Monday’s farewell press conference with now-former Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan featured plenty of recollection over his 19-year career in Gainesville, Florida, but it was also a time to look forward to the future of the program and who might replace arguably the best team sports coach in school history.
As such, Donovan was not bashful in supporting Gators assistant coach John Pelphrey – his former player at Kentucky and long-time assistant (at Marshall, two stints at Florida) – for the role when asked directly about his potential candidacy.
“I think Jeremy knows the way I feel about John Pelphrey and just the way he’s been by my side all the way along, his whole entire career,” said Donovan. “I coached John. He was here for a while. He came back. He’s been I think a vital part to the success of the program since I’ve been here.”
A player at Kentucky under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and Rick Pitino, Pelphrey was tabbed by Donovan for his Marshall staff (1994-96) and moved to Florida with Donovan, serving as an assistant with the Gators from 1996-2002.
Pelphrey saw much success in his first head coaching job at South Alabama (2002-07) but much less at Arkansas (2007-11), which Donovan has hinted was due to a lack of program support. Pelphrey returned to the Gators after that season and has been his assistant once again for the last four seasons.
Similarly prepared to reunite with Donovan was Anthony Grant, who was with Donovan at Marshall (1994-96) and Florida (1996-2006) before succeeding as head coach at VCU (2006-09) and slipping at Alabama (2009-15). Donovan hired Grant back with the Gators just weeks before taking the Oklahoma City Thunder job.
Of course, Donovan supports Grant – who athletic director Jeremy Foley had tabbed as a replacement in 2007 before Donovan changed his mind and went back on his deal with the Orlando Magic – for the position as well. “I put Anthony in the same category,” he said Monday.
“Obviously the relationship I have with John is great, Anthony is great, and my staff is great,” he continued.
Foley claims that his search has not yet fully kicked into gear, but he sees no reason why Pelphrey and Grant will not be on the extensive list of candidates considered for the Florida job.
“Nobody has greater respect for those two guys than I do,” said Foley after Donovan spoke on Monday. “I’ve seen their contributions to this program, how invested they’ve been in this program, what they’ve done with their lives. I love them, too. They’re all about the right things as well.
“Certainly those are people we’ll be talking about as well as others. We have a process to go through here. We have a job to hire the best basketball coach for the University of Florida.”
Donovan has made himself available to be involved – from afar – in that process if Foley so wishes.
“Jeremy is the best athletic director in the country and he’s done this before. I just basically told him that I’m here in any way to help and support and assist in any way,” he explained. “I’m not going to try to inject myself in anything going forward from here, but I do want to see this program do extremely well. … I’m going to try to assist any way that they see fit that I can assist.”
Donovan’s only ultimate concern? That the Gators continue moving forward and build upon his successes rather than head in the wrong direction.
“What I don’t want to see happen is see what’s been built over 19 years take a step back. I don’t want to see that. I want to see this growing,” the outgoing coach said. “Just because this is a transition period now, I want to see this sustained.”
As for Foley, he said Florida has no candidates – leading or otherwise – at this time. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from. I have not talked to one coach,” he said.
But he does plan to kick things off with a meeting of the minds with his internal staff on Monday. From there, the Gators will do whatever is necessary to bring in a coach that is not only a fit for Florida but will be able to win and succeed in Gainesville.