With Dusty May heading to Boca Raton to head up the Florida Atlantic Owls program Gators basketball fans get to shift their focus to something they haven’t thought about since the summer of 2015: a coaching search. No, this isn’t the same as that summer when the Gators needed a new head coach but it is still important nonetheless. Dusty May was the top assistant under Mike White and was often trusted with the most important scouting duties and was tasked with luring top recruits, his biggest success being the primary recruiter of 5-star point guard Andrew Nembhard. Though the sideline and recruiting trail are still in good hands with returning assistants Darris Nichols and Jordan Mincy the Gators need to make an intelligent and tactical hire to best set themselves up for future success. There are a lot of factors involved with hiring an assistant and a lot of intangibles that differentiate a good and great one and that will be the process Coach White and the athletic department will have to wade through before making a decision. Do you go with experience, or are you looking for youthful energy? Are you looking for someone with deeper knowledge of the X’s and O’s, or are you looking for a charismatic recruiter? Here are some names that I think could be in the mix.
As familiar of a coach that there is with the SEC, Andy Kennedy was with Ole Miss the past 12 seasons before resigning after this past struggle-filled season for the Rebels. Ole Miss is widely considered to be a lower-tier job in the SEC and the grind of heading up a meddling power conference program for over a decade has many people believing he would be interested in taking an assistant role for the upcoming season. I have always been impressed with the way Kennedy has been able to compete in the SEC with teams usually below the league-standard in talent and athleticism, instead relying on under-recruited players and transfers to find a mix that works. Always getting the best out of the players you have is a tremendous skill and one that translates to any group of athletes. His years of head coaching experience is also an enticing part of his resume, and the way the Rebels beat the Gators this year might mean he has some insight to what the current Gators’ flaws are and how they could be fixed. Kennedy will be certain to have head coaching options around the country but if he chooses to take an assistant role I’m sure the lure of Florida will be enticing.
Another former SEC head coach from last season that is available is Georgia bench boss Mark Fox. He situation is quite similar to Kennedy’s as 9 years in Athens struggling to build consistency at a historically middle-of-the-pack SEC team has lead people close to him to believe he could be interested in an assistant role. Like Andy Kennedy he will have head coaching offers, but Florida’s athletic budget is such that they could offer a salary in the realm of strong mid-major jobs and both coaches could be looking for a change of pace. Fox’s teams have always been great defensively and he recruited and developed one of the best big men in the country last season in Yante Maten. Getting some second opinions from a former SEC head coach could be really valuable for the Gators in conference play next season in what is sure to be another really strong year for the league. One problem with both of these former head coaches is that they may not be looking to stay assistants for long, and if they were to leave after a season or two your recruiting relationships could be damaged. For that reason, the Gators could be looking for a younger coach more in it for the long haul. Such as…
Another name familiar to Gators fans, former All-American Brett Nelson should definitely be in the mix. Not only did he play for an excellent coach in Billy Donovan and have great success as a player but he has parlayed that into a solid 9-year assistant coaching run that currently sees him at Marquette. Not only does he have playing and coaching experience but he is of the similar age to the rest of the coaching staff and could be interested in making a return to Gainesville. Instrumental in recruiting current NBA star 7-footer Hassan Whiteside to the unlikely Marshall Thundering herd he definitely has an eye for talent and the ability to land a player he sets his mind too. Factoring in his coaching talent, age, and Florida pedigree, I think Nelson would be a great fit.
Though there are a lot of factors that lead to the turnaround of the TCU Horned Frogs that saw them near the top of the Big 12, the fingerprints of assistant coach Ryan Miller are all over them. Considered the point man for recruiting, offensive mastermind, and big man developer for the squad he has become one of the hottest names in assistant coaching. Another player in the similar age range of the current coaching staff the fit and style of play would work perfectly and I could see why Florida would be attractive to Miller. The Horned Frogs are always going to struggle to recruit at a high level and be near the top of the gauntlet that is the Big 12 and a season where they played their best basketball but still couldn’t win a conference tournament game and were upset as a 6 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament means he might want to head for greener pastures. His tie to the Florida Gators program? His brother is former orange and blue star Mike Miller. I’m sure if the offer is there Mike will talk to the school up to Ryan, and perhaps Florida will have the chance to have two Miller brothers leave Gator legacies.
Spending 3 seasons at Florida under Billy Donovan, Rashon Burno is another name familiar to Gators fans and someone that I think will be heavily in the mix for a job under Mike White. Currently at Arizona State, he could be looking to get out from a Pac-12 conference that is looking like the worst power five basketball conference and get back to Gainesville where he can compete against the best. While at Florida Burno was tasked with handling the guards (a former guard himself at DePaul) and his relationship with Scottie Wilbekin was well known and Wilbekin has claimed Burno was instrumental in his development. Though his player development and offensive mind shouldn’t be understated, his most desirable skill may be his tireless recruiting ability, most notably to Gators fans as the primary recruiter bringing in 5-star Devin Robinson. Most recently at ASU he has also brought in highly sought after 5-star guard Luguentz Dort (beating out Florida) and rangy top-25 wing Taeshon Cherry. Very few assistants in the country have been credited as the primary recruiters of two 5-stars and this should show how much of a rockstar he is on the trail and shows why he is considered to be one of the best assistants in the country. Though bringing in those 5-stars might make him want to stay with the Sun Devils, he is definitely a guy the Gators need to have some dialogue with and the lure of returning to a top SEC program may be enough to get him here.
My Number One Choice:
Rashon Burno. The current staff hasn’t struggled to recruit by any means, but if you have the opportunity to bring in one of the best recruiters in the country I think you have to do it. There definitely can be a case made for bringing in a more experienced coach that can help with the tactical side of the game, but the ability to bring in top talent will always keep a program playing at a high level.
Who would you like to see the Gators bring in? Would you prefer a coach with more experience behind the bench or would you like them to pursue more elite recruiting? Let me know here with a comment or post on the Gator Country forums.