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.”
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.