Who should replace Mike White at Florida? Choice #B-1: Matt McMahon

Matt McMahon
Photo credit: Dave Winder, Murray State Athletics

Our list of candidates Florida should replace Mike White with continues today with Matt McMahon- and a slight downgrade in caliber of options.

The first three candidates on my board were unquestionably head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Andy Enfield at USC (who just got locked up with an extension, but was #1 on my board so he’ll stay there for archival purposes) led the way, followed by Baylor’s Scott Drew as #2, and then Oregon’s Dana Altman came in at #3. From here on out, let’s refer to them as the “A” tier- because after these three, there’s a dropoff of some sort, either in terms of ceiling, floor, or some other kind of question mark.

Today begins the examination of “B” tier options- and perhaps the hottest young name in the college basketball coaching profession.

B-1: Matt McMahon, Murray State

Age: 43

Highlights: the entire 2018-19 season featuring Ja Morant and a trip to the Round of 32, and now another promising season in 2021-22.

Complete coaching record: 153-66

Why McMahon?

Like Enfield, McMahon was way down on the bottom of my board last year– #10 to be exact- because though he’d shown himself to be capable of having a special year, any coach can do that. And like Enfield, McMahon has now demonstrated himself to be capable of not just engineering one special team, but rather a program that’s built for success on a consistent basis.

Everyone remembers how Ja Morant took the world by storm in 2019. Everyone around the country flocked to televisions to watch this surefire top-five NBA Draft pick do his thing for Murray State. And everyone remembers his triple-double in the Racers’ first round upset over #5 seed Marquette. What people might not remember is how big man Darnell Cowart averaged 10.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, or how Morant’s backcourt mates Shaq Buchanan and Tevin Brown could step up and be just as lethal as Morant if he was double-teamed. That 2018-19 Murray State team may have been led by one special player, but McMahon built a true team there in Murray- one that finished the year 41st in the country in KenPom’s adjusted offense rankings.

And now he’s done it again. Now McMahon has built another dominant team- this time without Ja Morant or an equally dominant lottery-pick-to-be. The Racers didn’t merely win the OVC this year, they’ve built a resume that’s good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament on their own merit, without requiring the auto-bid of winning the conference tournament. They’re 30-2 now (one of those two losses was to Auburn), ranked in the top 25, KenPom ranks their offense-per-possession as 36th best in the country- and other than Tevin Brown, it’s an entirely new cast of players that’s putting on the show. And about that offense McMahon oversees?

Perhaps the most noteworthy part is how on every offensive possession, every step, every cut, and every screen from every player has a purpose. There’s none of this “five out” nonsense that Mike White likes to run way more often than a college basketball team should. His offense is fun to watch because there’s always some type of movement away from the ball. There’s a good film breakdown on it that you can watch here.

Now to address the obvious: doesn’t his resume look a lot like Mike White’s from Louisiana Tech? It’s a fair question, but no. Because not only has McMahon won his conference tournament and thus reached the NCAA Tournament three different times- things White never did at LT- he’s brought the program into the national spotlight. And at a program that’s been historically desolate, that’s more than one can ask for.

Would McMahon take the job?

Duh. Florida could quadruple the $500,000 he makes and they’d still be paying him a full million less a year than Mike White makes. The question for McMahon would be akin to asking if he’d prefer to peck Cheerios off the street like a bird or dine at a five-star restaurant. This is the cheapest, quality option available.

Concerns: youth, inexperience at a job like Florida

The “Mike White at Louisiana Tech” comparisons that I know are coming as soon as certain people lay eyes on McMahon’s name here are not really congruent. For one thing, McMahon has sustained success at Murray State twice as long as White did at LT, and for another thing, McMahon’s sustained success at Murray State has been appreciably more… well, successful than White’s at LT.

Still: he’s never had a job like Florida, and the stock line of “there’s no guarantee how he’ll do at Florida” that comes with any new coach is magnified ten times over when it’s used on someone with Murray State as the only head coaching experience on the resume. Though the learning curve should not be in excess of half a decade, he’ll probably still require two or three years to install his blueprint on the program.

Verdict: the ultimate risk-reward hire

The upside to hiring Matt McMahon is enormous. If he wins to the degree that a coach at Florida is supposed to, he’s likely going to stay for a very, very long time. You know, like Billy Donovan did! Unlike Donovan, however, McMahon doesn’t appear to have any NBA ties beyond Morant, meaning he could actually be a Gator lifer.

Of course, with such gaudy upside comes risk. McMahon, to reiterate, has zero experience at a school like Florida beyond two seasons as a grad assistant at Tennessee. And for as impressive as his time at Murray State is, it’s just not guaranteed to translate into success at Florida. But he’s a brilliant basketball mind who’s going to get his shot at the top level of college basketball one day soon, and if Florida can’t get the three guys I have ahead of him, that shot may as well be at Florida.