Donovan, former assistants share common bond

By Adam Silverstein
January 12, 2011

During a media availability in November, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan discussed how a common bond will unite him forever with two former assistants – Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey and Alabama head coach Anthony Grant.

“Not to get too personal or morbid, but I lost a daughter. Anthony Grant lost a son. John Pelphrey lost a son. They’re all buried out on 43rd [Street] together. All their graves are right there together,” Donovan explained. “So there are things that have happened over a 13-14-15-year period for the four of us that, no question, we will be ever interwoven in terms of relationships, things that have happened.”

Yahoo! Sports’ Jason King ran with the topic and put together a fantastic feature story published in the organization’s new online magazine on Wednesday.

“No staff,” Grant says of the trio’s related struggles, “has ever experienced what we experienced. What happened with all of us … I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

King takes a deeper look at the story behind each coach’s loss and how the pain helped bring them together in a way few things in life can. Below are selections from the story.

November 2, 2000

Donovan stopped at a red light.

“I’m sitting there,” Donovan says, “and I look over at this church, and there’s a sign on the marquee that says, ‘God is Good All of the Time.’ I kind of shook my head and thought, ‘What’s good about this?’
“But then I sat there a little longer, and I said to myself, ‘I’ve got an incredible wife, and right now I’m going home to three healthy kids.’ A lot of times, when bad things happen in your life, you fail to remember all the good things that are in your life, too.

“At that moment, a calm came over me, a peace that made me realize that, although this was a terrible loss, I was still very, very blessed.” […]

February 6, 1999

“When you’re young, you think it’s easy to have a baby,” says Grant, who was 29 at the time. “Your wife gets pregnant and you assume there aren’t going to be any issues. Then something happens like what happens to us, and your whole world changes.”

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” Grant says. “All things work for the good. All things happen for a reason. Maybe what I went through enabled me to help Billy.”

Indeed, nearly two years later, Grant was in his office when Donovan’s secretary notified staff members about Jacqueline’s death. Grant said he darted to his car, picked up his wife at the tennis court and drove straight to the hospital to offer support. […]

August 22, 2003

But it certainly helped to have friends like Donovan and Grant. Other than his own father, Pelphrey calls Donovan the most influential male in his life. His daughter’s full name is Anne Marie Grace Donovan Pelphrey. And his oldest son, Jackson, was born on the same day as Brian Donovan, Billy’s youngest son.

“My wife and his wife were in the hospital at the same time,” Donovan says. “John and I drove up there right after my first SEC game (as Florida’s head coach) and they induced labor on both of them at the same time. We’ve been through a lot. We were together when life was brought into this world. And we’ve both experienced tragedy, too.” […]

Under the shade of a large pine tree, in graves about 50 yards away from the noise and traffic on NW 23rd Avenue, rest the children of three Division I head basketball coaches, three SEC competitors, three best friends forever bound by the most tragic of circumstances.

When Jacqueline died in 2000, Donovan suggested that Grant move his son, Brandon, from a different part of the cemetery to an available grave just a few feet away. Three years later, it seemed right for Pelphrey to bury John Patrick in the same location.

“I’m not sure what term to use,” Pelphrey says, “but it’s certainly humbling when you walk out there and see all those headstones so close together.”

Grant says: “It’s special to have them all together like that. It’s very special.”

Read on ThePostGame: Billy Donovan’s Secret Sorrow

5 Comments

  1. cline says:

    Never knew about this prior to you reporting it a few months back. Tragic, wish their families the best.

  2. SaraGator says:

    I shouldn’t have read the story at work. Poignant story…

  3. Gatorbuc15 says:

    Man, this story just depressed the hell out of me, didn’t know about this until now. My condolences go out to all of them.

  4. Basshole says:

    I can’t imagine what they went through, they must have been pretty strong people to continue doing what they are doing…

  5. Gatorgrad79 says:

    WOW…

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