Back for Good

Two major themes stuck out during Billy Donovan's press conference on Thursday morning where he officially announced that he would stay on as coach of the Florida Gators. First and foremost, Donovan was apologetic to the Orlando Magic, the University of Florida, his family, friends, players and recruits. But more importantly may have been Donovan's second message – he's in Gainesville for good.

It was one of the more difficult press conferences Donovan has had to do since he became coach at Florida 11 years ago. And instead of facing the press in the comfortable confines of the Gator basketball practice facility or the women's building where he does his weekly press luncheons, Donovan headed for the south end zone of The Swamp where Urban Meyer usually deals with inquiring minds.

Donovan fielded questions for more than 40 minutes, and throughout the entire press conference, he maintained his composure and looked like a man who had been completely humbled by a situation that became bigger than he could have ever imagined. In the last week, his credibility, his loyalty and his integrity had all been questioned. So Donovan chose some strong language to assure Gator fans, players and recruits exactly what his intentions are as the basketball coach at Florida.

"As long as the University of Florida would like to have me here, this is where I want to be," Donovan said. "In my heart, I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching. This has been a growing and learning experience in a lot of ways for me. I'm just interested in coming back to a job and a place that I love dearly. I have great relationships with the administration and our coaching staff, and I respect them all. This is where I want to be. My heart is in college, and my heart is at the University of Florida."

Part of Donovan's parting agreement with the Magic included a five-year, no-compete clause. Donovan hopes the clause proves to everyone his dedication to the Gators.

"[The Magic] wanted some ideas from me, and they gave me some ideas and really wanted to work together to get to a resolution," he said. "The no-compete clause was something that we both talked about, and it was something that I was glad to accept because I know in my heart that I want to be at Florida."

The most difficult part for Donovan was the impact the situation had on other people. His decision impacted the Magic, causing public embarrassment for the organization while also forcing them to reopen their coaching search. But it was the same kind of concern that Donovan had for the Magic that brought him back to Gainesville.

"My decision came down to my love for the University of Florida and how much I want to be here, how much I love the people I work with and where my heart's at," Donovan said. "I'm sorry that it got to this point. It's been a difficult time for a lot of people."

The Magic officially introduced Donovan last Friday at a morning press conference in Orlando, He then came back to Gainesville for another press conference where he said he had not been able to sit back and enjoy the process. He then went to speak at a camp the Gators were hosting, and it was when he headed home after the camp that he began to regret the decision he had made.

"The best way I can describe it is that my heart and my passion are here," Donovan said. "I've always tried to put my heart and soul into a situation, and I didn't feel like I could do the job with the Magic where my heart was at. I love Florida, and there are great people here. The biggest thing for me was knowing where my passion was and where my heart was. I felt that the place I wanted to make an impact on people was at the University of Florida."

Donovan's wife Christine told him to sleep on it, and it was on Saturday morning that he first contacted the Magic about how he was feeling.

"I have a great wife, and she's given me tremendous support through all of this," he said. "She has supported my decision both times, and the one thing that I've been blessed with is that I've got a family who's been supportive through this."

Donovan's also been able to lean on his close friends at the University of Florida. He and athletic director Jeremy Foley did last week's press conference together, and the two expressed a relationship that went way beyond employer and employee.

"I told Jeremy how I was feeling on Saturday, and he told me that he would be here to support me," Donovan said. "Jeremy and Dr. [Bernie] Machen have been incredible. I understood that there were some issues with how much the University could be involved because I was under contract with the Magic. I never wanted to jeopardize them while I worked through this with the Magic, and my conversations with both Jeremy and Dr. Machen were much more out of friendship than anything else. When you go through something like this, you realize how solid those relationships are."

He was also able to turn to his coaching staff, especially assistant Larry Shyatt who was going to join Donovan on his staff in Orlando.

"The coaching staff that I have is terrific," Donovan said. "They've done a phenomenal job taking care of the players."

When Donovan first heard form the Magic, he was excited about the opportunity and just got caught up in the moment. But after he took time to think about it, it sunk in and he just realized it wasn't the place for him.

"The emotional side of me came out when I got the job and signed the contract, and I thought that my heart was going to be totally into coaching the Magic," he said. "When that ended, though, I just didn't have a good feeling in my heart. I woke up Saturday morning, and it was just not in my heart. I felt like the only thing I could do was be upfront with the Magic. I took some time to myself, and then I contacted them right away and expressed where my heart was."

Donovan's reason for taking the Magic job was for the challenge that coaching in the NBA could offer. Now in hindsight, he realizes that he has an equal challenge in front of him in Gainesville. After winning back-to-back national championships, the Gators return a young team with only one upperclassman on scholarship. It will be a complete rebuilding project for Donovan and company, which is a challenge he looks forward to tackling.

"I'm not tired, but there is a routine that goes on day to day to day," he said. "I think I'm even more rejuvenated and energized and passionate because I've had this experience. I'm excited about the challenge here. We have a tremendous challenge with what we've lost and what we have coming in and the youthfulness of our basketball team. We're basically starting over here, and we've got to start to rebuild."

Helping him rebuild will be some friendly faces. The coaching staff will remain intact, and Donovan will get a new contract. The contract is still going through the university process, but Foley said after the press conference that Donovan will receive a $3.5 million deal that covers six years with an option on the seventh.

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