Combine passion, pride, toughness, intensity, humor, wittiness, competitiveness, leadership and mix in a healthy dose of a swagger and you have Amanda Butler, who in 2012-13 enters her sixth year as head coach of the University of Florida women’s basketball team.
The 2011-12 squad was her fifth of five Gator teams to earn a postseason berth – the first time any of the previous eight coaches in program history has been able to do so. Butler also was the first-ever coach to guide Florida to a postseason berth in her inaugural season on the sideline.
Butler has already amassed 98 victories with the Orange & Blue, the most of any coach in program history through their respective first five seasons. Carol Ross (1990-2002) also tallied 97 wins through her first five years en route to becoming the winningest coach in Gator history with 247 victories in 12 seasons.
Butler also has made the O’Connell Center a tough venue for opponents, as her Gators have won 89.0 percent of their games against non-conference foes, posting a 40-5 home record during her five-year tenure.
Aside from the victories during her five years at Florida, Butler has guided 10 different Gators to 16 spots on the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll, six Gators to the Freshman Academic Honor Roll and one to the Capital One Academic All-District 4 Team. Additionally, three different Gators have been voted First Team All-SEC, with three on the SEC All-Freshman Team and one named the SEC 6th Woman of the Year.
Butler, who was the youngest of the SEC's 12 head coaches during her first four seasons (she was the second-youngest in 2011-12), turned 40 during the 2012 SEC Tournament and possesses 17 years of college coaching experience, including two as the head coach of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and now five completed with the Gators. Her teams have competed in the postseason every year.
In the 38-year history of the Florida women’s basketball program, the team has posted 20 wins 11 times, with Butler accounting for three of those, including the 20-victory campaign in 2011-12, as the squad reached the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time in school history and reached the second round where the Gators fell to the eventual national champion.
Significant individual award-winners during the 2011-12 season included Jennifer George, who was named a First Team All-Southeastern Conference performer, Deana Allen, who was voted by the league’s coaches as the Co-6th Woman of the Year, and Jordan Jones, who was named to the Capital One Academic All-District 4 Team. George also earned a spot on the 2012 WBCA Division I Coaches’ All-America Honorable Mention Team.
Her second 20-win season was compiled by an extremely young and inexperienced 2010-11 team that returned only two starters and listed one scarcely-used senior on its roster.
Every step along her career path to date has seemingly resulted in another record, milestone or accomplishment.
Take the 2008-09 season for example. The mere fact that Florida was even mentioned as a possible NCAA Tournament team by season’s end was remarkable when such an accomplishment seemed nearly impossible just two years prior to her arrival in Gainesville.
In fact, the 2008-09 season will go down as one of the most successful campaigns in program history.
In addition to tying the school record with 24 victories during the year, Florida marched into the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in history. In the team’s first trip to the round of 32 since 2004, the 2008-09 squad had its season close on the road at top-ranked and eventual NCAA champion Connecticut. Florida ended the year rated among the top-25 in both national polls for the first time since 2002.
Also during the 2008-09 season, the Gators compiled a program-record 15-game winning streak, as well as a record seven-game run against Southeastern Conference foes that helped UF finish tied for fourth in the 12-team league and earn a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament for the seventh time in the 30-year history of the event. The 2008-09 Gators found themselves in the top-10 of the Associated Press national poll, when the media tabbed UF No. 9 on Feb. 9, 2009, the team’s first top-10 showing since Feb. 12, 2001.
When Florida earned the No. 23 spot in the Dec. 8, 2008 Associated Press national poll, Butler joined an elite list of women. She became one of only 24 women in the history of NCAA Division I women’s basketball who had played for a team that was ranked in the AP Top-25 and later coached a team that earned a top-25 ranking. Even more rare was the fact the Butler played for and coached the SAME team that earned a top-25 ranking, becoming only the sixth woman ever to accomplish that feat.
Statistically, the 2008-09 Gators shattered the program record by hitting 221 three-pointers, breaking the old mark of 179 set the previous season.
