As I prepare to trundle off to the South for a well-earned respite, I can't resist commenting on Billy Donovan's decision to leave Florida and take on the Orlando Magic. There is just way too much "there" there.
First off, I believe that as a career move, this is simply the best thing the Billy Donovan could have done. It isn't just about the money, clearly. Oh,sure, he couldn't have squeezed 5.5 million oranges out of Florida, even with the Gators' notoriously deep pockets. But history tells us nothing if not that college coaches who go for stints in the NBA always come back with enhanced reputations that makes recruiting during the second go-round in the college ranks much easier.
Plus, Billy Donovan is not moving from a successful college stint to an NBA rebuilding project. He inherits a sound playoff team in the Magic with great young talent, and now a great young coach. Next year will be the most exciting in Orlando since Shaq Diesel arrived on the scene.
Unlike his famous mentor Traitor Rick, Donovan has played in the NBA and knows something about the player culture there. He has loads of experience, both from personal acquaintance and others close to him, in dealing with NBA players and franchises -- remember, there are two NBA teams in Florida, and he no doubt knows them both well. And as a small aside, we can now say for certain (as if we couldn't before) that "I am focused on [insert current job here]" does not equal "I'm not leaving".
So what is Donovan giving up? Well, obviously he
is was beloved at Florida, and had as good a situation there as any coach in the country. He could have had as much as 3.5 million/year to coach there by my admittedly out-of-the-know estimate, and had a choice between two paths -- that of Coach K and that of Rick Pitino. Never has the old adage "The Apple doesn't fall far from the tree" rung truer. But that is about all. Donovan doesn't even have to give up his family home to coach in Orlando -- NetJets, anyone?
I know I won't have too much company in this, but my heart goes out to the Florida fans. I still remember the halcyon days of the late 1990's, when Kentucky had reclaimed it's rightful place as the ultimate basketball destination in college, only to have Rick Pitino's cheatin' heart totally harsh my mellow, and that of the entire Big Blue Nation. Even though I was sick to death of Pitino's constant weasel-words about the NBA, it was watershed moment for Kentucky basketball.
And it is so for Florida as well. To the Gator fans out there, remember this -- while many UK fans will give you a hard time about Donovan's leaving, deep down we all know just how you feel, and I personally wouldn't wish that on anybody. It sucks to lose a great coach, and no amount of rationalizing can make it better. Sugar-coating it isn't courageous either, because Florida basketball will almost surely suffer from the loss of Donovan, just as UK suffered from the loss of Rick Pitino. Oh, we got over it, and you will too, but you will never forget this day.
The loss of a coach to the pros is something like the loss of innocence we have when someone we idolize proves himself human by doing something that hurts us. It takes a joyful, carefree fan and replaces him with a cynic who will never look at the game quite the same way again. Rick Pitino crushed the Big Blue heart, and now you know exactly how that feels.
I have no doubt that Florida will land on its feet, but the manner and timing of Donovan's leaving will make the Gator's coaching search much more difficult. Most of the name brand coaches already have found a home or have signed a new contract. But I'm sure someone will be found. I understand that Brian Hill is available ...
Good luck to Billy Donovan and to Florida. I will be watching the ensuing days with interest, but from a somewhat sunnier and more ... engaging location. JL will be more active in my absence, and the blog will no doubt be the better for that.