Florida Gators basketball is in a rut and the only way out is to hire a new coach | Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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There won’t be much drama around Gainesville Sunday night when the NCAA Tournament field is announced. The Gators have basically no chance of going, and nobody gathers around the TV to see who they’ll be playing in the NIT.

What fans have been doing, some quite passionately, is discussing Mike White’s job status. Those conversations are nothing new, which is the root of the problem.

People were having them last year, and the year before, and the year before. I’ve tried to avoid the battle, hoping things would work out for Florida’s coach.

That just doesn’t seem to be White’s destiny.

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Mike White relationship no longer working for UF

It’s not the overtime loss to Texas A&M in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. It’s not this year’s 19-13 record. It’s that they are part of a pattern with no foreseeable end.

For the good of the program and for the good of Mike White, it’s time they parted ways.

I’m going with that term because I hope there’s a graceful way out. And “fired” seems unfair, not that fairness matters in these situations.

If it did, Keyontae Johnson’s heart never would have gone haywire last season. That cruelty went far beyond the court. But losing your best player under those circumstances was an unprecedentedly tough basketball break.

There was the Keyontae saga. There was Colin Castleton’s bum shoulder. There were enough injuries and adversity to make you wonder whether White had really misbehaved in a previous life.

In this life, White’s a class act who runs a clean program. If fairness mattered there, some coaches would not be allowed into the Big Dance on Sunday.

And if White’s most vocal critics were fair, they’d acknowledge he’s not a coaching nincompoop. Four straight NCAA Tournament bids before this year are evidence enough.

All that said, I keep coming back to a scene from “Annie Hall.” Alvy Singer (played by Woody Allen) was having a serious talk with his girlfriend, Annie Hall.

“I don’t think our relationship is working,” she said.

“I know,” he said. “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

That’s true with basketball programs. White and the Gators are stuck in a relationship that has lost its spark.

You can see it at home games. There’s little energy outside of the student section and plenty of open space. It was easy to find an empty seat in the final home game against Kentucky. That would have been almost unthinkable when Billy Donovan was on the sideline.

Ah, yes, the Billy Factor.

The Billy Donovan Factor

White had the unenviable task of replacing Mr. Gator Basketball. It’s wrong to hold him to those standards. It’s not unfair to compare UF to other SEC schools.

The Gators’ basketball legacy is at least as good as those at Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas. Those programs have elevated themselves in recent years. Home games have a must-see buzz that’s gone missing from the O’Dome.

That gets back to the product. The “Fire Mike White” crowd hasn’t been totally wrong when it points out the program’s flaws.

Inconsistent play. Blown leads. Losing too many close games. Spotty recruiting.

And Florida isn’t the only program that’s been hit by injuries and other adversities. The top ones have rosters that can overcome such things.

The shortcomings haven’t turned Florida into Georgia. Tom Crean would have loved to have gone 34-24 over the past two years. It’s just hard to love a program that’s in a mediocre-to-good loop.

The Gators make the NCAA Tournament when things fall their way. They’re a bubble team when things don’t.

After seven years with White, is that good enough?

Decision up to Scott Stricklin

That’s ultimately up to Scott Stricklin. Like all good athletic directors, his philosophy is that if you listen to fans, you end up sitting with them.

He also knows that public sentiment matters. It’s tough to sell the same product to a tired audience.

Look at next year’s roster. Beyond a couple of promising prospects, it’s largely a mystery.

White will mine the transfer portal. Like this year, some additions will turn out well, others won’t.

It could be a good season. Or we could end up again having this conversation. The same one we were having last March, and the March before.

It’s not just tiresome to fans. The criticism has to wear on White and his family.

He was a star player and later an assistant coach at Ole Miss. If you’re into rumors, Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis is on the hot seat.

If the stars aligned, that could make a tidy resolution to this dilemma. If they don’t, this dilemma still needs to be resolved.

Relationships and programs have to move forward. And, sad to say, what we have on our hands is a dead shark.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley

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