Donovan adds Pelphrey, Roberts to Gators staff

By Adam Silverstein
April 12, 2011

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


  1. Tractorr says:

    Considering he success (including Arkansas I think they are crazy to have fired him) I don’t expect Pelphrey to stick around a year max. Some small program will snatch him up as a head coach.

    Roberts could be a long term assistant because he wasn’t really able to cut it as a head coach, although St. Johns is a hard gig.

  2. Malikg says:

    These are impressive changes — Donovan’s experience with former head coaches has worked out so well for him with Larry Shyatt and Rob Lanier that he’s going back to the well once again. Both Pelphrey and Roberts have earned reputations as recruiters at different points of their careers as well.

    Now, if UF can just stop the epidemic of tall Caucasians affiliated with the program getting in trouble lately (Larson, Murphy, Werner)…

  3. CH says:

    Is Richard Pitino leaving for sure? Didn’t see that release.

  4. Malikg says:

    I’d be surprised if Pelphrey made the same mistake he made before in leaving early for an inferior job. Instead of holding out for a better spot, he left in 2002 for South Alabama, where he had an up-and-down five years, which led to him being “settled for” at Arkansas.

    This time around, especially since he’s still only 42, he can wait for just the right opportunity, where he at least has a chance to eventually contend nationally. Roberts, at age 45, can do the same.

  5. Ken (CA) says:

    Great thinking by Billy! It didn’t even occur to me that Pelphrey was looking for a job now. Great to have him back.

  6. jay d says:

    Who wouldn’t want to work with donavan?….the man is creating a coaching dynasty and is a living leegend…..add to thhat list…the man has a heart the size of a football…Donavan stuck with the gators through good this gator will stick with donavan through bad times…if that even ever happens lol

  7. C3 says:

    I love these two hires, grand slams. It’d be cool to see Brett Nelson come back as the third assistant, unless McCall is significantly better. I just think it’d be cool to see Nelson on the staff at some point in time.

    Go Billy!!

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