The Silver Lining: Billy Donovan’s character makes replacing his assistants effortless

When Larry Shyatt appeared to be the only assistant heading out the door, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan said he wanted to replace him with someone young. Learning over a 40-hour period that his entire staff would be leaving less than a month after reaching the Elite Eight in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, he decided to turn to a friendly face and a familiar colleague.

For Donovan, it was not a stretch to hire the two men he turned to right away. A six-year assistant under Donovan, former Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey brings stability and familiarity to the bench, while former St. Johns head coach Norm Roberts offers experience and vast amounts of knowledge. Both are excellent recruiters and respected coaches who will provide the team with a steadiness and sense of continuity even though the entire staff will be changing.

When you hear Donovan’s contemporaries rave about him, they not only discuss his ability to draw up plays, create game plans or scout opponents. They point to his character, management style and sterling reputation. That is why, before Shyatt was even out the door, Donovan had plenty of options on who he could hire to replace him.

“There’s a lot of good coaches out there,” he said Tuesday. “The one thing that’s been somewhat overwhelming and really positive is the amount of interest there’s been, especially when Larry left.”

Donovan is the type of coach who is not only concerned about winning basketball games but also making sure he develops his players on and off the court. He does the same thing for his assistants.

His track record helping assistants find head coaching jobs is unmistakable. The loyalty his former players and coaches show to him is unwavering. Donovan’s character and demeanor are why guys he has sent off to the NBA or others he has helped compete with him for honors like SEC Coach of the Year still refer back to him with high levels of gratitude and appreciation.

“My job, my responsibility is to help these kids grow, put them in a competitive situation to try to win something, teach them something through winning,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “And then also staff-wise, I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a lot of guys whose lives got changed in a lot of different ways.”

Those traits he possesses are why – if he calls – Arkansas assistant Brett Nelson or Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall would probably fight it out to fill the third position on his new staff. They are why it took promises of coach-in-waiting positions from Texas and Louisville, respectively, to get Rob Lanier and Richard Pitino to leave his side.

“That’s one thing about this profession. Sometimes you never know about timing and opportunities,” Donovan said Tuesday.

One former assistant faced with a great opportunity was Shaka Smart, who was offered the VCU head coaching job after 10 months under Donovan. He was going back-and-forth about accepting the position because of the respect he had for his boss.

“I don’t think Shaka or I ever anticipated him leaving as quickly as he did. Obviously VCU made a great hire. When you get really good people, there’s going to be opportunities,” Donovan said. “There’s a difference when guys are out seeking and hunting jobs. I’ve been very fortunate that the guys I’ve had here haven’t done that.

“To tell you what kind of guy Shaka Smart is, he almost didn’t take the VCU [job] because he felt so guilty only being here 10 months. I pushed him out the door because I told him it was a great job and he needed to go. If he didn’t do it, he wouldn’t have experienced what he did this year.”

Perhaps most importantly, those characteristics Donovan possesses are why he can lose his entire staff in a matter of days and fill his two main assistant positions with top-notch former head coaches without so much as batting an eye.

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4/12: Donovan on assistants leaving, new hires, recent arrests, playing in Canada

In addition to announcing the hiring of two new assistant basketball coaches, Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan met with the media on Tuesday to discuss a number of topics about his team including 2010-11 assistants leaving, the potential of playing in Canada and how he is going to deal with the recent arrests hovering over the team.

OUT WITH THE OLD…

No matter the situation, it is difficult for any head coach to lose his entire staff – especially when it occurs over a two week period with a pair of assistants moving on in a two-day span. However, Donovan understands that Richard Pitino and Rob Lanier both had opportunities that they could not pass up.

“The last 40 hours have been kind of crazy. Sometimes in coaching you never know about timing and how things are going to happen. About 10 days ago I lost a really, really dear friend and a great coach in Larry Shyatt, and then here over the weekend two situations came up for both Richard Pitino and Rob Lanier,” he explained. “Richard’s got an opportunity right now to go back to Louisville as the associate head coach with an opportunity to possibly be the coach-in-waiting there. That’s been discussed with him. […] Rob Lanier – he and his wife have very strong ties in Austin, TX. Kind of the same situation in Texas, they’ve maybe done this before in football, but there’s a strong possibility he can maybe be coach-in-waiting in Texas. They’ve talked about that.”

