It was one of the first questions Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley asked during the interview. As a 38-year-old, up-and-comer in the college basketball coaching profession, could White handle the pressure that comes with replacing a legend?
It’s not the ideal way to take over a program. Looking at recent Florida history, the two worst hires Foley made -- Will Muschamp and Ron Zook -- came while replacing coaches that won national championships. The examples of coaches struggling to replace legends go much further than Gainesville.
Even though White turned down overtures from Missouri and Tennessee last offseason, replacing Donovan didn’t create the slightest hesitation about the Florida job. He sees it as a positive to take over what Donovan has built at in Gainesville.
“My answer to (Foley) is I would absolutely embrace the opportunity to follow a legend and to learn from a lot of the people that helped him from along the way,” Michael White said. “From what I understand and from what I'm starting to understand in person is that the administration here and the support staff of the basketball program in all facets is absolutely incredible.”
Donovan and White have had multiple conversations in recent days about the Florida basketball program. Donovan made sure his replacement knew that he’s always there to talk and answer any questions about players, the program or Gainesville, even with his busy schedule in Oklahoma City.
Taking over for Donovan has built instant credibility in a program that didn’t have it before his 19-year tenure in Gainesville began. The positive for White is that the program already has momentum because of the previous coach, and now it’s his job to continue building on the foundation that’s in place.
“It's more of embracing the fact that you have a great, great job that Coach Donovan has built,” White said. “I think it was a good job when he got here, and now it's a great job.”
Michael’s father, Kevin, knows a lot about that. Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke and drove down from an ACC athletic directors meeting in Amelia Island to be in Gainesville for his son’s introductory press conference on Monday. The Duke athletic director understands the pressure that comes along with replacing a legend and has seen multiple friends and colleagues in the business take on the challenge.
And a lot of times, it hasn’t worked out.
While his son understands the challenge of taking over what Donovan has built, the elder White thinks his son has what it takes to continue leading the program at a high level.
“There’s a lot of reality in it,” Kevin White said about the theory that a coach shouldn’t be the one to replace a legend. “You can look at a lot of iconic guys and women in sports and business, and it’s not typically what you want to do to put yourself in that position. I think what Mike has going for him, far better than it would be for me, he’s incredibly secure in who he is and is very comfortable in his own skin. I think he’s wired for that better than most of us, better than I would be. But it’s never easy.
“He knows the end game. He knows what’s expected, and he’s going to fight like hell to produce the end game. I don’t think he’s worried about other trappings. That’s just not him.”
The new Florida coach knows there’s only one way to handle the expectations Donovan created. He has to embrace them and use it to continue bettering the program. It’s only one press conference, but White seems to be doing that.
“It's an absolute honor of mine to replace Billy Donovan, one of the best coaches in the history of this game,” White said. “I have tremendous respect and admiration for the legacy that he leaves, and it's my charge to continue the momentum that he's maintained for an amazing 19 years.”