ST. LOUIS, MO — All right now Florida fans, take a deep breath and back away from the ledge. Everything is going to be okay. No need to do something drastic here because Billy Donovan is not going to leave you. Maybe he hasn’t said a flat out no, he’s not going to Kentucky, but don’t read anything into that. He’s not going to take the Kentucky job for a variety of reasons.
I know what you’re going through and I understand the angst. You’re hearing all those rumors — emphasis here on RUMOR — that Billy’s a done deal to Kentucky now that Tubby Smith has thumbed his nose up at the Big Blue Nation. You’re hearing that the deal is already done and that as soon as Billy hoists that second straight NCAA championship trophy over his head a week from Monday in Atlanta, he’s Lexington-bound.
I know that’s what you’re hearing, only don’t believe it for a second no matter who on the Kentucky message board says he has a friend who has a cousin that is next door neighbors to someone who parks in the same on-campus garage with an athletic department secretary who says her boss’s best friend in the office says that Billy’s agent and Kentucky have already agreed on a seven-year contract that will make him the richest college basketball coach in history. Don’t believe it because first and foremost, there isn’t a lick of truth to it.
Now, I know that some of you wish Billy had said NO when he was asked about the Kentucky job but how can you say NO when nobody has offered you anything? There has been NO offer to Billy. There has been NO contact with Billy’s agent. There has been no attempt by Kentucky to ask Jeremy Foley’s permission to talk to Billy, either. I can assure you, Kentucky’s athletic department is run by some classy people and they would not try to make a deal with Billy or with Billy’s agent without first talking to Jeremy Foley.
So, there’s no deal in place and there’s not going to be. I’ll tell you why it just isn’t going to happen.
Let’s start with the basics here. I’m going to make it simple so that lurkers from a certain school three hours north of Knoxville can understand. I think most of them know already, but there is that hard core group that still hasn’t come to grips with the fact that not only did Adolph Rupp die almost 30 years ago, but it’s been almost 50 years since he last won an NCAA basketball championship.
Kentucky and Rupp are almost like Alabama and Bear. They assumed room temperature long, long ago and yet the diehards in both states won’t let them die. At Kentucky, nobody’s a good basketball coach until they can match Rupp’s four NCAA titles. At Alabama, nobody’s a good coach until somebody wins six national titles like Bear Bryant did. Of course, nobody’s ever won four at Kentucky except Rupp. Bear croaked 25 years ago and there’s only been one national title at Alabama since then.
Billy Donovan understands just how hard it is to win a national championship. He’s got one at Florida and he might get his second one in about nine days. If he did that at Kentucky, they would be praising him and loving on him like you can’t believe, but after the euphoria wore off someone would mention the fact that a championship is good but Rupp won four. Instantly, Billy would be just another Kentucky coach that won a couple of championships. Good, but not as good as Rupp.
Joe B. won one. So did Rick Pitino. Tubby got one, too.
Those are three great basketball coaches yet for all their hard work and all their success, the fact they only got one championship each — the fact that their combined total of championships doesn’t equal what Rupp did — only makes them pretty good coaches but not great in the eyes of the Big Blue Nation. Oh, they appreciate the championships all right, but at Kentucky, you’re held to the higher standard of unrealistic expectations and that means anything and everything you do is compared to a man that last coached a basketball game in 1972.
At Florida, Billy Donovan is his own legacy. He’s already the winningest coach in Florida history (258 wins and counting) and he has nine straight 20-win or more seasons, two straight 30-win or more seasons, three SEC championships, three straight SEC Tournament championships, nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances, two regional championships, two trips to the Final Four, two trips to the championship game and one NCAA championship.
All this and he’s only 41 years old.
If he went to Kentucky, no matter what he did, he would always be compared to someone else. He would be compared to Rupp (four titles), Pitino (one title, one runner-up, three trips to the Final Four in eight years), Joe B. Hall (NCAA title and a runner-up in his first seven years) and Tubby (NCAA title in his first year).
If he stays at Florida — and he will — there is no one to compare him to. Billy Donovan IS Florida basketball. He didn’t invent it. He didn’t do the blood, sweat and tears thing that other coaches did. He also didn’t leave Florida one year after making it to the Final Four because “you can’t get good players to come to Florida.” Instead, he sets a new standard every time he steps a foot on the floor.
That’s a good enough reason right there for him to stay at Florida but there are a couple of other compelling reasons.
Let’s start with Tubby.
Rick Pitino is almost like a second dad to Billy. Tubby is like his big brother. When Billy came to Kentucky as a graduate assistant under Pitino, Tubby was the one that showed him the ropes. Tubby is the one that Billy says really taught him what it’s like to be a coach. Billy and his family are close to Tubby and his family. It is a deep friendship that is going to stay that way.
It is a friendship that is not going to be spoiled by Billy Donovan going to the place that pretty much made life miserable for his best friend — a friend, I might add, that averaged 26 wins a season in ten years. Do you really think that Billy would step take the Kentucky job after the way the folks up there treated Tubby?
And, for lurking Big Blue fans — I love you guys and think your history and traditions are marvelous — but don’t think for a second that what you folks did to Tubby Smith wasn’t borderline insane. He deserved better and you know it.
Next reason is Christine, the kids and Bill Sr.
All of them are happy as clams in Gainesville. They like Gainesville, the weather, their friends, and the kids love the schools. Christine and Billy have helped raise millions of dollars to make St. Francis Catholic High School a reality and Bill III is going to be one hot basketball player there the next three years. Bill Sr. loves teeing it up on a January morning at Haile Plantation and letting his friends up in New York know that it’s a beautiful 70-degree winter day in Gainesville. I can tell you from time spent with Billy this past summer in Augusta, GA that he’s happy in Gainesville and his family is very happy in Gainesville and that means more to him than I could begin to tell you.
The last reason I’m going to give you is Jeremy Foley.
Now, Jeremy would never tell Billy he can’t go someplace else. That’s not his style at all. But, Billy isn’t about to turn his back on the man that gave him this great chance to build a basketball program in his own image. Jeremy Foley hired Billy and he’s given him whatever resources he needs to succeed. They’re so in tune with each other that most of the time Billy doesn’t even have to ask. Jeremy senses what Billy needs and gets it for him before he even has to verbalize it.
You don’t walk away from a relationship like that. Mitch Barnhardt at Kentucky might be the nicest guy in the world, but he doesn’t have a history with Billy Donovan. Mitch may be a great guy and the Kentucky boosters may have deep pockets, but with Jeremy Foley, Billy’s got a proven, known commodity and the Florida boosters have deeper pockets than their counterparts in the Big Blue Nation.
Don’t think for a second that Billy isn’t grateful for all Foley’s done to help him be the best he can be. Don’t think for a second that Billy doesn’t feel a deep sense of loyalty to Jeremy Foley.
And don’t think for a second that Billy’s going anywhere. He’s staying in Gainesville and he will be coaching at Florida for a long time. So back off the ledge folks. Take a deep breath. Everything’s going to be okay.