Both moves are not only professional but personal as well. “Everybody knows my relationship with Coach [Rick] Pitino, his father, and the way I feel about him,” Donovan said. “With Richard having a baby here any week, the opportunity for him to go back home and be with his family was something that was very, very important to him. He did a great job, and I feel sad that his stay was only for two years. I’ve known him since he was four-years-old, and our relationship has been close. To get an opportunity to work with him like that meant a lot to me, but I’m also excited for him that he will be reunited with his family and be reunited with his dad.” He shared similar information about Lanier. “Another thing for him was the family dynamic of his wife playing a large factor in this decision. As all wives do in this coaching profession, they make incredible sacrifices for their husbands to be able to coach. The opportunity to go back to a lot of very, very dear friends and close friends – and the opportunity to possibly be the head coach at Texas someday – was an opportunity Rob really felt like he needed to take.”

…IN WITH THE (KIND OF) NEW

With a completely empty staff in such a short time period, Donovan had to act fast. The first hire was easy, bringing back longtime assistant and former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John Pelphrey. Already in town on Tuesday, Pelphrey brings a sense of stability to the program. “One of the things I felt like I needed was familiarity,” Donovan said. “Bringing some familiarity in someone back here that knows me, knows Florida, understands the SEC and understands the program is important.”

Next he reached out to former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts, who was working for SportsNet New York last season after being fired in 2010. “Norm is a terrific recruiter, very high character person, very well-respected. He will be great for our program, our team, our kids,” Donovan said. “He has an impeccable reputation and is a great guy. […] He’ll be a tremendous influence on a lot of these guys with the team.” Roberts will be in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday to begin work.

THIRD ASSISTANT POSITION REMAINS VACANT

Asked if he was prepared to hire someone for the third assistant job, Donovan said he has plenty of work to do in order to narrow the extensive list of candidates down and eventually choose someone. “I’m looking at a lot of other people in that third spot. I don’t know who that’s going to be right now,” he said. “I wanted to get two people in place right away that I thought could make a great impact. There’s a lot of good coaches out there. The one thing that’s been somewhat overwhelming and really positive is the amount of interest there’s been, especially when Larry left.”

The recruiting period begins on Friday and both Pelphrey and Roberts will hit the road immediately. Donovan will not rush to hire someone just to keep the seat warm. “That’s one thing about this profession. Sometimes you never know about timing and opportunities,” he said.

DISAPPOINTED IN MURPHY, LARSON FOR ARRESTS

Before discussing the coaching changes, Donovan made a statement about the recent third-degree burglary arrests of forwards sophomore Erik Murphy and Cody Larson. “I know there was some very unfortunate events, that I was very disappointed in, that took place this weekend with Cody Larson and Erik Murphy,” he said. “I made a statement that both guys are suspended right now from our team. I really can’t take any questions and cannot talk about it because obviously it’s ongoing. All I can say is I’m disappointed in those guys. They’re disappointed in themselves. And we’ll have to wait and see what happens going forward.”

Though he mostly refused to discuss the situation in detail, he expanded on his comments at the end of the press conference. “I want to find out if what was out there, how that plays itself out. I don’t know where I’m at until I find out more,” Donovan said. “I talked to both of them yesterday and told them upfront that I was not in a position to talk about what they were going through. They’ll have to get legal representation. They’re going to have to make some family decisions and do some things. I’ve got to see the way all this plays out. Certainly the decision they made was very disappointing. The fact that they were arrested was very disappointing. For that, they’re going to be suspended here from all activities. That will probably be something I’ll have to make a decision on once all that’s settled.

“The kids know how I feel. We’ve been fortunate here that we haven’t had a lot of that kind of stuff. Sometimes those things happen. At the end of this process, I believe the truth is going to come out exactly what happened. And then from that truth, I’ll have a chance to react a little bit.”

