Earlier today, Yahoo Sports reported that Florida's Billy Donovan was nearing a deal to coach the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder. It's now official:
Donovan famously took the Orlando Magic job for a brief time in 2007 before backing out to return to UF. His non-compete condition that allowed him to do so in exchange for not taking another NBA job for five years expired a couple years ago, and he's been on something of an NBA watch ever since.
Donovan achieved unprecedented heights at Florida, which had little else but a random Final Four appearance in 1994 as a basketball program prior to his arrival from Marshall. A Final Four run in 2000 earned him a reputation as one of college basketball's best young coaches, and his back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007 cemented him as one of the game's true greats. His Final Four in 2014 was perhaps his best coaching job, as the roster didn't include multiple future pros as his other teams to get there did. It completed a four-year stretch of at least making the Elite Eight.
Donovan finished the 2014-15 campaign with his worst record since his second year in Gainesville, and it clearly was a miserable year for him. He made comments throughout the year to the effect that he didn't enjoy coaching that group of players, and he had to suspend players who were supposed to be leaders like Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith for violations of team rules.
Those issues made it more likely than ever that Donovan would try the NBA, something he's said on several occasions that he'd like to do. What has held him back before is the fact that he and his wife Christine are truly integrated in the Gainesville community, with them being major benefactors to the Catholic school his children have been attending. Through his 19 years, Donovan has probably done more for UF and Gainesville than anyone, possibly including Steve Spurrier. It couldn't have been an easy choice to leave, but at 49-years-old, he has plenty of time left in his career to return to the college level if the NBA doesn't work out for him.
It's less clear now than in 2007 who will replace Donovan. Back then Jeremy Foley zeroed in on Anthony Grant, who was head coach at VCU at the time and had been a key UF assistant up to the 2006 championship. Grant had rejoined Florida's staff not long ago, but thanks to his firing after not working out at Alabama, he's far more likely to follow Donovan to Oklahoma City than be the next head coach in Gainesville. The consensus right now seems to be that Dayton's Archie Miller will be Foley's top target, but we'll see what happens.
Donovan leaves Florida as one of the giants of SEC basketball and college basketball in general. For all little success as Florida football had before Spurrier, Florida basketball had less than that when Donovan arrived. UF had zero conference tournament titles and just one regular season title before Donovan, and it had just five NCAA tournament appearances—two of which were later vacated. The football program at least had 18 bowl appearances and a (later vacated) SEC championship before Spurrier.
Donovan had been a steady rock for Florida sports through the lean years that the football program experienced with Ron Zook and Will Muschamp. With the Gators now breaking in new coaches in both of the revenue sports, it's truly a new era in Gainesville.