For some coaches, they reach a point in their careers where they’ve stayed at one place long enough and are ready for the next challenge. That’s not what Donovan saw at Florida. As long as athletic director Jeremy Foley still had his job, there wouldn’t be a point where Donovan felt like he had been at Florida long enough and needed to go.
The bad news for Florida is that the ideal job came open in Oklahoma City -- one with two star players, a young team and a general manager in Sam Presti that Donovan respects and has built a relationship with.
“I don't really feel I ever felt it was time,” Billy Donovan said. “I never really looked at it that way. The reason I say that is because of Jeremy and because of my staff. Even with John Pelphrey being with me for the first stint and then coming back, Darren Hertz with me the whole entire time. The relationship with Rashon Burno over the years, and Matt McCall being a manager and going away and coming back, even the situation with Anthony Grant.
“I never looked at it like it was time to go. I think if Jeremy was not here and somebody else came in with a different vision that I didn't really feel comfortable with or felt aligned with, I may feel that it was time to maybe make a change. But there was no reason for me to feel like a change was needed. I was just not going to pick up and walk out of Florida unless it was something really unique and special in my mind, and that's what I feel the situation in Oklahoma is.”
After returning to Gainesville on Thursday when his talks with Oklahoma City concluded, Donovan’s first plan was to talk to his players. The semester break made it difficult because most of the players were gone from campus. Dorian Finney-Smith and Alex Murphy were the only players Donovan was able to speak with in person, but he spoke with the rest on the phone. They all understood his situation and were happy to see their coach get a chance at one of his dreams.
It didn’t make the conversations any easier.
“I was really, really blessed with the way all those guys handled it,” Donovan said. “They were very happy for me. They understood. They handled it great with me on the phone. I think in today's day and age with social media and how much stuff gets out there, I was concerned about the players because they're seeing and hearing things, and I wanted to keep them informed.”
The hard part for Donovan is leaving Gainesville, a community that helped shaped his life and the life of his family. His children grew up a part of the community, and the city embraced Donovan and his wife from the start. It’s the little things about Gainesville that Donovan and his family fell in love with, from their trips down the street to Haile Plantation to go out to dinner as a family. The short trips to Cedar Key and Crescent Beach made Gainesville the perfect place for his young family to grow.
That’s what made Monday emotional for Donovan. He called Foley on Thursday and told him that he had peace about the decision, and that peace has remained since. But leaving behind 19-year relationships isn’t easy.
“This has been a really, really special place that's allowed Christine and I to grow and develop as people,” Donovan said. “It's a community that's allowed my family and my children to grow and develop, and it's really, really a special place. Very emotional moving on, but I have nothing but great things and love. I think people may speculate (if) there was anything wrong here with Florida, and that couldn't be the furthest thing from the truth. In my opinion, Florida has been nothing but perfect for Christine and I for 19 years, and I leave here with nothing but great memories, fond memories.
“Our team gets covered 30 or 40 times out of the year by all of you, but there are also 365 days in a year, and those other days for me and my wife and my kids have been filled with nothing but joy and pleasure and incredible relationships. I think we all work hard in our jobs and we all want to do a good job in our job, but it's been the relationship part of it with all of you in this room and people that aren't here that's made this 19 years really special.”