OH, CANADA

In order to get some extra (NCAA-acceptable) practice in over the summer, Donovan said he may take the team on a trip to Canada in August. Teams are allowed to take a trip out of the country once every four years, according to NCAA regulations. Florida would get 10 practices beginning in the end of July, something Donovan believes could help in the transition period of losing three starters and gaining (by then) three new coaches.

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Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

A familiar face and an old friend will be joining Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan in Gainesville, FL next season. On Tuesday, the University of Florida announced that a pair of former head coaches – John Pelphrey and Norm Roberts – have been hired as assistants for the basketball team.

“Having John back will be a great addition to our program,’’ Donovan said in a school release. “Obviously, he has a level of familiarity with me and with the University of Florida makes this a great fit. John’s a great coach, he’s a great friend and has a love for Florida, and we’re excited to bring him back. Being from New York, I’ve known Norm for a long [time]. He’s an outstanding coach, he’s a great recruiter, has high character and integrity and I’m thrilled to have him on our staff here at Florida.”

An assistant at Florida for six seasons (1996-2002), Pelphrey will be reunited with his close friend and mentor. He played under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and head coach Rick Pitino with the Kentucky Wildcats and served as an assistant on Donovan’s first coaching staff for two seasons with the Marshall Thundering Herd (1994-96). He joined Donovan when he was hired by UF, helping lead the Gators to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Pelphrey left in 2002 for a head coaching gig with the South Alabama Jaguars, where he led the team for five seasons. He won the Sun Belt Championship, was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and brought his squad to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. USA would end up falling to Florida in the first round.

Noticing his success at a smaller school, Arkansas hired him to lead their program in 2007. Pelphrey brought the Razorbacks their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1999 in his first season but failed to replicate his success over the following three. He was fired by Arkansas on March 13 even though he had a top-tier recruiting class on its way in.

Roberts, who does not have any direct coaching connection to Donovan, is – like his new boss – a native New Yorker. He most recently served as head coach of the St. John’s Red Storm from 2004-10 but was fired on March 19, 2010, after leading the team to an unimpressive 81-101 record in six seasons.

Donovan is in the middle of reshaping his coaching staff as he has now lost all three of his 2010-11 assistants in one offseason. Long-time cohort Larry Shyatt accepted the top job at Wyoming, assistant Rob Lanier is returning to coach at Texas, and assistant Richard Pitino will join his father’s staff at Louisville.

OGGOA learned on April 3 that Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall is a top candidate to fill a role on Donovan’s revamped coaching staff. Another option is former Florida player Brett Nelson, who coached under Pelphrey at Arkansas last season.

Photo Credit: Unknown, Chris Trotman/Getty Images

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Report: Pelphrey to return as Gators assistant

UPDATED STORY: Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

Former Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John Pelphrey will rejoin the Florida Gators basketball team as an assistant coach, a source told Jeff Goodman of FOX Sports Tuesday. An assistant at Florida for six seasons (1996-2002), Pelphrey will be reunited with Gators head coach Billy Donovan, his close friend and mentor.

Pelphrey played under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and head coach Rick Pitino with the Kentucky Wildcats and served as an assistant on Donovan’s first coaching staff for two seasons with the Marshall Thundering Herd (1994-96). He joined Donovan when he was hired by the University of Florida, helping lead the Gators to four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

Pelphrey left UF in 2002 for a head coaching gig with the South Alabama Jaguars, where he led the team for five seasons. He won the Sun Belt Championship, was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year and brought his squad to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. USA would end up falling to Florida in the first round.

Noticing his success at a smaller school, Arkansas hired him to lead their program in 2007. Pelphrey brought the Razorbacks their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1999 in his first season but failed to replicate his success over the following three. He was fired by Arkansas on March 13 even though he had a top-tier recruiting class on its way in.

Donovan is in the middle of reshaping his coaching staff after losing long-time assistant Larry Shyatt to a head coaching job with Wyoming. He may also see Rob Lanier head out the door to be an assistant at Texas, and Richard Pitino could join his father at Louisville, which suddenly has an opening.

