It’s Official: Billy’s Staying At Florida

Billy Donovan isn’t going anywhere. The Florida basketball coach, who has been barraged with questions about the University of Kentucky’s coaching vacancy the last two weeks, is staying put. Donovan met with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley Thursday morning and decided that he will remain at Florida where he has won the last two NCAA championships.

“After finally having an opportunity to sit down with my family, and with Jeremy Foley, I’ve decided that I will remain at the University of Florida,” said Donovan in a statement released through Florida basketball sports information director Fred Demarest. “I have great respect for the University of Kentucky, its great history and tradition, and I had five wonderful years in Lexington. That being said, I’m very proud of what we’ve built here at the University of Florida and I look forward to continuing build on it.”

Donovan will speak further of his decision to remain at Florida at a 4 p.m. press conference that will also include juniors Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Taurean Green and Corey Brewer. The four Florida juniors are expected to announce their intentions regarding the upcoming NBA draft. Sources have told Gator Country that the four are expected to declare for the NBA.

Donovan’s announcement puts an end to two weeks of speculation that he will leave Florida for the vacated head coaching position at the University of Kentucky, where he was an assistant coach for four years under Rick Pitino. Donovan was the chief recruiter for Kentucky teams that sandwiched national championships in 1996 (Pitino coaching) and 1998 (Tubby Smith coaching) with a runner-up finish in the NCAA Tournament (1997).

When Smith announced that he was resigning from his position at Kentucky to take over as the head coach at the University of Minnesota two weeks ago, there was an immediate swirl of speculation that Donovan would be the ideal replacement. Some media outlets in Kentucky even reported that deals of seven and 10 years were already in place and that Donovan to Kentucky was simply a matter of Donovan signing on the dotted line immediately after the Florida Gators finished their NCAA Tournament.

Every time that he was asked about Kentucky, however, Donovan stated that he was completely focused on winning another national championship with the Gators and that he would address the Kentucky situation when the time was appropriate.

Bill Koss, a former Florida basketball player and long-time radio/television analyst for Gator broadcasts, said Thursday afternoon that Donovan’s handling of the situation was brilliant.

“This whole thing [Donovan leaving for Kentucky] was initiated by Kentucky people,” said Koss. “If you look at the big picture, though, you can see how Billy allowed that to become an asset. Here he was trying to get his team back to the national championship game and there was so much pressure for this team to repeat.

“By handling this the way he did, he removed the pressure from the kids as far as the media creating issues about the basketball team. Billy became the issue with the media and Billy continually deflected that and it kept the pressure off the kids. If you ask me, he handled things brilliantly.”

Ever since Monday night, when the Gators dismantled Ohio State to win their second straight NCAA championship, Donovan continued to deflect questions about the Kentucky job although he did say Wednesday night in Huntington, West Virginia that Kentucky is a job that he would “consider.”

“I really had two basic thoughts about it,” said Koss, a longtime friend of Donovan’s. “From Billy’s perspective, he is the total gentleman and under no circumstance would he disrespect the University of Kentucky. He wouldn’t just slam the door and say hell no before a job was ever offered or he was even contacted. To do that would be disrespectful.”

Koss said that Donovan has elevated Florida’s program to truly elite status and that while Kentucky and North Carolina are stories programs of the past, the program that sits on top of the college basketball world now is the University of Florida.

“After nine straight NCAA Tournaments and back to back championships, young people look at Florida as the premier basketball program in the country,” said Koss. “I know it’s hard for those of us who have been around basketball all our lives to forget that Kentucky is a big deal and North Carolina is a big deal, but right now, Florida may be the school that everybody would like to be like and that starts with Billy Donovan.

“You look at the way he coaches, the way he recruits, the loyalty he has, the trust he gives others … he is a prince of a guy and to me, he is the best coach in the country right now and someday people are going to be thinking of him as maybe the best that’s ever been. He’s made this a model of a program from the environment that he creates, to the way he hires the people who answer the phones, to the way he brings in trainers and motivational speakers and even to the managers and support people. He does it all the right way.”

Koss said that if he was an administrator at another school that’s looking for a basketball coach, he would follow the Donovan model at Florida.

“If a school was really serious about doing what Florida has done then they should consider the model for program building that Billy Donovan’s given us,” said Koss. “If they look at Florida it’s a completely different model and it shows with the assistants. You look at John Pelphrey, Anthony Grant, Donnie Jones, Larry Shyatt … those are tremendous coaches and tremendous people. You want some juice in your program? You want to replicate what Florida has done? Hire one of these guys and watch what happens. You look how Billy Donovan does it with his assistants … it’s a team approach, there’s camaraderie and there is always integrity.

“You see so many parents that are so upset with the coaches at other schools,” said Koss. “What the kid gets told in the recruiting process and what happens when he gets there are two different things yet when kids sign with us the experience gets better and better. When have you ever heard a parent of any kid that signed with Billy Donovan that said by golly we got screwed?”

Koss is hoping that Florida will make further commitments to the basketball program that include upgrading the O’Connell Center.

“You want to keep it [basketball arena] where it is and the same number of seats, fine, but make the place first class,” said Koss. “We need to be able to say this is our basketball building and it’s first class. People are paying increased fees for those seats. Give them something for it. I would like to see a commitment to Billy in terms of tangible assets like the upgrading of the facilities and like making the assistant coaches the highest paid assistants in America. I think we should do those things for the program. We should do those things for Billy Donovan because we have the best coach in America. He should be treated that way.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.