Billy Donovan supports John Pelphrey for Florida Gators job, hopes program doesn’t take step back

By Adam Silverstein
May 4, 2015

Monday’s farewell press conference with now-former Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan featured plenty of recollection over his 19-year career in Gainesville, Florida, but it was also a time to look forward to the future of the program and who might replace arguably the best team sports coach in school history.

As such, Donovan was not bashful in supporting Gators assistant coach John Pelphrey – his former player at Kentucky and long-time assistant (at Marshall, two stints at Florida) – for the role when asked directly about his potential candidacy.

“I think Jeremy knows the way I feel about John Pelphrey and just the way he’s been by my side all the way along, his whole entire career,” said Donovan. “I coached John. He was here for a while. He came back. He’s been I think a vital part to the success of the program since I’ve been here.”

A player at Kentucky under Donovan (an assistant at the time) and Rick Pitino, Pelphrey was tabbed by Donovan for his Marshall staff (1994-96) and moved to Florida with Donovan, serving as an assistant with the Gators from 1996-2002.

Pelphrey saw much success in his first head coaching job at South Alabama (2002-07) but much less at Arkansas (2007-11), which Donovan has hinted was due to a lack of program support. Pelphrey returned to the Gators after that season and has been his assistant once again for the last four seasons.

Similarly prepared to reunite with Donovan was Anthony Grant, who was with Donovan at Marshall (1994-96) and Florida (1996-2006) before succeeding as head coach at VCU (2006-09) and slipping at Alabama (2009-15). Donovan hired Grant back with the Gators just weeks before taking the Oklahoma City Thunder job.

Of course, Donovan supports Grant – who athletic director Jeremy Foley had tabbed as a replacement in 2007 before Donovan changed his mind and went back on his deal with the Orlando Magic – for the position as well. “I put Anthony in the same category,” he said Monday.

“Obviously the relationship I have with John is great, Anthony is great, and my staff is great,” he continued.

Foley claims that his search has not yet fully kicked into gear, but he sees no reason why Pelphrey and Grant will not be on the extensive list of candidates considered for the Florida job.

“Nobody has greater respect for those two guys than I do,” said Foley after Donovan spoke on Monday. “I’ve seen their contributions to this program, how invested they’ve been in this program, what they’ve done with their lives. I love them, too. They’re all about the right things as well.

“Certainly those are people we’ll be talking about as well as others. We have a process to go through here. We have a job to hire the best basketball coach for the University of Florida.”

Donovan has made himself available to be involved – from afar – in that process if Foley so wishes.

“Jeremy is the best athletic director in the country and he’s done this before. I just basically told him that I’m here in any way to help and support and assist in any way,” he explained. “I’m not going to try to inject myself in anything going forward from here, but I do want to see this program do extremely well. … I’m going to try to assist any way that they see fit that I can assist.”

Donovan’s only ultimate concern? That the Gators continue moving forward and build upon his successes rather than head in the wrong direction.

“What I don’t want to see happen is see what’s been built over 19 years take a step back. I don’t want to see that. I want to see this growing,” the outgoing coach said. “Just because this is a transition period now, I want to see this sustained.”

As for Foley, he said Florida has no candidates – leading or otherwise – at this time. “I don’t know where that stuff comes from. I have not talked to one coach,” he said.

But he does plan to kick things off with a meeting of the minds with his internal staff on Monday. From there, the Gators will do whatever is necessary to bring in a coach that is not only a fit for Florida but will be able to win and succeed in Gainesville.


  1. Tractorr says:

    I have been saying for awhile that Pelphrey should take over for Billy when Billy left. He was a victim of unrealistic expectations at Arkansas. He had that program going in the right direction and given a few more years he could have built that team into a consistent winner. He will have the pieces at Florida and will be able to prove what a good coach he is.

    • Nobody knows the Florida Basketball Program better than John And Anthony if Foley wants to continue the work that Billy D built they would be able to John and Anthony both was in two schools that never supported there Basketball Program and the did`t have a chance to build like they would have with the UF and players they have the next year and the recruiting class the have helped bring in stay with what you have in house A big name Coach will not help because they will change the program like they want not how Donovan ran the program !!!!

  2. kaput says:

    No, just no.

  3. 1974Gator says:

    This is a pickle. Billy supports two staffers who have had little major conference success. Foley is on his own here.

  4. gatorboi352 says:

    Yeah, in 2015 I don’t feel confident in either of these two taking the driver seat to the program. I was sold on Grant in 07 before Billy came back but he didn’t help himself at Bama. For comparison, just look at what Bruce Pearl did in his first year at the dumpster fire that is Auburn. Got those guys to believe.

