Cameron Newbauer, the new head coach of the Florida women's basketball team, gestures during a news conference Tuesday at the UF Women's Club.
Dooley: Newbauer takes his turn at toughest job at Florida
They sat at The Southern, a popular steak and oyster restaurant in downtown Nashville, dining on Sarah Newbauer's special dinner Monday night.
At that point, with minds whirling, they were numb.
At least Cam Newbauer's taste buds were.
“He said he couldn't taste his food,” Sarah said of her husband. “We don't even remember what we had.”
Cameron Newbauer had just been offered and accepted the job as the 10th women's basketball coach at the University of Florida. The Newbauer family, which includes two small children, was about to get a major upgrade in lifestyle — a five-year, $2.5 million deal at one of the nation's top athletic programs.
How's that for a birthday present?
“The best,” Sarah said.
On Tuesday, Newbauer was introduced at UF but he already knows Gainesville. As an assistant both for the Georgia men and women, he used to jog through campus. He watched the bats fly out of their home and the alligators feed at dusk.
He'd run past the fraternities and sororities and marvel at the university and the city around it. He'd leave each time impressed at the atmosphere for the men's games in the O-Dome.
Now it's his job to get it going for the women.
“I can't tell anybody for a second why this is the only sport that hasn't won an SEC championship,” he said. “I'm here today to live in the present and the future.”
One thing we know for sure, Newbauer's tenure at Florida will be emotional. He showed that Tuesday, barely getting a minute into his introductory news conference before pausing to choke back tears when he talked about Belmont, his previous school.
He wasn't as lucky when he was asked about his high school coach.
Let's put it this way — Florida's new coach doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, he wears them on his entire suit.
“I'm emotional and passionate,” he said.
To which Gator fans replied, “Whatever. Can you win?”
His is not an easy job. The SEC is women's basketball's best conference and there are established coaches with proven track records and recruiting inroads already established.
The 38-year-old Newbauer knows what he is getting into, but he is buying into the Florida brand. The trouble is, that brand hasn't necessarily translated to women's hoops.
Wins and fans have been difficult to come by. Even when Carol Ross used to have Florida as a regular NCAA Tournament team, she complained about the lack of fannies in the seats.
Then came Carolyn Peck, who was a home run hire that hooked foul. Amanda Butler came in here with all of the spitfire and love for the university you could ask for, but struggled to keep personnel on the court and couldn't give Florida any consistency.
“For whatever reason, we haven't been able to build momentum,” said Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin.
He believes he has found the man who can do that in Newbauer.
The timeline of the hiring of the new coach started last March when Stricklin was still the AD at Mississippi State. Starkville, Miss., was hosting a regional and he marveled at how well Belmont was hanging with Michigan State.
So he snuck into the back corner of the news conference after the game and watched to see how Newbauer handled himself.
Thoroughly impressed, Stricklin took the information, put it in aluminum foil and put it in his brain's freezer to be thawed out another day.
That came earlier this month when Butler was let go and Belmont was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. He called Newbauer on the Saturday morning of Florida's Round of 32 win over Virginia in Orlando.
“My jaw dropped,” Newbauer said.
He interviewed in Gainesville just before Stricklin left for New York. On Monday, the Florida athletic director made up his mind.
And now, Newbauer inherits what I think is the toughest head coaching job on campus. Whether it's the chicken (not winning enough) or the egg (so nobody cares), this community is generally apathetic to women's basketball.
Newbauer thinks he can change that. Here's a guy who was spotted in the stands when he was at Belmont talking to fans 30 minutes before an NCAA Tournament game.
“The hay was in the barn,” he said. “We've done our job. Let's get the fans excited.”
Let's see if he can get these fans excited.
Now that would be jaw-dropping.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
From Newbauer's press conference
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