After a week of business in Dominican Republic, here are a few thoughts to start off your week.
Back in the day when he was the hottest coaching property in all of college football, a very young Lou Holtz, then the head football coach at North Carolina State, was asked about the possibility of following in the footsteps of Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Holtz served on the Hayes staff in 1968 when the Buckeyes won the national championship and was thought to be the logical successor when Hayes finally called it quits.
“You never want to follow a legend,” Holtz said, “but I wouldn’t mind being the guy who follows the guy who follows the legend.”
Following a legend is never an easy deal. Just ask Ron Zook about following Steve Spurrier or any of the nine basketball coaches at UCLA who have never escaped the shadow of John Wooden. Until Nick Saban came along and won three national championships in football over a four-year span, every football coach at Alabama was compared to Bear Bryant. It wasn’t fair but that’s the way fans are. At Kentucky, John Calipari is finding out that until he wins a second national championship he’s just another coach like Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith.
When Billy Donovan stepped down as Florida’s basketball coach, it set up his successor for the inevitable comparisons. Donovan forged his own path to legendary status and Florida fans grew accustomed to being able to stare down Kentucky or any other college basketball blueblood. Suffice to say, Donovan leaves gigantic shoes to fill.
When Donovan stepped down, all eyes turned to Archie Miller at Dayton and Chris Mack at Xavier, who seemed like logical choices based on a combination of age, exposure from playing in highly regarded leagues (A-10 for Miller, Big East for Mack) and success in the NCAA Tournament. But in the days immediately following Donovan’s farewell, word began to trickle down from the camps of both Mack and Miller that neither one was exactly enamored with the idea of succeeding Donovan. Florida is obviously a step up from their current jobs and Jeremy Foley was offering more money than they’ll ever make at either Dayton or Xavier, but they’re both in jobs that it would be next to impossible to get fired from and there’s no pressure.
There is plenty of pressure following Billy Donovan and while Archie Miller and Chris Mack were hesitant to leave their comfort zone, Michael White was quick to embrace the challenge. He did not hesitate to say yes when Jeremy Foley offered him the Florida job. Last year, White elected to stay at Louisiana Tech another year rather than accept the job at Tennessee, which offered him about the same amount of money Foley offered him to come coach Florida. It’s a whole lot easier to follow Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee than it is to follow Billy Donovan at Florida but while he said yes to Tennessee there wasn’t the slightest bit of uncertainty when Florida offered.
That tells us the new coach doesn’t lack for confidence. He also doesn’t lack for style.
Think back to Florida, 2000. Remember that run when the Gators and their press till they puke style ran teams into the ground on their way to the NCAA championship game? Watch Michael White-coached Louisiana Tech these last three years and you’ll think you’re seeing a clone of that great 2000 Gator team the way they pressed relentlessly, came out of nowhere to block shots, shared the ball and launched 3-pointers.
Lots of teams press and launch a lot of 3-pointers. Not too many win 83 games over the last three years, which is more than everyone in the country not named Wichita State, Arizona, Louisville, Duke, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Will that style work at Florida? Time will answer that question, but Michael White’s style is going to be attractive to recruits and let’s face it: at Florida he can get the athletes he could never dream of signing at Louisiana Tech. This could turn out to be a very fun ride.
Michael White isn’t the only coach stepping into the shoes of a departed legend. Jenny Rowland will have to fill the shoes of Rhonda Faehn, who took the Gators to three consecutive NCAA gymnastics championships, but if anyone can take over the Florida program without a glitch Rowland is it.
The NCAA Assistant Coach of the Year for 2015, Rowland had plenty to do with Auburn making the Super Six for the first time in its program’s history. She is considered one of the best balance beam coaches in the country and is an exceptional floor choreographer. She has earned a reputation as an exceptional recruiter. A former teammate of Faehn on the US National Team that won the world championship, Rowland has done it as a competitor, as an assistant coach and as a judge on the national and international levels.
At Florida, Rowland inherits a loaded team that features Bridget Sloan, the best college gymnast in the country as well as All-Americans Bridget Caquatto, Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry. The Gators are bringing in the top freshman class in the country as well.
It used to be Hack-a-Shaq but now it’s Hack-a-Jordan. Back when Shaquille O’Neal played college and professional basketball, it became vogue to foul him deliberately to send him to the foul line where he was notorious for shooting free throws about as accurately as one of Saddan Hussein’s scuds. The Houston Rockets tried that strategy with DeAndre Jordan Sunday night, sending him to the foul line 34 times (he made 14). Hack-a-Jordan accomplished two things: (1) it turned the game into a boring affair and (2) really pissed off the Los Angeles Clippers, who blew Houston’s doors off, 128-95.
Intentional fouls have been a part of the game way too long. It’s time to change the rules and put enough teeth into the new rules to seriously dissuade opponents from a strategy like Hack-a-Jordan. The late, great Dean Smith proposed that a team should have the option on all free throws of shooting or taking the ball out of bounds with a fresh shot clock. Another idea would be to make all intentional fouls after the first technical fouls that award two shots plus the basketball with a player charged with two intentional fouls automatically ejected from the game.
Do you think Michael White’s wide open style of basketball will resonate with Florida fans and with recruits?
“Brothers and Sisters” was the Allman Brothers Band’s first album after the death of Duane Allman. It featured two cuts with Berry Oakley (“Wasted Words” and “Ramblin’ Man”), who died a little more than a year after Duane. Like Duane, Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia. “Brothers and Sisters” reached #1 on the Billboard album charts and included one of Southern Rock’s great instrumentals, “Jessica.”