Billy Donovan Leaving Florida?


Yes, it is April Fool’s Day. But this topic is something that is never a joke to Gator fans. Billy Donovan could leave the Florida basketball program at any time, and this summer is as high a chance as ever of that happening. This would presumably be a permanent switch to the NBA, unlike the 2007 blink-of-an-eye agreement to coach the Orlando Magic.

Part of Donovan’s contract to return to the Gators, after he decided that the Magic were not the right move for him after all, was that he had to wait five seasons before being allowed by UF to coach in the NBA. That clause has come and gone, and the NBA is the only real competition to lure Billy D away from Gainesville.

Despite the fact that “football is king,” Florida has turned into a basketball perennial thanks to Donovan. He has been at the helm for 18 seasons and one of the biggest reasons for the Gators having two national championships and multiple Final Four, Elite Eight, and Sweet 16 appearances as they have had. There are few college programs that could entice Donovan to leave Florida and remain at the collegiate level. Programs such as Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky all have great coaches that seem to have those jobs as long as they want them.

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  • The NBA is a completely different story. Donovan left once and odds are he will do it again. He is just 49 years old, which is on the younger side of high-profile coaches. John Calipari is 56, Coach K is 68, Tom Izzo is 60, and Roy Williams is 64. Keep in mind that the NBA is not afraid of even younger coaches. The Magic hired Donovan when he was 42, and there are multiple head coaches in their 40’s.

    It is not like Billy Donovan is trying to win his first national championship. He did that back in 2006. He isn’t even trying to win his second, as he accomplished the rare back-to-back championship feat just a year later. Donovan has done all there is to do at the college level outside of a few things. First, he doesn’t have a court named after him, although that seems very possible in the near future. Second, he does not have a legacy for being with a program. Even though he has spent 18 years as head coach of the Gators, that may not even be half of his career if he coaches into his 70’s. There could be a new coach at Florida sooner rather than later, or there could be a legend that could be talked about next to the likes of Krzyzewski and Bobby Knight and so on.

    Billy Donovan the legend?

    Donovan just had his streak of four straight Elite 8 appearances snapped this season. It was a pitiful year by Florida standards. It would make sense for the head coach to give his first NBA stint another try. Ironically, this situation happened not all that long ago, just in a different sport. After success in the Tim Tebow era, Urban Meyer decided to take a leave of absence from the Gator football team – permanently. Whether it was for medical reasons or family reasons, or a way out to eventually get hired by Ohio State, Meyer left once he was unsuccessful.

    The comparison between Donovan and Meyer is a good one. Both won multiple national titles as a head coach at Florida. Both are relatively young coaches who had success early in their UF coaching careers. Meyer decided to leave after only six seasons. Donovan has been around three times as long albeit the Magic fling. Now would be very similar if Donovan left for good, using a down year as an easy out to see what his NBA future holds.

    There is obviously a challenge in the NBA that Donovan would like to take on. The professional game is completely different from the college ranks and takes a certain type of coach to be successful. I’m not sure what kind of coach that is, but there is a good chance Billy Donovan is that coach. If he has even a fraction of the success he has achieved at Florida, his NBA coaching career could become filled with playoff appearances, all-star players, and an NBA Finals appearance or two.

    OR… he could stay at the University of Florida and continue to be the most successful coach in UF basketball history and build upon his legacy. With a renovation to the O’Connell Center coming very soon, there will be even stronger recruiting opportunities to get the next wave of players under Donovan’s wing.

    He could become one of the rare coaches that retire at the end of a career without getting fired and unable to find a new job. He could be the one-school wonder who didn’t use his success to open up higher paying opportunities elsewhere.

    It takes trial and error to find the right head coach, and Florida has their guy right now. If Donovan were to leave, the Gators may or may not find the right replacement right away, but there is a possibility the program could fall back into the mediocre ranks. It is tough to replace someone as successful as Billy Donovan, but hopefully Jeremy Foley will not have to worry about that task.