Another Golden Era in Gainesville?

Clayton Tinkle

In March of 2022, the University of Florida hired the analytics-driven Todd Golden to fill their head coaching vacancy on the hardwood.

The move was widely regarded as an upgrade by fans and alumni alike who had grown tired of Mike White and his lack of ability to get over the proverbial hump.

White, who left the Gators in March for a job at the University of Georgia, was just “OK” in Gainesville … and sometimes that’s OK.

Expectations are high in Gainesville, as they should be, right?

The Gators, after all, have won two NCAA National Championships. The Rowdy Reptiles have appeared in 23 NCAA Tournaments. Florida has produced top tier talent, too. Twelve players have been selected in the first round of the NBA Draft after wrapping up their time in Gainesville. The program has a long, storied history.

What is the problem with holding newcomers to these same expectations, though? It is not the University of Florida’s legacy. It is Billy Donovan’s.

Out of Florida’s 23 NCAA Tournament appearances, 14 of them belong to Donovan, who coached the team from 1996-2015. But what about the 12 players regarded as top-shelf NBA prospects? Nine of them played under Donovan. You should not even have to ask about the National Championships … but, yeah, they are Donovan’s too.

Donovan was going to have this success at whichever university gave him the chance to be a head coach, that place just happened to be the University of Florida. Donovan was going to use whichever school gave him that opportunity as a platform to catapult himself to the NBA … and that’s also OK.

At the end of the day, Billy Donovan was, and still is, an elite recruiter. Players historically love playing for Donovan, and it’s easy to see why based on the success he has had.

This isn’t an indictment on the University of Florida or their program. It is, however, the catalyst to a conversation that needs to be had. Maybe, just maybe, we should temper expectations for the new head man in Gainesville and let him create his own legacy as opposed to expecting Donovan-esque success. It’s not pessimistic, it’s realistic.

All right, but who is Todd Golden?

Now that we’ve set the table for Todd Golden and the expectations for his tenure at the helm of the Florida basketball team, let’s dissect the fit.

First off, the biggest edge Golden brings to the fold in Gainesville is his ability to recruit internationally. The Gators, and the SEC as a whole for that matter, don’t see a plethora of top-tier international talent in their locker rooms. Golden’s connections to professional basketball overseas, especially in Israel, should play a massive role in attracting top foreign talent.

That professional experience will also likely bring a different brand of basketball to Exactech Arena. Golden is, by all accounts in the national media, very analytical and applies that to his coaching style.

Fans, alumni and the Rowdy Reptiles can expect a transition to a lot of three balls and a lot of pace. The new style is expected to be extremely different from the grind-it-out brand the Gators faithful has seen in recent memory.

Golden’s resume isn’t exactly lengthy, and once again, that’s probably OK. After his professional playing career ended in Israel, Golden joined Columbia University as an assistant before stopping in Auburn, Alabama under Bruce Pearl, and ultimately landing at the University of San Francisco. Golden spent two years as the Dons’ assistant before being selected for the head job in 2019.

Success came quickly in the Golden State, as the Dons finished 22-12 in Golden’s first season in the West Coast Conference. In 2022, after a rebuild due to departures in 2020, Golden led the San Francisco Dons to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. On the national stage, Golden and his Dons pushed the heavily favored Murray State Racers to overtime and fell just short of the second round.

If I’m looking for a key stop on Golden’s resume, it isn’t necessarily the head coaching pit stop in San Francisco. The most applicable experience came as an SEC assistant under Bruce Pearl, while Pearl was beginning to build a program out of nearly nothing at Auburn.

The experience of selling an average SEC program to elite talent looking to compete nationally is irreplaceable for Golden in his current situation, and he will be doing exactly that from the get-go.

Signs point to Golden having a successful career in Gainesville, but supporters must remember one thing: He’s not Billy Donovan, and that’s OK.