The list of team records set or tied, as well as individual accomplishments is long, but in the end came as little surprise to a team that adopted the mantra of being “Bigger & Better” at the beginning of the 2008-09 year and then backed it up with unselfish play, inspiring coaching leadership and a belief that it could achieve.
In spite of losing to graduation two of the most statistically impressive players in program history, the 2009-10 Gators marched along and found a way to earn an appearance in their third consecutive postseason tournament.
The 2009-10 season marked the 11th time in Butler’s 15 years on the sidelines her team has competed in the postseason, including five NCAA Tournament appearances.
Florida has had eight different full-time women's basketball head coaches and Butler is the first to lead the Gators to a postseason berth in each of her first three years with the program.
During her initial three years at Florida, Butler compiled 58 wins, seven more than her college coach Carol Ross, whose 247 victories in 12 years are the most in UF program history.
Ross has called Butler the "toughest Gator ever to wear the Florida uniform." That grittiness and feistiness held true on the sideline in 2009-10, when she ruptured her left Achilles tendon on Oct. 24, 2009, as she was quarterbacking her then-undefeated flag football team in The Swamp Bowl, the name given to the playoff round of the on-campus league event.
In spite of the injury, Butler never missed a beat, attending the he Backcourt Club’s annual membership drive event and the team’s practice the next day. She underwent successful surgery on Oct. 26 and was back on the sideline Oct. 28. The next day, she volunteered her time at the Children’s Miracle Network Art Auction that featured all art created by the pediatric patients at Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
During Butler’s five-year tutelage in Gainesville, a Gator has been named First-Team All-SEC four times and awarded a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team three times, as well.
A total of six Gators earned a place on the 2009-10 SEC Academic Honor Roll, tying for the most of any other league team.
In four of the five years under Butler the Gators have finished higher in the final SEC regular-season standings than predicted during the preseason by both the coaches and media. Florida was tabbed to finish sixth in 2008-09. The Gators’ 9-5 league record tied with Tennessee for fourth place, the team’s highest finish since the 2003-04 squad also tied for fourth in the SEC race. The 2008-09 Gators earned a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament after holding the tiebreaker against the Lady Vols, whom they defeated during the regular season.
After inheriting virtually the same squad that won just nine games the previous year (2006-07), Butler and her staff produced the greatest one-year turnaround by a coach in their first year in program history, winning 19 games while facing 17 different teams that earned a postseason bid. Butler also became the program’s first head coach to guide Florida to a postseason berth in their debut year, as the squad competed in the WNIT, reaching the third round.
Florida shattered the 2007-08 preseason expectations of the SEC head coaches, who picked the Gators to finish 11th in the final standings. The Gators finished four places ahead of those predictions, posting a 6-8 record and tying for seventh in the mighty SEC that once again produced two of the Final Four teams, including the national champion.
After seeing first-hand Butler’s version of the Gators, Hall of Fame and SEC-veteran coach Van Chancellor praised, “I can remember when she (Coach Butler) played here (at UF) and she was gritty and tough and this team has exactly her personality. I think she’s done a great job.”
The transformation in the Gators' attitude began on April 13, 2007, when UF Athletics Director Jeremy Foley identified Butler, one of the nation's top young coaching talents as well as a former four-year starter and two-year assistant coach for Florida, as the ninth head coach in Gator women's basketball history.
Florida experienced immediate success on the court in 2007-08, as mentioned earlier, as well as off the court, as Butler promised it would. The Gators claimed the coveted UAA Life Skills Cup at the end of the academic year – and again in 2010-11 - after becoming the Florida athletic team that excelled most in the five areas of the CHAMPS Life Skills program. Teams earned points for participating in any Life Skills programming, including but not limited to: SAAC, Goodwill Gators (community outreach), workshops and presentations. The 2008-09 squad placed second in the final tally and third in 2009-10.
She returned to her alma mater, where she played for the Gators from 1990-94. Butler earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise and Sport Sciences with honors on May 6, 1995, and was awarded a Master of Exercise and Sport Sciences on Aug. 9, 1997.
