It all started when Lon Kruger decided to leave Florida for Illinois in the spring of 1996. Just two years after guiding the Gators to the Final Four, Kruger had a team with limited talent and a fan base that had not grown as much as anticipated after the tremendous accomplishments of the ’94 squad.
I made my list of coaches I thought the Gators should pursue, including established guys like Mike Jarvis of George Washington and Tim Floyd at Iowa State. I also had two key up-and-comers on the list both of whom were underlings to great coaches. Tommy Amaker was the top assistant at Duke and Billy Donovan had just finished two years as head coach at Marshall after working under Rick Pitino for several years.
Frankly, Jarvis was my first choice, but I was pretty excited when a former student employee of mine called from Marshall to ask me to tell Foley to “keep his stinking hands off my basketball coach.”
Donovan arrived in Gainesville the next day and the rest has simply been mind boggling. “Billy the Kid” ignored the negative opinions of his mentor and others and decided to try to build something special at a place where only pockets of success had been enjoyed. I’d say mission accomplished.
236 is Quite a Number
Wednesday night Donovan’s 11-year stint in Gainesville reached another level when he coached the Gators to a win over Stetson for his 236th win in the Orange and Blue. It will make him Florida’s All-time leader in coaching victories, breaking a tie with Norm Sloan. What’s truly amazing is that Donovan is going to reach this milestone with just 100 losses at UF, that’s 94 fewer setbacks than Sloan endured while coaching the Gators.
The number 236 will go alongside some other pretty amazing numbers that Donovan has accumulated while raising the Gators to the top level of basketball programs in the country.
8 —– Consecutive NCAA tournament bids. The Gators had a total of five prior to his arrival. Also the number of 20-win seasons in a row after Florida had just five of those in all previous seasons combined.
2 —– Trips to the Final Four after just one (’94) in UF history. Also the number of SEC Tournaments the Gators have won… the only times UF has won the conference tournament.
.701 —– Career winning percentage at UF. The next best for a Gator coach who lasted more than one year is Kruger’s .565.
4 —– First round picks in the NBA draft. That doesn’t include Gator recruit Kwame Brown since he never played at UF. The Gators had only two first round picks prior to Donovan’s arrival. That number is sure to go up soon.
16 —– NCAA Tournament wins in the last eight years. Florida had a total of seven NCAA wins before Donovan took over.
9 —– McDonald’s All Americans recruited by Donovan to play for the Gators. Only three such prep stars had joined the Gators before. Look for Nick Calathes to become the tenth.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Billy Donovan has done arguably the best coaching job in college basketball over the last decade. Raising a program to a level it had never reached before is an incredible accomplishment. So stand and cheer a little longer once the Stetson game is over… he’s earned it.