The evidence of Billy Donovan’s increasing age is certainly visible.
Although he once upon a time sported the youngest mug in the SEC, the now-47 year-old coach’s face is a little more deeply lined than before.
A patch of gray, accrued from 17 years of recruiting wars and on-court battles with the SEC’s best, has settled in permanently on the corner of the Florida coach’s hair, officially signaling that “Billy the Kid” has morphed into a hardened veteran.
While Father Time has undoubtedly caught up to the SEC’s longest-tenured head coach — who, at 47 is still relatively young — Donovan has managed to forge together one of the league’s best-ever runs for a head man in his nearly two decades in Gainesville.
Stepping back into the present, should the No. 10 Gators defeat Texas A&M on Thursday, on Saturday — amid the obvious task of notching another conference victory over a top-25 opponent in Missouri — Donovan will also be gunning for his 400th victory in front of a sellout O’Connell Center crowd as announced on Monday.
That’s right, No. 400.
For the older generation of Florida basketball fans who can vividly remember the day Donovan first stepped to the podium, the fact that he is already arriving at such a significant milestone may be surreal.
Fans assuredly have their own particular favorite moments during Donovan’s tenure, be it a national championship or a memorable game, but for Donovan himself, he’s taking away something entirely different from his incredible run.
“Well obviously, being here a long time, that stands out,” Donovan said on Monday. “But I think for me, what I would reflect back on is that I’ve been really fortunate to coach a lot of really good players.”
Donovan rattled off a litany of former and even current players on Monday, reciting such recognizable names as Jason Williams, Mike Miller, Anthony Roberson, Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Patric Young to name a few — as examples of players which have helped bring the Florida program success.
“To obviously be able to stay at one place this long, I think in today’s day and age is very, very difficult to do,” Donovan said. “But I think those things from a coaching perspective, any accomplishments or win number, anything else, I always feel like that stuff is a total reflection of the guys you’re coaching.”
Although Donovan’s Florida career hasn’t been without a hitch or two — there was that whole taking the Orlando Magic job thing — the fact remains that he has ultimately guided Florida to its most successful period of basketball in school history.
However, Donovan refuses to take credit for putting Florida on the map. Rather, he believes he has only helped to reach the goal he set when he arrived in Gainesville — to build off of what was already a solid foundation.
“I said this when I first got here, is that I think there’s been — in this program’s history — there’s been a lot of different pockets of some really, really good success,” Donovan said.
“Whether it was Norm Sloan winning the first-ever SEC championship and going to the Sweet 16, or whether it was Lon’s [Kruger] team going all the way to the Final Four, there’s been individual pockets of success inside the program, and I think the one thing that I felt like I wanted to try to be a part of and to work towards was to try to build a level of consistency for a long period of time.”
Donovan has certainly done his part in Gainesville; bringing the program it’s first-ever championship in 2006, and following it up with another in 2007. While a championship or two doesn’t officially make a program a stable force (See: Auburn Football), Donovan has certainly built a program which is yearly looked to be one of the conference’s best.
“That’s the thing that I think is really challenging and hard is year in, year out trying to maintain a level of consistency,” Donovan said. “I think that’s what we’ve tried to do since I’ve been here and it takes a lot of work to be able to do that.”
The never-ending work towards consistency is currently being manned by Donovan’s current crop of players. The 12-2 Gators are battling a number of injuries along with a wretched schedule of travel and strong competition.
However, the team is definitely excited to possibly be a part of such a big moment.
“I think it’s always pretty cool when you get to be a part of winning,” said junior center Patric Young. “Very happy for him, I hope he has the greatest career ever and breaks all the records.”