  5. I think Foley realizes it’s best to start fresh. I’d be surprised if he promoted either of the assistants or even retained them for that matter. That being said, they’ve both been phenomenal and instrumental to the success Florida has had…. particularly Pelphrey

  6. Ken (CA) says:

    We could do a lot worse than Pelfrey, but we could possibly do a lot better as well. I agree Arkansas jobbed him and he was setup to fail. Seems to be modus operandi at Arkansas Basketball. Bad Karma after the way they treated Nolan Richardson for bringing them a title. Interesting how there have really been no leaks or rumors at all in this considering it has been almost a week.

    Hard to believe that Foley has known about this for so long and hasn’t had a single discussion to this point.

    “You are posting too quickly please slow down” starting to show up again Adam

  7. W says:

    While I agree with Tractorr that Pel really did get the short end of the stick at Arkansas, I believe that the program needs a fresh start. This was the end of an era for Florida basketball, and the next coach should represent a fresh start. Do I think Pelphrey would be a good coach? Sure. But this program needs an injection of energy, and I think if Foley is able to pry away Archie Miller, he would be ideal for that role.

    • Tractorr says:

      I am not trying to be a smart ass but our last fresh start at coach didn’t work out so well. I would rather see continuity in the program. Sure this team was not that good this year, but we also weren’t getting blown out. I would imagine a lot of those Ls this year will be Ws next year.

      • gatorboi352 says:

        Not sure I understand what Muschamp’s misfortunes with the football program has to do with the basketball situation. Too many Gator fans still using football as the control for everything else in the athletic dept.

        • Tractorr says:

          Had there been a quality coach at Florida when Meyer stepped down (Strong or Mullen) would anyone have said “oh let’s just go in a new direction”? No, we would have said we are on a great run let’s keep the system moving along. Instead all we had was Addazzio and no one wanted him to be the head coach.

          People keep acting like a couple seasons can define a coach and we know forever that a coach is good or bad. Billy was lightning in a bottle and the odds of catching that again are slim to none. I don’t want the basketball program to wander for years trying to figure out that they should have stuck with what got it to greatness.

      • Michael Jones says:

        Miller to Muschamp? Bad comparison. Apples and oranges. Not even close for reasons too numerous and too obvious to lay out.

        • Tractorr says:

          Really? Muschamp was coach in waiting at one of the top five college football programs in the country. Miller is a coach who is regressing at a mid-major. Is it really that bad of a comparison.

          Let me be clear if we go with Miller I will support him and give him the benefit of the doubt but he is a complete unknown as how he will actually perform at a top level college basketball program.

    • Michael Jones says:


  8. David says:

    I don’t think it will happen but Florida has ha successful head coaches leave for the pros before and not find success. If Donovan isn’t happy in the NBA do you think Foley would bring him back?

    • Ken (CA) says:

      If 3 years from now, whoever UF has hired hasn’t been anything but mediocre (kind of doubtful with the roster they are left with which is pretty darn good for next year), and Billy is let go by OKC? I would be shocked if UF didn’t reach out to him and ask if he wanted to come back. This isn’t the Spurrier type personality, but the timing would have to be a perfect match with things going terrible on both sides, something I think will be a stretch on either side, as I expect him to be very successful and I also have faith in Foley to find the right guy as he has so many times before in so many sports.

      • Timmy T says:

        Well said, Ken.

      • David says:

        I agree with you the timing would have to be perfect.

        If Donovan ever leaves the NBA and wants to coach at the university level again I would hate to see him on the opposing bench. (Completely and entirely selfish, I know…). That is what I was thinking about when I posted earlier.

  9. Michael Jones says:

    Please, no Donovan disciples or proteges. There are some super young head coaches out there that we could nab. Let’s go with a proven commodity and a new, tougher approach to basketball. Let’s try a little hard-nosed power basketball for a change and recruit accordingly. I’m tired of watching 4 guys stand around the 3 point line, no off ball movement, no off ball screens, never pounding the ball inside and rarely attacking the basket.

    St. Billy has moved on. I appreciate all that he did here and I wish him the best in the NBA. Now it’s time for a fresh start.

  10. Josh says:

    We need a completely fresh start… I’m sure Pel and Grant are both great guys and nice coaches, but both failed miserably in the SEC, ALREADY….

    UF is now a top hoops job with money and lots of recent tradition…. This is a very dangerous time and Foley needs to make the right move here…

    The right move in my opinion is Archie Miller or Chris Mack….. no one is a slam dunk sure thing… but if neither of these guys were successful… no one would be able to point a finger at Foley and say Why??

    These are 2 of the hottest names in coaching and will both be at big time program sooner rather than later.

    I would go with Miller…. great connections in AAU and around the hotbeds for basketball and a little younger than Mack…
    Same can be said of Mack with hi recruiting prowess.

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