Florida coach Mike White is facing one of the first big decisions of his three-year UF head coaching tenure.
White has led UF to two straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight Appearance in 2017, with a coaching staff that’s remained in tact. On Thursday, that continuity took a blow when lead assistant Dusty May was hired for his first head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
May’s ability to develop players and recruit won’t be easy to replace. But it could also give White a chance to give the staff a different look. Like May, White’s two remaining assistants, Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols, did not have head coaching experience when they joined UF’s staff.
Is having a former head coach on the bench important? From an administrative, recruiting and game management standpoint, it can be helpful. For example, during UF’s Round of 32 loss against Texas Tech, White said he and his staff wrestled with the decision when to bring senior point guard Chris Chiozza back into the game when he picked up his fourth foul with 13 minutes remaining. Perhaps a different voice, one that has been in the lead chair and has been though more games in his career, could have provided a different perspective.
Former Florida coach Billy Donovan led the Gators to a Final Four in 2000 with a young staff of John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant and Donnie Jones. None of the three had head coaching experience and all were ace recruiters who with Donovan helped establish the Gator brand by attracting talent and developing players.
When Pelphrey left, Donovan first promoted Tom Ostrom, who had no head coaching experience. But in 2004-05, Donovan replaced Ostrom with Larry Shyatt, a heady, defensive-oriented coach who had recently been fired after a failed head coaching stint at Clemson. With Shyatt on the bench, Florida won its first SEC Tournament title in 2005, then went on to win the first of back to back national champions in 2006 and 2007.
After Shyatt left, Donovan hired former head coaches on his staff in two more instances, bringing in Norm Roberts (St. John’s) for the 2011-12 season and Pelphrey (South Alabama, Arkansas) from 2012-15.
If White decides to go the former head coach route, here are a few potential candidates:
— Andy Kennedy: Should be the first phone call. White and Kennedy worked together in reverse roles when Kennedy was the head coach at Ole Miss and White was one of his assistants from 2006-11. Kennedy is a solid in-game coach who in 12 seasons led Ole Miss to a school-record 245 wins, 2 NCAA Tournament appearances and six NIT berths before he stepped down earlier this season. He’s an advocate of changing defenses and could perhaps open up White’s mind to taking more chances switching to zone defenses in game to keep opposing teams off balance. As a recruiter, Kennedy found under-the-radar talents including Stephan Moody (from Orlando), Marshall Henderson and Chris Warren (also from Orlando).
— Rob Evans: White’s connection with Evans as strong as his connection with Kennedy, having played for Evans at Ole Miss from 1995-98. In 14 seasons as a head coach at Ole Miss (1992-98) and Arizona State (1998-2006), Evans led both programs to a combined three NCAA Tournaments and three NIT berths. After his head coaching career ended, Evans served as an assistant at Arkansas (2007-11), TCU (2011-12) and North Texas (2012-17). At 71, Evans has seen just about everything from the bench in a 48-year coaching career. It’s unclear if Evans would want to return to coaching at this point in his life, but it’s worth a phone call to find out.
— Kevin Stallings: Yes, Stallings failed miserably at Pittsburgh. But Stallings had prior success in the SEC at Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores to seven NCAA Tournament appearances and two Sweet 16s in 16 seasons. Tactically, he’s similar to Shyatt in terms of teaching and emphasizing defense. Florida fans may remember Stallings swiping the ball away from Joakim Noah, but he was also a staunch ally of Donovan and respected UF’s program and its achievements.
— Mark Fox: A longshot, but would be a worth a phone call to gauge Fox’s interest. Fox is considered a strong candidate for both the Colorado State and Utah State head coaching jobs after being fired by Georgia earlier this month.
— Tubby Smith: An impressive resume which includes a national title at Kentucky and 18 NCAA Tournament appearances at five different schools. But like Fox, expect the recently-dispatched former Memphis coach to find another head coaching gig.