistant at Duke under Coach K, during which time he had a hand in two national championship teams. He’s one of the more savvy X’s and O’s guys out there, and has a long history of recruiting top tier talent. He took over Marquette in the 2014-15 season and has done a solid job with them in a loaded basketball conference that also includes Xavier, Villanova, Butler and Seton Hall. And he’s done all that in his first 43 years of life, which means that if he were to come to Florida and succeed, he could be a Gator lifer. The big question: can he guide a program to the top on his own? The results don’t exactly scream yes, and it’s again worth noting that Florida can’t afford another costly experiment after they pay Mike White’s buyout.
Chances to land him: strong. Going from Marquette to Florida is undeniably a step up. As a private school, Marquette can keep the details of his contract under wraps, but it’s almost guaranteed that Florida can top his salary if they want to.
13: Jamie Dixon, Texas Christian (and formerly Pittsburgh)
Age: 54 | Record: 404-167 (70.4%)
Synopsis: medium risk, medium-low reward hire. Dixon isn’t a bad coach by any means. He guided Pittsburgh to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of his 13 seasons there, and won a game in nine of those tournaments. But his postseason resume there looks eerily similar to Mike White’s: one stray Elite 8 appearance, consistently decent, never terrible but also seldom great. And it’s exactly those credentials that have White’s job in jeopardy. Now he’s at TCU, a traditionally lower tier program, and has done fine with them given their lack of expectations, but hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. If Stricklin and his search party royally whiff on their first dozen options, and need to just grab a safe high floor, low ceiling hire, this is probably who he’ll go for. At worst, he’s another Mike White, but there just isn’t the data to suggest that the best case scenario with him is up to the Gator Standard, so it would take a major plot twist for him to guide Florida to the mountaintop.
Chances to land him: moderate. It’s tricky. He did play four years at TCU, so luring him away from his alma mater isn’t going to be easy. That doesn’t mean it’s not doable; UCLA tried to do it last year and nearly pulled it off, but failed because of a reported $8M buyout at the end of last year that TCU (rightly) refused to budge on. Now that buyout is reportedly $6M, which is still a lot. But if Dixon was willing to leave TCU for UCLA, chances are he’d be willing to leave for Florida, too. It’s just a matter of how much Florida boosters want to pay for anything less than a top tier hire, and Dixon isn’t that.
14: Frank Martin, South Carolina (and previously Kansas State)
Age: 52 | Record: 258-169 (60.4%)
Synopsis: desperation hire. Martin’s resume basically consists of two teams: the 2009-2010 Kansas State team that he took to the Elite 8, and the magical 2016-17 South Carolina team that dispatched college basketball heavyweights Marquette, Duke, Baylor and finally Florida to reach the school’s first ever Final Four as a Regional #7 seed. The problem is, that Final Four team was the only team he’s ever taken to the big Dance in seven years in Columbia, and he didn’t exactly have a powerhouse the rest of his years at Kansas State, either. The assumption in targeting him would be that he wouldn’t have to work any magic at Florida or catch lightning in a bottle, and that he could just go to work and the recruits and results would be there because of the program’s high status. But that’s extremely dangerous to assume with the five different one-game-over-.500 or worse teams he’s had in his first seven there.
Chances to land him: very strong. Martin is from Miami, and rumors were floating that he would return home to take the Hurricanes job before he left KSU for South Carolina. But he undoubtedly sees by now that you can only do so much with the Gamecocks in any sport that isn’t baseball. If offered the Florida job, it’s extremely hard to fathom a set of circumstance in which he wouldn’t take it.
15: Scott Drew, Baylor (and formerly Valparaiso)
Age: 49 | Record: 354-220 (61.7%)
Synopsis: emergency last resort hire. Drew is definitely an interesting case study in conflicting perceptions. A small minority of Baylor fans don’t seem to like his coaching style and thinks he underachieves. A large majority of opposing coaches seem to think he’s a snake and wins more than a coach at Baylor should. But I don’t care about either of those things on their own, because his ability to flip a traditional bottom feeder like Baylor into a team that consistently reaches- and wins games in- the NCAA Tournament is more important than what others think of him. What I- and more importantly, Florida- do care about is the fact that Baylor got nailed for major NCAA violations under Drew’s watch, including the dreaded “failure to monitor” label that resulted in three years of probation and scholarship losses over the next two years. Desperate times could call for desperate measures, I suppose, and if he can win at Baylor he shouldn’t have a problem winning at Florida, but unless Stricklin reaches that level of desperation, this guy is off limits.
Chances to land him: strong. He and Baylor seem to be a good match for each other in more ways than one, but that’s not factoring in the possibility that another suitor hands him a blank check and tells him to name his number. He wouldn’t come cheap, but my guess is that if Florida boosters wanted to get him badly enough, they’d dig deep enough into their wallets to make it happen. The question would be if Drew would choose Florida or wait for an even more prestigious job (Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State, etc.) to open up.
Hard no to:
-Kelvin Sampson, Houston (and formerly Indiana, Oklahoma and Washington State)
Why not? An avalanche of NCAA violations, resulting in a five year show-case penalty. End of story.
-Shaka Smart, Texas (and formerly VCU)
Why not? Simply not good enough. Note: this is where Florida would probably go if literally every other option turned them down and the search reached full-on crisis aversion mode, but if it comes to that there are much bigger problems at play that will subsequently need to be addressed.
-Richard Pitino, Minnesota
Why not? Way too young, and unproven, and thus way too big a gamble. Note: I really like the younger Pitino and think he could be a great hire one day soon, and if Florida keeps White longer than I anticipate and his career at Minnesota really takes off he could shoot up to the top of this list, but as of now he just doesn’t have the results.
-LaVall Jordan, Butler (and formerly Milwaukee)
Why not? Copy and paste the synopsis for Pitino.
-Matt McMahon, Murray State
Why not? Copy and paste the synopsis for Pitino and Jordan, but at an even lesser school.
-Mark Turgeon, Maryland (and formerly Texas A&M and Wichita State)
Why not? The sum of his results have been mediocre at best, and Florida should and will aim higher than that.
-Lon Kruger, Oklahoma (and formerly UNLV, the Atlanta Hawks, Illinois, Florida and Kansas State)
Why not? He’ll be 68 by the time next season starts.