The two sides reportedly began talking earlier this week about the job opening. Donovan and Thunder general manager Sam Presti have built a friendship in recent years. Presti hired Mark Daigneault, who previously served as the assistant to the head coach at Florida, to be the head coach of the Thunder’s D-League team. He also hired Oliver Winterbone as basketball information analyst after he served as the video coordinator at Florida for four seasons.
Donovan never closed the door on the NBA in recent years. He always admitted interest in being an NBA coach one day, but it would take the right fit to pull him away from Gainesville. The Thunder were able to do it, giving Donovan a chance to coach two of the NBA’s stars in point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Kevin Durant.
Donovan leaves Florida after a historic run. In his 19 seasons, Donovan led the Gators to four Final Fours, three national title games and won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He went 467-185 (.715 winning percentage) and won six Southeastern Conference titles, being named SEC Coach of the Year three times (2011, 2013, 2014).
Before Donovan, the Florida program had small moments of success but was never able to sustain it consistently. He was hired in 1996 as a 30-year-old coach that needed to energize the program. It didn’t take long until Donovan turned the basketball program into a national force.
On February 28, 2015, Florida beat Tennessee 66-49, making Donovan the second youngest college basketball coach to win his 500th career Division I game. Bobby Knight is the only coach the win his 500th game at a younger age.
The Gators were the seventh team in NCAA history to win back-to-back national titles (2006, 2007) and the first in 15 years to do it. Donovan joined Adolph Rupp as the second coach in SEC history to lead his team to multiple national titles. He passed Rupp in 2013 for NCAA Tournament wins by an SEC coach and current holds the conference record at 35.
In the 77 seasons before Donovan arrived in Gainesville, the Florida program had one SEC title. The Florida coach won six in his 19 seasons. Donovan recently helped Florida to SEC title in three of four years (2011, 2013, 2014), the first stretch by an SEC school since Kentucky did it from 1995-98.
From 2000-2010, Donovan led Florida to 261 wins, the fifth-most in the nation and highest in the SEC. It was nearly 100 wins higher than Florida had in any other decade. His .715 winning percentage is the best of any Florida coach that spent more than one year in Gainesville. Donovan is praised for the titles that came in the second half of his time in Gainesville, but he was also the fastest coach to reach 100 wins in Florida history.
Since Donovan took over the program, Florida had nine first-round picks in the NBA Draft after having only two before he showed up in Gainesville. Florida became the first school ever to have three players taken in the top 10 of the NBA Draft in 2007 (Al Horford 3rd, Corey Brewer 7th, Joakim Noah 9th). Donovan has signed 16 McDonald’s All-Americans at Florida after the program signed just three before he took over.
Donovan completed 16 straight 20-win seasons from 1998-2014.
Athletic director Jeremy Foley will now have to find the 18th basketball coach in Florida history.