“I told Jeremy Foley at the end of the season that I wasn’t really interested in another college job but that the NBA intrigued me. If the right situation came up in the league, I’d explore it.” And with that, Billy Donovan explained why he made the jump from the Gators to the Magic.
It’s not a huge jump geographically, and that played a part. Donovan’s family likes the Florida lifestyle (there’s even a thought that Billy might commute to Orlando from Gainesville) and he has a real familiarity with the Magic. “I’ve had a chance to see the Magic on television a lot living in this state. I want to build on what Brian Hill has started,” is how Donovan talked about his first steps as the Magic head coach.
I’ve always thought that the Magic job would be the one in the NBA that might interest Billy. Certainly the $5.5 million a year, 6-year deal didn’t hurt, but apparently Billy’s talks with the Magic’s management and ownership showed him a commitment to win, and that’s why he called it a “special opportunity.”
The Magic don’t have a first round pick this year, (it went to Detroit in a trade) but they apparently are willing to spend money on free agency, they have a nucleus that got to the playoffs this year (at 40-42) and they have Dwight Howard. Howard is a star, no question and is a Billy Donovan type of player. He hustles, he goes after loose balls and he runs the floor. I’m sure that played into Donovan’s decision.
I don’t think there was any deception or intrigue going on here. It’s not Billy’s nature. He didn’t do anything out the back door, but he didn’t announce his intentions at every turn either. But that’s just business.
He is leaving Florida in a bit of a pinch at this point in the year. The recruiting season is over but so is the “coach moving” season. Everybody’s in place for next year, leaving the Gators in an awkward position when looking for a coach. John Peppery would be a natural, but he’s just been hired by Arkansas. Anthony Grant could be considered, even though he’s been at VCU for only a year. Remember, Donovan was only at Marshall for two years before Foley plucked him from the Herd to coach the Gators.
The Florida job is a very good job at this point, so I’m sure the number of applicants will be large, and Foley always has a short list, just in case. Apparently there’s a new rule in the NCAA that will allow this year’s recruits to go elsewhere if they don’t want to play for the next coach at Florida, so Foley has to move quickly.
The Gators had reported last week that Donovan signing an extension was imminent. They were working on a 7-year deal that would pay Donovan about half of what he’ll be making in the NBA. But it didn’t get signed, probably because Billy was waiting to see what jobs in the NBA might be open, and he knew that the Magic position was a possibility. It might even be that the Magic made their move knowing that Donovan would be interested.
Orlando General Manager Otis Smith knew that his job was on the line so he made the move and hired the one guy who could excite Magic fans and give him a chance to win.
Don’t fault Donovan for keeping his options open. If this didn’t come along, he’d have signed with Florida and been comfortable there. But at 42-years old, Billy wanted to challenge himself, to see if he could make that jump.
No college coach, save for Larry Brown, has ever been successful in the NBA, but Donovan could be the exception. He’s smart, a hard worker, and loyal to his players. It’ll be fun to see him try and implement his system and bring his energy to the pros. They’ll play tough defense and run and he’ll give them a chance to shine on offense. I think it’ll be fun.