#3 Is he Stayin' or Goin'?
After capturing two consecutive national titles, it was understandable that Billy Donovan may have wanted a new challenge. So it was no surprise that when the Gators arrived in Atlanta for the 2007 Final Four and at the same time Tubby Smith resigned at Kentucky, Donovan's name came up on the top of the Wildcats' wish list.
Donovan's ties to Kentucky are significant. He started his coaching career as an assistant under Rick Pitino, and helped his mentor build a program that would eventually win the 1996 national title – the same year he started at UF.
Under Donovan's leadership, the Gators toppled the Wildcats from the top of the SEC standings, taking the conference tournament title in 2005, '06 and '07. It was only logical that the man who led the team that dethroned Kentucky would be their first choice to help them reclaim their past glory.
After dancing around the topic while coaching the Gators at the Final Four, Donovan came back to Gainesville and put the situation to rest.
"Kentucky is a great program, they have great fans and great winning traditions and there are a lot of special things there," Donovan said on April 5. "The decision came down to my heart and where I was happy. And it's like, ‘Well, Kentucky has a great tradition, there's nothing to build there, Florida's got no tradition, and we'd have to build it.'"
"There's no question that Kentucky has tremendous commitment to basketball and its program, but I really feel that Florida and Jeremy Foley have made a great commitment to basketball here. It really didn't factor too much in for me, as much as where am I happiest? Where will I be happy? And right now, I'm happy."
That happiness would be tested over the next two months. First, reports surfaced that Donovan was offered the head job coaching the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA. That offer was reportedly turned down, but the story was not the same for the Orlando Magic. On May 31, Donovan accepted the head coaching job in Orlando and was leaving Gainesville.
"For me, it was the challenging piece of taking another step in my life," Donovan said on June 1. "I think it will be great for me. I am going to be very busy, but it's going to be a different type of busy for me and a new challenge. I am just happy and grateful that I could be a part of what has happened in this program the past 11 years, and I am sad that I will be moving on."
But after a tumultuous weekend filled with rumors of jets landing and taking off, speculation of coaching candidates and finally stories of Donovan's own remorse in his decision, Donovan and the Magic came to terms that released him from his contract so he could return as Florida's head coach.
"The last four or five days have certainly been difficult, and I want to take this time to apologize, first and foremost, to the Orlando Magic. I feel terrible about this, and I'm very sorry that it happened," Donovan said on June 7. "As long as the University of Florida would like to have me here, this is where I want to be. In my heart, I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching."
Donovan was not only welcomed back to Florida with open arms, but he was rewarded with a new contract that would pay him $3.5 million a year.