OGGOA learned on April 3 that Florida Atlantic assistant Matt McCall is a top candidate to fill a role on Donovan’s revamped coaching staff.

Photo Credit: Carrie Pratt/St. Petersburg Times

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McCall a top candidate for vacant assistant job

Florida Atlantic Owls assistant coach Matt McCall is a top candidate for the vacant position on Florida Gators head coach Billy Donovan’s coaching staff, two sources close to the team told OGGOA over the weekend.

The University of Florida’s director of basketball operations from 2004-08, McCall spent seven years under Donovan also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant. Donovan, who said last week that he wanted a young assistant to fill the spot vacated when Larry Shyatt departed for the head coaching job with the Wyoming Cowboys, has always held McCall in high regard.

Back in 2008, Donovan called him “a tireless worker and a first-class person” who “knows the state of Florida,” brings “the energy and passion necessary to be successful” and is someone he views “as one of the bright young minds” in coaching.

McCall has worked at FAU since 2008 and is one of head coach Mike Jarvis’s top assistants. He is responsible for bringing in the Owls’ best player, Gainesville native Greg Gantt, who averaged a team-high 14 points per game as a sophomore.

Should McCall be the one chosen for the position, the Ocala native and former all-area player would be returning home to North-Central Florida. If he joins the team, he would likely be Donovan’s third assistant on the bench with Rob Lanier taking over Shyatt’s duties and Richard Pitino continuing in his role.

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Gators add commitment from 2012 PG Ogbueze

Florida Gators basketball’s 2012 recruiting class doubled in size Wednesday as four-star point guard Braxton Ogbueze (Charlotte, NC) committed to head coach Billy Donovan.

Joining four-star shooting guard Michael Frazier (Tampa, FL), Ogbueze is Donovan’s second backcourt commitment for the 2012 cycle and the University of Florida’s highest-ranked point guard recruit since former five-star Nick Calathes. He is listed as the No. 7 player at his position by Scout and the No. 9 point guard in his class by Rivals.

“When I arrived on campus I was impressed with all the coaches, players and the beautiful campus,” Ogbueze told ESPN about his decision. “I want to learn my position from Coach Donovan, who has had great success with perimeter players and is a proven winner. Winning back-to-back national championships means a lot.”

Always holding the school in high acclaim, Ogbueze decided to attend Florida over offers from Oklahoma, Baylor, Tennessee, Wake Forest and South Carolina. Assistant coach Rob Lanier was heavily involved in his recruitment.

“Braxton Ogbueze approaches everything with excellence in mind,” his high school head coach Sean Wiseman told ESPN. “From the court to the classroom as well as his character, he tries to be the best at what he does. That’s what makes him special.”

The Gators already have five-star SG Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) and three-star forward Walter Pitchford (East Lansing, MI) on board as members of their 2011 signing class.

Scout.com first reported Ogbueze’s decision.

Photo Credit: NY2LA

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2/12: Donovan impressed by team’s make-up

No. 17/19 Florida Gators (20-5, 9-2 SEC) head basketball coach Billy Donovan had plenty to say after his team squeaked out a 61-60 win against the Tennessee Volunteers (15-10, 5-5 SEC) to sweep the season series against their rival for the first time since 2002. That is why we have compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes following his press availability after Saturday’s game.

WALKER’s HEROICS NOT A SURPRISE

Junior point guard Erving Walker often ends up with the ball in his hands with the game on the line. It is not necessarily because it is his job to facilitate (he does not lead the team in assists, senior forward Chandler Parsons does) or because he has the best shooting percentage (that honor belongs to redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin) but more so due to the fact that there is no one on the team who wants and needs to make a clutch shot more than Walker.

“He’s a competitor. He’s a tough kid. I’ve coached guys that love to take the last shot because they don’t want to shy away from it. Erving is a guy that wants it, and he wants it and also there’s a devastation when he doesn’t [make it],” Donovan said. “Losing to Erving Walker is very, very painful as a player. He’s got that drive that winning is very important to him.

