The Knucklehead of the Day award
This award is overdue.
Today's winner is
University of Florida Basketball Orlando Magic University of Florida Basketball Coach Billy Donovan. He gets the award for quitting his job at the UF to leave for the NBA's Orlando Magic. Less than a week later and after signing a contract with the Pro basketball franchise, Donovan backed out of the deal. Donovan is back in Gainesville(where he was welcomed back like the wayward prodigal son.)
No matter what you think ultimately, Donovan used poor judgment. He should have never committed to the Magic if his heart wasn't in it. His flip flop was an act of selfishness that left Florida sports fans blowing in the breeze(After Donovan's signing with the Magic, 200 season tickets were sold), and that's what makes Billy Donovan today's Knucklehead of the Day.
The strange saga surrounding Billy Donovan ended this week, with the coach returning to Florida after a six-day stint with the Orlando Magic.
Many college basketball coaches succumb to the intrigue of coaching at the NBA level, but few have succeeded. Larry Brown is the only coach to win a college and NBA championship, and Brown coached his first game in professional basketball with the Carolina Cougars of the now-defunct ABA.
Donovan announced his heart was at Florida. A reported clause in Donovan's settlement agreement prevents him from coaching an NBA for five years.
That will assure Donovan will stay at the college level for some time. In the past, Donovan also has said he couldn't envision leaving Florida for another college job.
Donovan's flip-flop impacted a major college program and professional franchise in the same state, plus dozens of employees and thousands of fans.
The University of Florida: Florida returns a coach who has led college basketball at the school to unprecedented heights. Before Donovan arrived, Florida had been to just one Final Four and made five NCAA Tournament appearances. In the 11 years since, Florida has won two national titles, reached three Final Fours and made nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
Had Donovan stayed in Orlando, there were no guarantees that Florida's top-ranked recruiting class would have stayed intact. Donovan has agreed to a six-year, $21 million contract extension, assuring the future of the program is stable.
Anthony Grant: Yes, the former Florida assistant would have been the next Florida coach had Donovan not changed his mind. But the fact that Grant was even considered for such a high-profile job after an excellent first season coaching at Virginia Commonwealth should only help his stock down the road.
Grant can stay at VCU for another year or two of seasoning and not face the pressure of following a legend, a legend who just happens to be one of his best friends.
Billy Donovan: Donovan took a public relations hit but ultimately made the choice that made him happy. Donovan talked about the grind of the college level, but it would have been just as demanding in the pros.
Just ask Donovan's mentor, Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who coached in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.
"College coaches don't realize what it's all about," Pitino said. "I heard Billy go up there and say what a grind college basketball is, you don't get any time off.
"He should understand what a grind is with the pros. Because with the pros now the whole month of July is summer league, everything (before that) is preparing for the draft.
"There's no time off with the pros as well, unless you get knocked out early. If you're a playoff team, it's 100 games. That's the one thing that college coaches just do not understand about the pros. It's a grind, it's a major grind."
The rest of the Southeastern Conference: Basketball programs in the rest of the league were ready to pounce a Florida team that would have went into league play with a first-year SEC coach. Now, Donovan returns as the unquestioned dean of the league, leading Florida to three league tournament titles and three league regular-season titles in 11 seasons.
A new coach with a team that lost all five starters and the league's sixth man of the year would have faced a difficult climb in the league. But Donovan's coaching savvy should coax a few more wins out of a young team in transition. And Florida gets a bonus with the return of assistant coach Larry Shyatt, who would have left with Donovan for Orlando.
The Orlando Magic: Though we'll never know if Donovan would have followed the rest of his college brethren to the NBA coaching graveyard, we do know he created an initial buzz in an Orlando franchise that needed some life.
The Magic sold close to 200 season-ticket packages when Donovan was hired. No word yet on if there are mass requests for refunds.
Donovan may have had success in the NBA because he's demonstrated an ability to adapt in his coaching career. A few years ago, Donovan hired Shyatt, a defensive specialist, to shore up what he perceived as a team weakness. Donovan also has abandoned pressing as much in recent years in order to put his personnel in better situations to succeed.
Stan Van Gundy is a nice-guy NBA coach who couldn't quite get the Miami Heat over the top. Team president Pat Riley knew that and pulled the plug on Van Gundy in time to lead the Heat to the 2006 NBA title.
Donovan has championship pedigree.
Integrity: The idea that college sports operates on a higher plane than the pros took a hit.
Donovan apologized for lying to reporters when he said he wasn't approached by the Magic two days before he signed a contact with the team. Donovan and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also lied in May, when they denied an ESPN report that an agreement for a contract extension was in place. Both later acknowledged they had come to an agreement after Donovan returned from a vacation in the Dominican Republic in April.
Donovan will need to do some damage control on the recruiting trail, explaining to kids and parents that he made a mistake. There will be initial wariness that Donovan could change his mind on their futures the way he did when he flip-flopped from college to the NBA and back.
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