Billy Donovan is not looking to leave the Florida Gators.
Donovan is happy to be living in Gainesville, Florida. His father, 73-year-old Bill Donovan, Sr., moved into town years ago and misses less than a handful of games each season. His son – yes, also named Billy Donovan – is on the Gators roster and will be a redshirt senior during the 2014-15 season. He wants to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Donovan is well-paid by the athletic department and its director, Jeremy Foley, a close friend who inked Donovan this spring to a new deal that will result in him earning $3.7 million before bonuses each season through 2019.
Donovan is revered by a fan base that bought into his talent long ago but is now prepared to make him a legend, all but begging Foley to erect a statue or name a portion of the soon-to-be remodeled Stephen C. O’Connell Center after arguably the best coach in school history.
Donovan is also a basketball junkie, and he has made it no secret that his passion for the game and desire to coach the sport year-round tugs at his brain and his heart.
He helped himself satisfy much of that craving by becoming a mainstay with USA Basketball, dominating international competition on the amateur stage by collecting two gold medals and a 14-0 record with the under-18 and under-19 teams he coached.
Yet the concept is still floating around in his head. Coaching in the NBA is seen as reaching the pinnacle in his chosen profession. Others have turned down the lure – Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo – but neither played in the league.
And so he accepts the phone calls from NBA team presidents and general managers, listens to the pitches, wonders how his life will be different if he gave up the program he has built – like he did for six days in 2007 before realizing the mistake he made – to undertake a new challenge.
“All I can say is I love Florida, I’m happy here, Jeremy’s been great, the school’s been great to me,” he said Tuesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. “But at the same point, some of the NBA stuff, as I’ve said before, is intriguing in a lot of ways – the basketball part of it. That’s not to say that I’m unhappy here; that’s not the case at all.”
As Donovan has pointed out time and again, there is a substantial difference to leaving a door open and one stepping foot outside the frame.
This is especially true for someone who understands the importance of legacy and is well aware of what he is building – on the court and off of it – at Florida.
Donovan demands loyalty and honesty from his players and therefore requires the same from himself. So when he is asked about his NBA interest and whether he would make the jump, he is forthcoming with his response.
Perhaps he will not wind up like Krzyzewski or Izzo, coaches who have turned down multiple NBA opportunities and now seem to be dead-set on ending their careers in the college ranks with their respective institutions.
But he also has no intention of being mentioned in the same breath as Nick Saban.
“I think when you start making guarantees about life and start making guarantees about where you’re going to be, that’s not good,” Donovan explained.
“If for some reason I ever change my mind and did something, I wouldn’t want [people] saying, ‘Well, he promised, he guaranteed, he said this on record.’ I just think when you start doing that, that’s a mistake.
“I’ve seen a lot of coaches over the years come out and say, ‘No, no, no, no, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere,’ and then all of a sudden they go somewhere and it’s like, ‘Well, this guy is a complete liar.’ I don’t want to get into that situation.”
Donovan has received calls from teams this offseason but insists “that’s really it,” making it clear his interest in those opportunities disappeared when he hung up the phone.
But things change and another call may soon come.
Donovan could get the proverbial offer he cannot refuse. Perhaps a team he respects, with an ownership he trusts, offers him not only the roster control he desires but also the chance to oversee basketball operations for an entire franchise.
He could remain with the Gators for the 2014-15 season and be faced with a completely different set of personal and professional circumstances in a year or a decade.
You never say “never” in life – or coaching – and you never say “forever,” either.
And so Donovan chooses not to do so.
The result is the NBA calling on him every offseason and Donovan continuing to share these same sentiments until one day he either decides to carve out a new path or actually make a strong, definitive statement.
Like Krzyzewski did in 2009…
“I will never leave Duke until I leave coaching.”
…or Saban did two years earlier.
“I’m not going to be the Alabama coach.”
For now, every opportunity Donovan turns down in order to stay at Florida binds him tighter and tighter to the place he has called home for the last 19 years. And that is all that should matter to the Gators.
No matter what he decides or when he comes to that ultimate conclusion, Donovan will make sure he knows it is the right one this time around.
“I think Billy always gets cold feet [jumping to the NBA] at the end because with him it’s always been about team and family,” Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, Donovan’s close friend and mentor, said at the Final Four in March.
“More than any person I’ve met in my life and encountered in my 40 years of coaching, Billy Donovan has his priorities more in line than any person I’ve ever met.”