By BUDDY MARTIN
In the pantheon of great coaches who have graced the annals of University of Florida basketball and football, Mike White is but a grain of sand on long white beach. Despite his success this season, it would be grossly premature and even highly improper to attach the adjective “great” to White or his program at this moment.
“Greatness” does not fall off the back of a grapefruit truck and is so rarely achieved among college coaches that essayists, commentators, historians and even peer groups can’t really define it — except to know what it is when they see it. The dictionary defines the term great thusly: “…Of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average.”
At Florida, a football or basketball coach’s body of work will always be measured next to the DNA of champions: Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan.
It would be wise to keep an eye peeled toward the future, however, because White’s name is being mentioned a lot lately alongside the guy who won back-to-back national championships in Gainesville. Maybe not in the same sentence or paragraph yet, but on the same page. Indeed White’s body of work to date can certainly be labeled as “intensity considerably above the normal or average.”
In physical stature, White and Donovan appear similar and their sideline demeanor isn’t all that different — although Billy seemed to be a little more demonstrative in recent years. Some saw that similarity even before White was hired away from Louisiana Tech by Jeremy Foley.
Former Gator and NFL quarterback Shane Matthews said on his pod cast recently that he had followed the work of White at Louisiana Tech and was quite impressed. “I was hoping he was the guy they would hire,” said Matthews. “And at times when I see him he reminds me a great deal of Billy.”
Following their 57-52 victory at Mississippi State Saturday, albeit a shaky, turnover-plagued Gator performance for their eighth straight win, it becomes clear that Florida is among the SEC’s elite. The obvious comparisons between White and Donovan were beginning to emerge as Florida logged its 22nd victory and the Gators are popping up on the radar of leading college basketball analysts.
White is becoming known as a guy who can coach through adversity, as we saw him do without in-the-paint enforcer John Egbunu, now lost for the season with a knee injury.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against 20-7 South Carolina at the Exact Arena/O’Connell Center, and then finishing off the regular home season against Kentucky, the Gators are poised for what could be a 25-game win season before tournament play. They close with road games at Vanderbilt and Arkansas before going after their school’s fifth SEC Tournament championship. Only 10 times in history has Florida exceeded the 25-win season and that is taking into consideration all post-season play.
So White is definitely treading in those waters of “intensity considerably above the normal or average.”
As long as the obvious comparison is out there, let’s throw in these facts:
✔ In Billy Donovan’s first year at UF he went 13-17. In his second year Donovan was 14-15, so he was 27-32 after two seasons.
✔ Mike White was 21-15 in his first season and with a 22-5 mark to date is already assured of topping Donovan’s two-year composite.
And let’s just stop right there, because such a statistical record is unfair, given that White inherited a program that was already well established. On the other hand, White also followed a legend — something that didn’t work out so well for Ron Zook and Will Muschamp. So in a way, White’s DNA is already well ensconced in the future of Florida basketball. Reputation and brand to follow.
Before you can become a household name, however, they have to know your name. In a recent small sampling for a random on-campus poll for my radio show, correspondent Shelby Williams asked about a dozen students if they knew the name “Mike White.” Only about half did. A few more than that knew the name Billy Donovan. But hang on. We’ve already seen enough to know that White’s team is “considerably above the normal or average.” Put your own adjective on that.
(Buddy Martin has been one of America’s great sports journalists as a columnist, editor, broadcaster, author and TV producer for five decades. He has won close to 200 awards, including an Emmy. He co-wrote the best-selling book “”Urban’s Way” with coach Urban Meyer and recently releasased his latest book, co-authored with Steve Spurrier, titled “”Head Ball Coach. My Life In Football, Doing It Differently — and Winning.” The book is available on Amazon and already is a best-seller.
He is a third-generation Floridian and journalist, having begun his early career at the Ocala Star-Banner where his father and grandfather also launched their careers. From there, Buddy had a distinguished career in newspapers as editor/columnist at Florida Today, Gannett News Service, the St. Petersburg Times, The New York Daily News and The Denver Post. As managing editor of The Charlotte Sun in Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, Martin directed coverage of Hurricane Charley which won many state and national awards — and was one of three finalists in the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news.
For his role as an associate producer and editorial consultant for the NFL Today Show on CBS, Buddy was awarded an Emmy.Returning to his hometown a few years ago, Martin has served as editor in chief of Ocala Magazine and a columnist for Ocala Style.
Martin is the author of eight books. He also wrote the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes – Terry Bradshaw and Dan Issel — and was awarded an Emmy while working with Bradshaw on “The NFL Today” at CBS Sports.
Among the awards he or his newspapers have claimed were best Best Lifestyle Section nationally (Penny-Missouri), Best Sunday Sports Section nationally (APSE), Best Feature Writer New York State (Associated Press) and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news (2005). He has been named best columnist or sports columnist in Florida for both magazines and newspapers six times.
Buddy is a Gator through-and-through. He was educated at the University of Florida.
He is a regular contributor to woodypaige.com.