As the Gators edge closer to taking the court for the NCAA Championship Game much of the media remains pre-occupied with the longing Kentucky has for Gator Head Coach Billy Donovan. That’s understandable. The Wildcats are second only to UCLA for NCAA Titles and the Wildcats in every other way rank as the top program in all of college basketball.
Note I use the word “program”. Florida has passed Kentucky as a basketball team, but until the Gators post more titles, pack a 23,000-seat arena and sell out their allotment at every game away from the home there’s still a gap between the Gators and Wildcats.
When Tubby Smith stepped away from the unforgiving and unrealistic maniacal following that is Kentucky basketball the focus immediately shifted to Donovan, a one-time Kentucky assistant and the top coach in the business right now. Billy, no longer “Billy the Kid” brushed off talk about him and Kentucky as something that didn’t involve him. It was the kind of answer that kept Kentucky hopeful and the media focus intensified.
Many in Gator Nation would like for the Gator coach to boldly and decisively pledge his future to Gainesville and put an end to all such talk. But he didn’t do that. And there are two very good reasons why his decision to not discuss it at all was the right thing to do.
Keeping the Faith
Much has been said and written about Billy’s strong faith in God and his commitment to help build a Catholic High School in Gainesville. But that’s not the faith I am referring to. No, by not discussing his future while the Gators were engaged in an NCAA Tournament run Billy Donovan was keeping faith with his players.
How many times in the last six months have we heard the commercial with Donovan imploring his players to want the game (last year’s NCAA Final) to last all night long. “It’s not about the past, and it’s not about the future. It’s about right now”, Donovan told his players. Coaching is a lot like parenting and from my experience, “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t cut it. Donovan would be breaking faith with his players if he engaged in ANY discussion about future plans while the tournament run was doing on. Even a strong statement of commitment to UF would be contrary to his own directive and would undermine his credibility with his kids.
How many times in the nineties did Steve Spurrier turn the buildup for a big game into a referendum on something he said or did? Part of that was Spurrier’s natural desire to be charming on one hand while tweaking the opposition with the other. But the other part was to make him the target of other fans’ venom. While there hasn’t been any venom for the Gator players (other than Joakim Noah), Donovan’s status has certainly taken as good measure of the focus off the Florida players.
We don’t know what Billy has said to his players behind close doors, and believe me everyone has tried to find out. We do know that Billy Donovan’s status has not distracted the Gators from the task at hand.
And if the cost of that is some angst among Gator partisans it’s a price you should all be willing to pay.