Donovan Speaks for Last Time at UF

For one final time, Billy Donovan addressed the Gainesville media on the Florida campus Friday afternoon. After officially being named the new head coach of the Orlando Magic earlier in the day, he returned to the same room he held his weekly press conferences. For one last time, he shared laughs and tears with the people that had become so close to him and his family for the last 11 years.

The emotions were mixed as Donovan and, his now former employer, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley shared the same stage. Billy the Kid was emotional as he talked about his players, the UF family and what they had accomplished during his tenure. There was frustration on the face of Foley as they fielded questions regarding the recent contract negotiations, and yet there was still time for humor as Donovan poked fun at Foley.

Topics of conversation ranged from the contract extension to the players to the incoming recruits, but Donovan did take time to put into perspective what the Gators were able to accomplish during his time in Gainesville.

"We have accomplished a lot of great things here at Florida," Donovan said. "I had a chance to be a part of something unprecedented and only a small group of people had the chance to do in college basketball. I had the chance to share it with players, the coaching staff, the administration, the presidents, and that to me, was the best part. We were all working so hard to move in the right direction. We got to experience something that when we look back on it we can say, ‘Wow!'"

It's been a difficult 24 hours for Donovan. He said that more than 250 voice mails had been left for him, but instead of fielding calls, he was making calls.

"It's all hard conversations because emotions are all over the place," Donovan said. "For me, I don't think I really had the chance to enjoy it the way I would have liked to, but that's okay because to finish this up the right way in the best way I can is important to me. In the last 24 hours a lot of people's lives have been affected and that's been the most consuming thing for me is making sure that everyone's okay."

"The kids are the ones that are impacted," Foley said. "We want to stay in communication with them. I've left messages or talked to all of the incoming freshmen to tell them to have faith and to have trust. The University of Florida is a special place. They came here to play for Billy, but I think they also came here because of all the things that we have here."

After breaking the news to his players and staff, Donovan made the some of the most difficult calls to the incoming class. He was able to contact all but one recruit and did his best to make one final push for the Gators.

"Last night in talking to them, they have the same concerns that the current players have," Donovan said. "I told them that if I didn't think the University of Florida was the best place for them, then I would have told them that they need to go look at some different options."

Quite possibly the most difficult conversation was with Rob Lanier. Lanier was hired as assistant coach Donnie Jones' replacement when Jones left to take the head job at Marshall. Lanier had left his post at the University of Virginia to join a program that is now at a crossroads.

"That hire will give you an idea of where my intentions were," Donovan said. "Rob Lanier is a first class act. He is a guy that handled himself in a way that really took me back."

Donovan said he had all intentions at staying with Florida, but the decision to become the Orlando Magic's head coach was not news to Foley. The two sat down after the national championship game in April to discuss the status of Donovan's future contract, and Donovan made it clear to Foley that the NBA was something that would peak his interest should an offer come down the road.

"He has never made it a secret to me about his desire to one day coach in the NBA," Foley said.

"If we had done the contract extension three or four weeks ago that wouldn't have changed my decision and the reason why I say no is because Jeremy and I have been very upfront on the situation," Donovan said. "When the Kentucky situation happened immediately after the national championship, Jeremy and I sat down and I felt very comfortable. The one thing I told Jeremy was that there has always been a level of intrigue with the NBA. I just want to let you know that if something comes down the pike that really peaks my interest, I'm going to look at it. I may not do it, but I'm going to look at it. Jeremy was fine that."

After Donovan and the Gators captured their first national championship in 2006, the university offered him a contract extension, but he declined. His thought process back then was that he did not want to give the appearance of capitalizing financially on the success of the team. He said last year was his decision, and this year was due to the university's procedures.

"He is the best athletic director in the country," Donovan said of Foley. "He has built a program here that is the elite program in the country. I think he is the best in the field in the country. I really am happy, but people say why do you leave when you're happy? For me, it was the challenging piece of taking another step in my life."

Donovan alluded to the challenge earlier on Friday at the Magic's press conference.

"I'm out of my comfort zone," he said. "It would have been very easy for me to stay, and I'll be out of my comfort zone because I've never done it before. There have been a lot of people that have made this jump that haven't been successful, but I'm going to work very hard. I'm going to ask a lot of people that know about it and can be great resources for me. I'm going to work very hard at it. I'm just happy and grateful that I could be part of this program."

Since the process with the Magic began, Donovan was in Destin, Fla. for the SEC meetings. He was able to talk with Steve Spurrier about his experiences in making the leap from the college game to the pro game. He also spoke with his mentor Rick Pitino and former Houston Rockets and New York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy.

"Not one of them said don't do it," Donovan said. "Every single one of them said you really have to take a look at this."

As for the decision to leave Florida, Donovan said it came down to three factors that had to be in place in Orlando.

"I wanted to be sure that I was with good people, and I think that Orlando has terrific people with good leadership in place," he said. "The next piece of it was what kind of flexibility would I have with the staff. The next piece of it was the winning part of it. Did they have a chance to win? I didn't want to go into a situation where there wasn't going to be a chance to win. They have Dwight Howard and some salary cap room."

The life of a college coach also played a role. Donovan said while he was in Destin, the coaches discussed adding dead time to the recruiting calendar, so they could have some time off. In the NBA, he won't have to worry about spending the summers on the road recruiting. He did say he likes recruiting, but said down the road, it could become a situation that made him unhappy.

"The one thing about college coaching is that it has really become a 12-month coaching cycle," Donovan said. "There is very little down time at all. It's gotten to the point for me where the off-season is even busier than the in-season."

"I could see me getting to a point where I say I'm not having fun. I'm not enjoying this. I think the lifestyle [in the NBA] is purely basketball and my passion now for basketball is very high. I love coaching and I love being on the floor."

FightinGators.com full coverage of Donovan's departure:

  • VETTEL: All About Challenges
  • Grant Expected to be Named New Head Coach
  • Donovan Accepts offer to Coach Magic
  • Donovan Struggling With Decision


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