“A lot of it has to do with the fact that…being his size his whole entire life… He can’t win the dunk contest, and he can’t do all these other things. The only way he’s able to earn respect is through winning. He’s learned at a young age, being a small point guard, the only way I get any level of recognition or any credit is if my team wins. […] For Erving Walker, he’s a winner. He’s a guy that is willing to step up and do that.”

GATORS TAKING THINGS TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL

It is easy to tell, from listening to Donovan, that he has a special kind of passion or the team as it is currently assembled. After Florida’s hard-fought win, he mentioned on multiple occasions how impressed he was with the team’s guts and ability to stick together and pull things out in the end.

“There’s some unbelievable qualities that this team has; this team’s a fighting team, it’s a resilient team, it’s a team that works really hard,” he said.

“I love coaching these guys. I really do because there’s a fighting mentality in them. They have a fighting spirit. Even when things aren’t going well, they never quit on me. They never, ever quit on each other. They battle; they fight. They’re resilient. They don’t always do it pretty; they don’t always play perfect. That, to me, is an incredible quality. Maybe as a coach, with these guys, I want it all. And maybe I’m not going to get it all. I don’t want the one thing that they got to get better at as a team to ever end their season a little bit earlier than it needs to be ended.

“We have good chemistry. They’re unselfish. They’re good kids. They work hard. When they get down, they battle. I really respect that in them. Me as a coach, you get one opportunity to be with these guys, I want them to be as good as they can be.

“The last couple years it’s just been holding on, maybe we can get to the tournament. Last year we got in. This team is dealing with stuff that they never, ever had to deal with before in terms of understanding what it takes to be a real winner and compete at a very high level. Really, in a lot of ways, we’re scratching a different surface. Now we’re in first place. This is a different place these guys have never been. They have to understand what comes with it, and they don’t right now. As much as I’ve tried to explain it, they don’t quite get it yet. I’m hopeful that this experience will help them get better.”

LEAVING PARSONS IN; UPDATING HIS INJURY STATUS

While discussing Parsons’s performance Saturday, Donovan noted that he suffered a deep thigh bruise early in the first half and (obviously) “just wasn’t himself” from that point forward. With UF not playing a game until next Sunday (at LSU, 1 p.m., ESPN), he is hopeful that Parsons will be able to play even though he probably will not be practicing until Thursday at the absolute earliest.

Asked why he left Parsons in the game and played him for so many minutes even though he was limited, Donovan noted that it was all about spreading out the defense.

“Just attention,” he said. “He’s an attention-getting guy, because when the ball’s in his hands he can score, he can shoot it, and he can make plays off the dribble. There’s a level of focus that you have to give to him. He was really hurt, and I felt terrible. The last two or three weeks he has played at a very, very high level.”

QUOTES (After the break…)
Continue Reading » 2/12: Donovan impressed by team’s make-up

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SIX BITS: Murphy, Harvin, Jenkins, Hill, Nelson

1 » Held out of action with the Oakland Raiders over the weekend, former Florida Gators wide receiver Louis Murphy continues to struggle to recover from a concussion he suffered during camp on Friday when he got kneed in the helmet by Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugah. He complained of a bad headache Sunday and showcased some other symptoms, leading the training staff to decide that it was best to hold him out of workouts. Murphy remains out of action and is now having trouble with sunlight, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Vittorio Tafur. Head coach Tom Cable told the Associated Press that Murphy will be sitting until he passes a series of tests…something that looks to be at least a few days away.

2 » After tweaking his ankle earlier in the day, former Gators WR Percy Harvin returned to Minnesota Vikings practice on Saturday without a noticeable limp. Unfortunately, Harvin missed practice Sunday and will be absent Monday as well after learning of a death in his family. OGGOA‘s thoughts go out to Harvin during this difficult time.

3 » Florida juniors cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Will Hill were named to the 2010 Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list on Monday – two of only 35 of the nation’s best defensive backs to be selected. Conspicuous by his absence once again is senior safety Ahmad Black. There is a long way to go and plenty of players will be added and removed to this list as the season progresses.

Three more BITS on Reggie Nelson, Brad Beal and Joe Haden…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Murphy, Harvin, Jenkins, Hill, Nelson

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