Florida Gators basketball coach Todd Golden to face mentor Bruce Pearl yearly in SEC play

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Todd Golden will face several high-level coaches in his first year in the Southeastern Conference as men’s basketball coach at Florida, but one matchup will tug at his heartstrings.

Golden will face one of his mentors, Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, when UF plays at the defending SEC champion Tigers this season. The Gators are playing Auburn just once in the regular season. 

In addition to working under Pearl from 2014-16 as a director of operations and assistant coach, Golden played under Pearl as co-captain of the USA open game that won the 2009 gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.

“With Bruce, I love him,” Golden said recently. “He’s like a second father to me.”

David Whitley:Florida basketball had no choice when it came to Keyontae Johnson

Mark the calendar:Florida Gators men's basketball: 2022-23 non-conference schedule released

Roster addition:Florida Gators basketball adds freshman forward Aleks Szymczyk from Germany

UF basketball coach Todd Golden speaks during a press conference at The F-Club at the University of Florida in Gainesville, on May 26, 2022.

On a Field of 68 podcast appearance last spring, Golden recounted how he sold Pearl to take a chance on under-recruited center Anfernee McLemore, a shot-blocking standout who helped lead Auburn to its first Final Four trip in school history in 2019.

“Just a great hire by (athletic director) Scott Stricklin at Florida,” Pearl said. “Todd is one of the brightest young coaches in all the country. He’s got a phenomenal basketball mind. He’s a great person.

“His locker room is going to love him. He’ll hire great people. He’s an innovator, and he takes over for Billy Donovan and Mike White, both did really good jobs there and so I think this is going to be another, very, very successful coach along the lines of several other very successful coaches.”

Coaching against a mentor is nothing new to Golden.

In the West Coast Conference as head coach at the University of San Francisco, Golden faced Randy Bennett, the coach who recruited him to play at Saint Mary’s. Golden’s San Francisco teams went 0-5 against Bennett’s Saint Mary’s teams, with three of the five losses decided by five points or fewer.

“With Randy, I had known him since I was 16 years old, head-to-head it was really a weird feeling, especially him being at my alma mater, going back,” Golden said. “It was what it was but now not being in that situation anymore I could be a little more emotional about it. It just wasn’t that enjoyable, to be honest, having to coach against him.”

Golden described Bennett as meticulous, while Pearl, in contrast was less detail oriented but more passionate. Both were hard workers, Golden said.

“Getting those two very different experiences, with both of them being great, has given me a great understanding that you don’t have to do everything the same way,” Golden said. “Everyone can be a little different and there’s not one way that’s perfect and so I’m trying to pull from both those camps so to speak and really I guess trying to imprint myself into it as well with what I think is important.”