Returning to Orlando, FL, for a press conference would not have been a big deal for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan…if his last media event in the city was anything other than him accepting the top job with the Orlando Magic three years ago after winning back-to-back National Championships.
Ironically, the Gators will play the Central Florida Knights on Dec. 1 in the Florida Citrus Sports Shootout – the first college basketball game in the brand new Amway Center (the future home of the Magic). And if he had not decided to return to Florida merely days after accepting the Orlando job, Donovan very well may have been coaching the Magic at the new arena – rather than the Gators.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t replay the decision in my mind a few times,” Donovan said Thursday, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
“[After you leave], you don’t always get the same college job and the same situation you had before,” he added. “I look at someone like Steve Spurrier. He left Florida and he’s back coaching in college at South Carolina. Certainly, South Carolina is not the same as Florida. When you leave a place, there’s a feeling like you can never go back again. So you better be sure when you leave.”
Donovan’s struggle mirrored the situation Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo faced over the last two weeks – trying to decide whether to take a large sum of money and potential to succeed in the NBA or continue to build his program on the college level. No one can empathize with this better than Donovan.
“I understand completely what Tom went through,” he said. “It’s such a hard decision because you know it’s a great opportunity in the NBA, but you have a situation in college where you have had an incredible personal investment into building something great. The amount of time and energy it takes to get a program to a certain level and then, to suddenly leave it, is extremely difficult.”