**UPDATE (11:16 p.m.): There are reports tonight that negotiations between Michael White and Tennessee are on very thin ice, if not broken off completely.**
It appears that one of two things will happen tomorrow:
1.) Michael White will be introduced as Tennessee’s next basketball coach.
2.) News will break that White has rejected the Vols, which would be just about as big a disaster for the UT Athletic Department as one could imagine.
According to numerous reports, Tennessee athletics director Dave Hart has identified the Louisiana Tech coach as his man. VolQuest.com’s Brent Hubbs reported that White met with UT reps on Thursday (that’s the day Hart was at the zoo with his grandkids, for what it’s worth), then met with Hart himself for several hours on Saturday.
Additional reports state that Tennessee has offered White, and that White is “mulling over” the Tennessee offer. Hubbs reported Easter afternoon that the hold-up was over buyout numbers. That would suggest that White wants a lesser financial penalty for leaving Tennessee prematurely than Hart is willing to offer. Considering that White is an Ole Miss alum and former assistant coach there, and current Reb head man Andy Kennedy is on relatively thin ice there, that isn’t necessarily surprising.
If White were to turn down Tennessee, it would be a PR disaster. It’s already been revealed by CBS Sports that at least one “A-list” candidate turned down the Vols because of UT’s talent-thin roster. That’s more a knock on Cuonzo Martin than on UT, but it does show that White isn’t UT’s first option. We can only speculate as to who that “A-list’er” was, but it stands to reason that it was someone like Xavier’s Chris Mack or Colorado’s Tad Boyle.
Frankly, no one could blame White if he did turn down Tennessee. He’s very much considered a rising star in the coaching industry, and moving up the coaching ladder is all about timing. Coaches have to recognize when they’ve peaked and when it’s time to win on. White has had back-to-back very successful seasons at Louisiana Tech, and has won 71% of his games overall in three seasons in Ruston, but he’s hardly peaked. He returns four of five starters next season and should win the conference and earn an NCAA tournament berth, which will increase his stock and open doors for potentially better jobs than the UT gig.
But perception is everything, and public perception if White spurns the Vols would be an unmitigated disaster.
On the other hand, if White agrees to Tennessee’s offer, Hart has likely found himself an excellent coach. No one can say for certain that White would be successful in the SEC, but he has all the intangibles. As a former player and assistant at Ole Miss, he knows the SEC inside and out. He’s won 71% of his games as a head coach. He was considered a standout recruiter in the South during his coaching days at Ole Miss. He won an award as the nation’s top assistant there, as well. And his father is the athletic director at Duke University, for whatever that is worth.
Many UT fans have prepared themselves for the possibility of White being unveiled as Tennessee’s coach by comparing him to Derek Dooley, since Dooley was also a head coach at Louisiana Tech. Sensible people, of course, recognize that the school doesn’t define a coach’s merit. Saying Mike White is the same as Derek Dooley because they both coached at Louisiana Tech is like saying Mike DuBose is the same as Nick Saban because they both coached at Alabama.
Fans who are opposed to White’s hire because he has not been to an NCAA tournament as a head coach have a more legitimate gripe, but White’s credentials are nonetheless solid. In fact, White would have a much better resume coming into the SEC than none other than Billy Donovan. When Donovan was hired by Florida in 1996, he had coached at mid-major Marshall for two seasons, winning 64% of his games but failing to make the postseason. Obviously, he has turned out to be an excellent coach. Likewise, White would have a better winning percentage coming in than former UT coach Bruce Pearl when the Vols hired him from Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Mike White is the anti-Cuonzo in just about every way imaginable. Martin preferred a conservative approach that focused on solid half-court defense. White runs an up-tempo approach that features a fun-to-watch pressing defense and relies on transition offense. Martin was bland in his approach to fans and the media. White’s press conferences are decidedly more upbeat. Martin was often criticized for fans for failing to plead his team’s case with officials in an effort to influence their calls. White . . . well:
White would be a good hire for Hart and the Vols. He isn’t, as they often say on the sports messageboards and talk shows, a “sexy” hire. His name isn’t Gregg Marshall or Shaka Smart. But, as I blogged last week, those guys weren’t coming to Knoxville.
Tennessee had a legitimate chance at top-tier coaches like Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and Xavier’s Chris Mack, but it was a long shot. A very long shot, in fact.
Behind those guys, Hart had (has; this search isn’t over, after all) two options: Go after a retread. Or go after an up-and-comer.
There were retreads who would have come to Tennessee. Former UCLA coach Ben Howland reportedly reached out to Tennessee, as did former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who is currently at Texas Tech. But there were issues with both. Howland had a ton of success early in his career, but lost control of his UCLA program towards the end of his career. Player discipline issues became a huge problem in Los Angeles. As for Smith, who was fired by Minnesota last season after failing to build the Gophers into a Big Ten championship contender, it’s pretty clear by now what his ceiling is . . . and it’s a ceiling that probably would not allow UT to annually compete for the SEC championship, which is the ultimate goal.
Once you move on down to the up-and-comers, there was (is) no better option than Mike White.
If White turns down Tennessee, it won’t be the end of the world . . . but it might sure feel like it.
If White and Hart come to terms, Tennessee will have upgraded its basketball coach and Martin will have done Tennessee a favor by leaving for Berkeley.
If White says ‘no’, Tennessee’s next option is probably Souther Miss’s Donnie Tyndall. Tyndall has won 65% of his games in two seasons at Southern Miss, twice reaching the NIT quarterfinals. Before that, he spent six seasons at Morehead State, where he won 58% of his games and twice made the NCAA tournament.
Tyndall would likely come to Tennessee, unless Missouri wants him, too.