Todd Golden will not coach a game for the Florida Gators for seven months. But with his introductory press conference (you can watch it in its entirety here), he provided the Gators with a different kind of victory.
Maybe Todd Golden will win at an even higher clip that Billy Donovan won at. Maybe he’ll win less than Mike White won. And maybe the most likely scenario is the one that comes to fruition, where Golden falls somewhere in between those two polar opposite possibilities. The move certainly is a gamble.
But his introductory press conference matched the reputation that Todd Golden has built as an energetic, intelligent, numbers-first, numbers-second, and numbers-last basketball coach. A “Moneyball” approach to basketball, if you will. And it provides the first dose of promise about the future of Gator basketball in years.
Golden first spoke about reaching out to former Gator players and coaches, and about the pride these former players and coaches told him that being a Gator provided them. He spoke about the championship pedigree Florida basketball boasts, pointing to the fact that UF is a “Jordan Brand school!” and illustrating that pedigree with a unique statistic: since 2000, former Gator basketball players combined to make over a billion dollars in the NBA. And he spoke about UF’s academic prestige, pointing to the school’s top 5 public university ranking and the recently completed Hawkins Center, which helps players from a personal and a developmental standpoint.
Golden then spoke about his personal background and the people he’s had in his life, introducing the world to his wife Megan, his parents, his two children, and even his in-laws, calling them all “the foundation for what he does.” He spoke about his upbringing as a high school basketball player in Arizona, playing for Dan Mannix at Sunnyslope High School, winning a state championship, and learning about toughness, desire, and determination. And he spoke about getting to play at a St. Mary’s basketball program that, in one of his four seasons there, employed a staff of five future Division I head coaches, emphasizing his luck in being surrounded by great basketball minds.
Golden also spoke about having similar luck with being surrounded by brilliant minds in his coaching career. He spoke about his time as an assistant with Kyle Smith at Columbia and Bruce Pearl at Auburn, and how he learned structure, attention to detail, and organization from the former, as well as passion, galvanizing a group of players, and how to build a program from the latter. He spoke about how as coach, he takes the best qualities from Smith, the best qualities from Pearl, and the best qualities from himself, puts them all into a pot and stirs it up- and how if he continues to do that, he’ll continue to be successful.
Then Golden shifted to the X’s and O’s, telling the world that they could expect to see a deep roster of skilled, unselfish players that would be elite in the areas of defense, rebounding, and taking care of the basketball. He talked about playing “fast, but not in a hurry” offensively, and that his teams would try to push in transition and score early in the shot clock. He talked about unique ball screen action that was difficult to scout, about having at least four of his five men on the court be able to “dribble, pass, and shoot at an insanely high level,” and about being the type of team nobody else wants to face.”
And to conclude his opening statement, Golden spoke about the team having three core values: a team-first attitude that yields every decision that every member of the program makes being done with the team’s best interest in mind, everybody being prepared to work hard both on and off the court, and everybody having an attitude of appreciation of the fact that they are at the University of Florida.
Then came the questions from reporters, which yielded further insight into who- and what- Florida has in its next head coach. In the Q&A portion of the presser, Golden talked about the importance of building a fence around the state of Florida on the recruiting trail, as well as recruiting regionally, nationally, and internationally. He talked about reading box scores in the newspaper and falling in love with analytics and numbers as a kid, and about learning more about the importance of collecting data on players from Randy Bennett and Kyle Smith at St. Mary’s.
And he talked about the importance of so-called “hustle stats” in practice that determined players’ values beyond box score numbers. He talked about memorizing those same stats the coaches at St. Mary’s would keep for himself in his head, including penetrating and pitching the ball, missed rotations, blow-bys in the middle of the floor, and so on. He talked about getting “a little cocky” as a player at St. Mary’s and just calling out those stats at strategic moments in practice, drawing the ire of Kyle Smith in the moment while also letting him- as well as younger players- know how deeply he appreciated his advanced metrics.
Oh, yeah- and he talked about his conversation with Billy Donovan, how it gave him goosebumps to even speak with him, how appreciative he was of Donovan’s willingness to help him out however necessary, and how he strives to lead Florida as Donovan once did.
Then Todd Golden talked about how he listens to a lot of the same music that high school kids listen to, or “vibing with them,” as he put it, as well as getting to know them personally and building the trust that was required to get them to play hard for him. He talked about utilizing the transfer portal, as well as recruiting kids from high school. He talked about the importance of a balance on the recruiting trail to put together the best possible team.
