Story courtesy Scott Carter, Senior Writer, FloridaGators.com
When the clock runs out on a head coach, there is certain to be reaction. Words, pictures, and soundbites, all woven together to form the final verdict on a career or latest stop on a coaching journey.
Amanda Kay Butler turned 45 on Monday, so it seems likely there will be more sideline zeal from her. That passion for the game and her team was evident for everyone to hear right to the end of Butler’s 10-year run as head coach at her alma mater.
If you happened to watch Florida’s season-ending loss to Texas A&M on Thursday in the SEC Tournament, the game was well out of reach in the final minutes at a quiet arena in Greenville, S.C. Still, that Southern drawl from Mount Juliet, Tenn., pierced the building and burst from the TV screen.
If this was more than just the end of another season, Butler wasn’t going quietly.
Afterward, an emotional Butler and players Ronni Williams and Delicia Washington tried to remain composed at the postgame press conference.
As I said, they tried.
“Things didn’t go exactly the way we thought they would,” said Butler, pushing back tears.
In the end, the same can be said of the likeable Butler’s decade-long tenure as Florida’s coach, which officially came to a close Monday. Former UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley hired Butler in April 2007 to rebuild the Gators’ women’s basketball program.
Florida’s athletic department was in the midst of an amazing run of success at the time. Billy Donovan’s team had just won the second of back-to-back national titles. Urban Meyer’s Gators had won the football program’s second national title only three months earlier with a knockout of Ohio State and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.
Anything seemed possible, even Florida’s first Southeastern Conference title in women’s basketball.
The Butler era opened strong as she turned around the final team under Carolyn Peck, which finished with a program-worst 9-22 record. The Gators finished 19-14 and earned a trip to the WNIT her first season. In the second year, the Gators finished 24-8, upset perennial SEC power and defending national champion Tennessee in front of more than 8,000 fans at the O’Connell Center, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Anything really did seem possible.
In retrospect, Butler’s second season was as good as it got for the former UF point guard who helped lead the Gators to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history in 1993. She exits with a record of 190-137 (.581 win percentage) and 71-85 (.455) in the SEC, including four berths to the NCAA Tournament and three first-round victories.
On the day she was hired, it was clear what the opportunity meant for Butler, who after finishing her playing career, served as an assistant for two seasons at UF under Carol Ross. She was a coach on the rise, leading UNC-Charlotte to a 40-22 record and back-to-back postseason berths as a first-time head coach.
“This is a very emotional day for me because returning to the University of Florida is a dream come true,” Butler said. “Florida is such a respected place, athletically and academically, and we will work hard on the court, in the classroom and in the Gainesville community and make the Gator Nation proud.”
Butler accomplished much of her mission at UF, but not enough on the court to make the Gators one of the top programs in the conference. She led Florida to eight postseason berths in 10 seasons, but only four to the Big Dance, and just once in her final three seasons.
The program’s biggest hurdle in recent years was defections. Two of the best players Butler signed at Florida – forward Sydney Moss and guard Eleanna Christinaki – left the program.
The loss of Christinaki early this season proved to be costly, especially for a team that opened the season in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in 15 years and climbed as high as No. 16 before crashing. The Gators walked off the court Thursday at 15-16 and ineligible for postseason play.
Between postgame tears, Butler made sure she got a message across about her final Gators team.
“Our record did not demonstrate the success we experienced this season,” she said. “In a way, that’s hard to know unless you were in our locker room. But I’m very proud of them.”
Butler came home 10 years ago, fresh hope for a program that needed it. She delivered along the way, but Florida’s recent dip proved too much for even her feisty spirit to overcome.
New Gators Athletic Director Scott Stricklin has recent experience at hiring a successful coach to build a winning program. At Mississippi State, Stricklin hired Vic Schaefer in 2012 and in his five seasons, Schaefer has the Bulldogs headed back to the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season. The Bulldogs were 8-22 in the SEC the two seasons prior to Schaefer’s arrival.
The 2015 SEC Coach of the Year, Schaefer is equally adept at X’s and O’s and serving as the program’s top pitchman, which late Tennessee coach Pat Summit proved is a must to sustain long-term fan interest in seasons the championship banners don’t arrive.
Butler gave the best she had and created some great memories for Gator fans the past decade. She deserves to be recognized for her excitement and zest about the Gators. While she is no longer the face of the program, she will always look good in orange and blue as one the most passionate players and coaches to step foot on campus.
If you ever need a reminder, listen to those final few minutes in Butler’s final game. She comes through loud and clear.Tagged with: Amanda Butler Florida SEC