‘I want those expectations’: Florida’s new hoops coach ready for challenges

Todd Golden, 36, introduced as Gators’ new leader

Head coach Todd Golden of the San Francisco Dons reacts during the first half against the Murray State Racers in the first round game of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on March 17, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) (Dylan Buell, 2022 Getty Images)

Some coaches run from them. Todd Golden welcomes them.

The new University of Florida men’s basketball coach didn’t back down from the lofty challenges ahead of him in Gainesville, saying at his introductory press conference on Wednesday that he’s embracing them.

“I want those expectations,” said Golden, 36, who arrives at Florida after three seasons at San Francisco. “We’re going to do everything we can to get there.”

That passion is no doubt what Florida fans want to hear after the constant hot seat and emotional churn of the Mike White era.

That ended on March 13 when he left Florida for rival Georgia in a stunning exit. The Bulldogs were coming off a 6-26 season and have seldom been in the conversation as an elite SEC team.

White’s exit was no doubt tied to how he felt in Gainesville. The buzz around his departure was that it was too toxic of a place for him to continue, with sky-high expectations that weren’t realistic.

“Coach White leaving, it didn’t mean anything to me, to be honest, and I don’t know what he was going through or what led him to that, but it didn’t change the way I felt about this place at all,” Golden said.

“Honestly, at a place like this they should have high expectations. Like I mentioned, there’s everything you need here to be really, really good, and if they didn’t have those championship aspirations and expectations, if Scott didn’t want to do that, that would concern me.”

It was always going to be a challenge for White, who replaced the beloved Billy Donovan. White was the SEC Coach of the Year in his second season after going 27-9 and reaching the Elite Eight. While his tenure was filled with good seasons, it wasn’t good enough to keep the fanbase off his back.

Golden said that he spoke with Donovan last Saturday and that the conversation gave him “goose bumps the whole time.” Now is the opportunity to get Florida back among the elite and it will start with mining the transfer portal and recruiting.

Golden led San Francisco to the NCAA tournament, the school’s first since 1998, before it fell to Murray State (92-87) in an overtime thriller. He was 57-36 in his span there. Golden spent two seasons on Bruce Pearl’s staff at Auburn from 2014-16. He’s heavily invested into analytics and basketball data, saying that if he didn’t study them and believe in them when he played at St. Mary’s, his path would have been much different.

“To be honest, if it weren’t for that foundation and that system at Saint Mary’s, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have played as much as I did. It gave me an opportunity to break in the rotation as a walk-on. I saw what it did for me and the opportunities that it provided me, and thought that it would be silly if I didn’t take advantage of that as a coach.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.