Billy, Billy, Billy. Cold feet? Second thoughts? That is so unlike you.
We understand leaving the University of Florida, the place Donovan returned to the college basketball map and the place that raised national championship banners in consecutive years thanks to all his hard work, had to be a difficult decision. But once he signed that five-year, $27.5 million contract to coach the Orlando Magic on Friday, the deal should have been done.
We can understand Donovan waking up Saturday morning in Gainesville, sitting up in bed, pinching himself and wondering, “What have I done?” Any big decision, especially changing jobs, comes with a degree of trepidation — although $27.5 million would likely clear up that uncertainty for most people.
Any college coach walking away from his players and recruits should get a little emotional. Donovan wouldn’t be human if he felt nothing after 11 years of molding the Gators and turning the program into a national contender. It’s all right if the past tugs on the heartstrings for a few days.
But the mess Donovan has created by backing away from the Magic and crawling back to the Gators is beyond embarrassing. The way it has played out has been extremely unfair to everyone touched by the process. And Donovan’s credibility has been seriously damaged.
Now the whole affair is in the hands of attorneys and Donovan’s agent. We are left to assume that something will be worked out so Donovan won’t be forced to coach the Magic, he can return to the Gators, and the sun will come out again in Florida next basketball season. But right now, you’ve got to wonder how this will wash out. Will all be forgotten and forgiven?
No doubt Florida fans will welcome back Donovan with open arms. But Mickey and Minnie probably won’t be inviting Billy and his family back to the Magic Kingdom for quite some time. And if Donovan feels his ears burning during the summer recruiting period, it will be because all his coaching buddies in the Southeastern Conference will be telling prospects they can’t trust the coach at Florida.
It was Donovan’s decision to accept the Orlando offer. Any suggestion that he was rushed into a decision is absolutely absurd. Within days of beating Ohio State for the national championship, Donovan removed himself from consideration for the coaching job at Kentucky. He told Florida fans he was staying in Gainesville.
Donovan and others have tried to downplay his involvement with the Memphis Grizzlies last month. But Yahoo! Sports reported Donovan interviewed with owner Michael Heisley and the team was willing to pay him $5 million a year. According to the report, Memphis backed off after Donovan asked for complete control of the Grizzlies’ basketball operations.
So Billy had plenty of time to ponder his NBA future — which now likely seems nonexistent after his magic act with Orlando.
Once Donovan held his Friday news conferences, he should have realized how many people — especially those outside of his family — would be impacted. That started with the ownership of the Magic. It includes Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, the athletic department, and the players and recruits on the Gators’ roster for next season.
Foley, trying to maintain some continuity within the Florida program, flew to Richmond, Va., on Saturday to interview Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant. It was widely reported that Grant, Donovan’s former assistant, was the leading candidate at Florida and Foley wanted to move quickly.
The meeting never took place because Foley heard of Donovan’s second thoughts. Grant was left in a tough spot and had to issue a statement Sunday night that he hadn’t been offered the job. Grant’s staff, players and recruits spent hours pondering their future.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, assistant coach Larry Shyatt and other members of Donovan’s staff ran the Florida boys basketball camp that started Sunday. Donovan had announced Friday that Shyatt would join him with the Magic and he spoke with Orlando officials about Shyatt’s contract that day.
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