During her two years as head coach at Charlotte, Butler compiled a 40-22 record that included two WNIT berths and a share of the 49ers first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season championship. Her debut season resulted in an overall record of 21-9, the most wins ever by a Charlotte coach in their first year, as Butler was recognized as the league’s Coach of the Year. The 2006-07 49ers posted a 19-13 overall mark, advancing to the WNIT second round before losing to Virginia, 74-72.
Butler joined the Charlotte staff on May 4, 2001, as an assistant under first-year head coach Katie Meier and helped the 49ers to a 16-13 record, the program's first winning season in eight years. In her second year as an assistant coach at Charlotte, the 49ers captured the 2003 Conference USA Regular-Season title and earned the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
She was promoted to Associate Head Coach the following season. When Meier departed one year later to take the head job at the University of Miami (Fla.), Butler became the logical choice to assume the 49ers head position.
Butler emerged as a proven recruiter, bringing to Charlotte four All-Atlantic 10 selections, four Conference USA All-Freshman team members and one All-Conference USA honoree.
She also embraced the local community, as 23 of the top 24 attendances for women's basketball at Charlotte came during Butler's five seasons with the 49ers.
Prior to her arrival in Charlotte, Butler spent four seasons (1997-2001) as an assistant coach at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, where then-head coach Susie Gardner hired her to take over the team's recruiting efforts. It didn't take long for Butler to make an impact.
One of Butler's recruits, Brooke Armistead, became the OVC Freshman of the Year in 2000 and closed her career as the 2003 OVC Player of the Year, as well as a Second-Team Verizon Academic All-American. Also under Butler's keen eye for talent, Austin Peay became the first OVC school to land back-to-back league Freshmen of the Year recipients, with Armistead in 2000 followed the next season by Gerlonda Hardin, who emerged as the league's 2004 Player of the Year and collected Third-Team Academic All-America honors. Armistead became the school’s all-time leading scorer and the first player in APSU history to be drafted by the WNBA.
Her final season working under Gardner resulted in the Lady Govs’ winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament for just the second time in program history and making their second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, joining the 1996 APSU team in the "Big Dance" and sparking a run of four consecutive NCAA appearances for the program.
"Even though we are from the same hometown, I never really met Amanda until she became my assistant coach at Austin Peay," shared Gardner, who Butler hired as an assistant coach at Florida during her first three years in Gainesville. "Before Amanda joined the staff, we weren't really winning. Amanda brought in the great players who helped us turn the corner and become a consistent NCAA Tournament team. Even though she was a young assistant, watching the way she managed the game and the way she interacted with people, I knew that Amanda was special and that one day soon she would be a head coach."
Given her talents as a collegiate coach, it comes as no surprise that Butler has played a role in some of the most successful seasons in Florida history. Upon graduation, then-Florida coach Ross hired Butler as the Gators' assistant coach. That 1995-96 squad compiled a 21-9 record and earned a berth into the NCAAs. The following season, the Gators won a program-record 24 games and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Old Dominion, 53-51.
Florida enjoyed two of its best finishes in the SEC Tournament during Butler’s time as an assistant, with the Gators advancing to the semifinals for the first time in program history during the 1996 campaign and followed it with the team’s first – and still only – appearance in the championship game.
On the court, the 5-foot-8 guard immediately took charge of the team from her first day at Florida, also the rookie season for Ross as head coach, as Butler started 99 of the 114 games she played during her career. During her junior and senior seasons, she led the Gators to the first two NCAA Tournament appearances in program history that began a run of seven consecutive trips to the "Big Dance."
Butler, who was a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and was voted a finalist on the CoSIDA Academic All-America District Team, completed her Gator career ranked second on the program’s all-time assists list with 401, while ranking among top-three for career three-pointers made (77) and attempted (278). The team captain during her senior season, Butler helped the Gators compile 73 victories during her tenure, the best four-year total in school history at that time, and to 21 SEC wins, also the most during a four-year span.
A native of Mt. Juliet, Tenn., Butler enjoyed a stellar prep career at Mt. Juliet High School, where she tallied over 1,400 points and received All-Mid-State honors and All-District honors for three straight years, including first-team recognition in 1989 and 1990. Butler, who graduated in the top 10 percent of her senior class, is the daughter of Stephen and Barbara Butler.