Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

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Florida to hire Greene as new strength coach

Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan is set to hire the fourth new member of his basketball staff this offseason.

A source close to the team told OGGOA Tuesday morning that Donovan will hire Preston Greene as the the Gators’ basketball program’s new strength and conditioning coach.

Greene will replace veteran strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring, who left Florida to take the director of athletic performance job with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs last week.

A Clemson graduate, Greene has spent the last three seasons with his alma mater as its assistant strength and conditioning coach who led the efforts for the men’s basketball team. He has 10 years of experience running strength and conditioning programs with prior stops at both Stanford (2008-09) and Charlotte (2003-08).

Herring was the fourth member of Donovan’s staff that he has been forced to supplant in the last few months. All three of his assistants left after the 2010-11 season for other jobs and were replaced with former Gators assistant and Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey, former St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts, and former Florida director of basketball operations and Florida Atlantic assistant coach Matt McCall.

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FOUR BITS: Tebow, Brantley, volleyball, Herring

1 » Writing for ESPN Insider, columnist Chris Sprow makes a case for why Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow will indeed be a successful NFL signal caller – whether or not that ends up happening in Mile High. In the piece, Sprow cites quotes from 1986 that were said about Steve Young but are just as applicable to Tebow and uses ESPN‘s advanced metric “QBR” to point out how effective he is each game.

Ultimately, Young struggled and was traded away from Tampa in frustration; he was viewed as a bust. He didn’t become a starter, then a star, for years. Perhaps Tebow also will be traded at some point, a wasted pick, a project for another coach. But there’s also good reason to think that Tebow can be a very good NFL quarterback because, in the same way Tampa once miscalculated on Young, there’s reason to think we haven’t done a good job of accurately deciphering what a quarterback like Tebow can do. [...]

The bottom line is this: If you want to evaluate Tebow as a quarterback, you have to understand that what he lacks as a passer can be made up for by what he brings with his legs. This isn’t a new argument, but it now has additional context. [...]

Orton is a much better passer but a statue in the pocket, costing the Broncos points with sacks — and Tebow’s 82.1 passer rating in 2010 would have been the best among rookies if it had stretched for 16 games. [...] Tebow, were he to start in Week 1, would continue to be as raw a passer as you can find in the NFL. But this unrefined product is a lot better than some believe, and he might even be more valuable than Denver’s other option.

2 » ESPN also takes a look at Florida Gators redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and in what ways he needs to improve under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis this season. Specifically, he points to Brantley’s first down completion percentage and touch with balls thrown more than 20 yards down the field. Brantley completed passes on first down with a 110.8 efficiency in 2010 (113th in the nation), 28 points lower than the FBS average (138.8). On deep balls, Brantley only completed 20.8 percent of his passes (5-of-24) including only two against Southeastern Conference opponents. It is also noted that 41.7 percent of Brantley’s deep passes were overthrown.

3 » A pair of Florida senior volleyball players, outside hitter Kristy Jaeckel and setter/right-side Kelly Murphy, were named to the 2011 Preseason All-SEC Team on Tuesday. The first volleyball players in league history to be named to the preseason All-SEC Team (2009-11, All-SEC First or Second Team (2009, 2010) and SEC All-Freshman Team (2008), the duo hopes to lead their team to another conference championship this season. The Gators are ranked No. 9 nationally in the preseason poll and begin competition at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL on Aug. 26 against Boston College.

4 » Florida head basketball coach Billy Donovan has officially lost his fourth staffer this offseason. Following the departure of three assistants in the late spring, Donovan’s strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring has decided to leave the Gators to take the director of athletic performance job with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. With Florida for both national championships, Herring is excited about his new opportunity. “I really hadn’t thought about it until San Antonio came calling,’’ Herring told UF senior writer Scott Carter. “The main reason why we even considered it is one, it’s a great organization and we certainly follow them, and then the draw to get closer to family and see my little girl get a chance to get closer to her grandparents and foster those relationships. It was just a tremendous opportunity for us on a personal level. The University of Florida is a fantastic place to be and Coach Donovan and the administration certainly tried to encourage me to stay here, but at the end of the day, they can’t move Gainesville to Texas, and that was the biggest draw.’’

Extra BIT » Incoming freshman golfer J.D. Tomlinson has a unique opportunity next week as he will be competing to win a U.S. Amateur event at the age of 18. Only four former Gators have accomplished this feat thus far, but Tomlinson plans to give it a go before even taking a swing in an Orange & Blue polo shirt.

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