Billy Donovan had his farewell press conference at Florida yesterday. It was emotional all around, but there was a bit of news from it:
Although athletic director Jeremy Foley said Monday he would sit down with his search team later in the day and discuss potential candidates, he made it clear that school officials have been planning for Donovan's departure for some time.
Foley said the process only intensified when the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder fired coach Scott Brooks on April 22.
''We heard some undercurrents that this (was) a possibility, so we began looking at coaches probably several weeks ago,'' Foley said.
Donovan was obviously unhappy with his team throughout the 2014-15 season, and while turning 50 later this month doesn't make him old, it means his window for trying out the NBA would likely close soon. He's long been interested in trying out the pro league, as evidenced most clearly by his actually taking an NBA job in 2007. Put the pieces together, and it would've been malpractice for Foley not to have been prepared when Donovan decided to go west.
Because Foley has already been auditing potential replacements for a while, the search to replace Donovan likely will be quick and probably will be quiet too. His rather public pursuit of Jim McElwain last winter, complete with him negotiating in a room in McElwain's house with an open window to the outside, was almost certainly a negotiating tactic with Colorado State over the large buyout due. Don't expect to see him caught throwing rocks at Gregg Marshall's window.
Replacing a legend is famously difficult, and Foley is 0-2 on that front on the football side. Donovan openly campaigned for John Pelphrey yesterday, but I think neither he nor fellow Donovan assistant Anthony Grant will be real candidates unless every other viable choice says no. It's not Foley's style to hire a coach who's been fired by another school, and that goes for every sport. Pelphrey and Grant would be votes for continuity, but we'd probably know by now if either was capable of being on Donovan's level. Prioritizing continuity over a higher potential ceiling would smack of Foley's Ron Zook hire, and that's not an episode he's going to want to repeat.
Names that have appeared on every list of candidates I've seen are Dayton's Archie Miller, Xavier's Chris Mack, and Louisiana Tech's Mike White. Minnesota's Richard Pitino is another common one. I've not heard or seen anything one way or the other about any of those coaches' possible interest in the Florida job. There haven't been any leaks or denials just yet.
I don't know that we'll wake up on Friday morning with a press conference scheduled for 10 a.m. to announce a new hire. I do expect that Foley has his list and is now in the process of having his plausible deniability people reach out to the plausible deniability people of those above coaches and maybe more. With weeks of research already done, the process is going to be more about gauging interest and feeling out contract terms than identifying good candidates.
While Florida is one of the better jobs in college basketball, any coach may not want to feel like he's living in someone else's shadow. It's always a daunting task to take over a job in place of a guy who has over 200 more wins (Donovan: 467 at UF) than the next biggest winner at a school (Norm Sloan: 235 wins). With the O'Connell Center soon to undergo a renovation, the new head coach is probably going to be doing business on Billy Donovan Court in a couple of years.
It's going to take a brave coach to want to follow that legacy, and it will take a special one to keep the level of success going.