Last, and most importantly, Todd Golden talked about the expectations. He went out of his way to say that he didn’t care about what did or didn’t lead Mike White to leave for Georgia, but that he took the Florida job because of its expectations. “At a place like this, they should have high expectations,” Golden declared emphatically. “There’s everything you need here to be really, really good If they didn’t have those championship aspirations and expectations, if Scott didn’t want to do that, that would concern me.”
And then, in what may or may not have been a thinly veiled shot at Mike White, Golden added: “If he didn’t think, ‘hey, Todd, I expect you to compete for SEC Championships,’ if… ‘Oh, I just want you to be middle of the pack,” that would concern me. I want those expectations, and we’re going to do everything we can to get there.” (I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was not referencing White, but that sentence sure sounded like something he said as a result of being very, very aware of White’s record at Florida.)
None of that is to say that Mike White was diametrically opposed to Todd Golden in all of those areas. This isn’t to suggest that Golden spoke the most beautiful combination of words any basketball coach has ever uttered, and White was at the other end of the IQ spectrum, nor is it meant to imply that Golden will enjoy any level of success. It’s always fashionable to rip on the coach who just failed and then went to a rival school just for the sake of it- a pitfall that we should all be cognizant of, and that I personally fight hard to avoid. If Golden was such a proven winner and White was such a proven loser, Golden’s name would be as familiar to Gator fans as Mark Few’s name, and White would have been fired for incompetence five years ago.
But there was nothing about Mike White’s background that provided any legitimate reason to feel as though he would be successful other than the fact that he won three conference titles at Louisiana Tech (and yet lost in the conference tournament all three times, denying LT a spot in the NCAA Tournament all three times.)
There was no experience with someone as successful as Bruce Pearl or as analytics-driven as Kyle Smith. There was no experience, period, with a coach any more successful than Andy Kennedy. There were no rumblings about how White was the next analytics-crazed or modern basketball coach. There was no evidence that White had any semblance of an idea of how to construct a roster.
And to be fair, Todd Golden checking all those boxes does not equate to evidence that he’ll win at a certain level. Answering questions at a press conference with “I’m going to do this or that” does not equate to him actually doing this or that, the same way that him going into detail about all those analytics does not guarantee that using those analytics at Florida will result in wins or championships. Because of course it doesn’t.
But what Florida does have now is a coach with a distinct, calculated plan for everything. “Hustle stats” may not show up in the box score, but with tangible statistics such as missed defensive rotations and blow-bys serving as players’ resumes for playing time under Golden, it’s fair to assume that he’s a man with a plan.
Mike White seemed to have no plan. For anything. If that sounds harsh and unfair, I invite you to consider the alternative. Maybe he did have a carefully crafted plan for everything… and the result of his careful planning led to him signing one center in a four-year span (Gorjok Gak), getting dunked to death by Chris Silva and a terrible South Carolina team in the O’Dome on a baseball-type inbounds pass, letting Yante Maten hit back-to-back threes behind an unguarded three-point line and allowing an all-time bad Georgia team hand his Gators yet another horrifying loss in the O’Dome, gearing his handpicked roster of five stars plus Kerry Blackshear to run the worst possible offense for the personnel he had, and most recently, assembling a smorgasbord of transfers to field his seventh and final team- and coaching them right to the #9 slot in the SEC standings, which was the Gators’ worst final standing in the SEC since Billy Donovan’s second season, 1997-98.
There are two possibilities there, and neither one is particularly fun to think about. If White was a meticulous planner, he obviously wasn’t a very good one. And for all the talk in his early days about how smart and driven he was, which I do believe to a degree, nobody was talking about him as a futuristic basketball mind who loved numbers and data.
Todd Golden is human. He’s going to make mistakes. He’ll have a bad take on the recruiting trail at some point, he’ll make a bad in-game substitution or tactical decision at some point, and he’ll probably even do things to outright lose a game at some point. When you coach basketball long enough, that’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.
But at least now, Florida fans can rest assured that the Gators’ new basketball coach will do everything in his power to make the Gators’ basketball program the best it can be. At least now when the day comes that Florida’s head basketball coach makes a mistake, there will be loads of data that the coach can point to that led him to that decision.
Whatever else happens, Gator fans can now be at peace knowing that they have a coach who is using all the information one could possibly utilize to make decisions. And after seven years of banner-less basketball from a coach who fundamentally did not belong at Florida, that in itself is a victory for the Gators.