Billy Donovan is moving on to the NBA, this time with the Oklahoma City Thunder. How does Florida replace its legendary coach?
It’s finally happening.
It’s been rumored every year since the Flordia Gators won their second championship in 2007, but it hasn’t happened until now: Billy Donovan is leaving the University of Florida for the NBA.
Donovan, 49, has been the head coach at Florida since 1996, where he has compiled a record of 467-186 (good for a .715 winning percentage), including two national championships and four Final Four appearances. In his tenure at Florida, he took a program with a sporadic history of success and turned it into one of the nation’s model programs.
It will be hard, if not impossible, to replace Donovan at Florida, but the Gators have to do it. Unfortunately, the late date of Donovan’s departure has put Florida at a disadvantage, as most of the big names changing teams have already found programs (like new Texas coach Shaka Smart, a former Donovan assistant who would have been perfect for the job). Here are five potential candidates for the job:
1. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State head coach
Yes, Marshall has already turned down Alabama this offseason, but Florida is a different animal entirely, and he might be more willing to make the switch to the Gators.
Marshall has established himself as one of the nation’s finest coaches, with a 204-76 mark at Wichita State, including a Final Four appearance and an undefeated regular season. Marshall has made Wichita State a constant presence in the NCAA Tournament; it’s exciting to think what he could do with the resources of Florida.
2. Archie Miller, Dayton head coach
Miller has only been a head coach for four years, but has already made a name for himself, leading Dayton to several unexpected NCAA Tournament runs, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2014. Miller is 90-47 at Dayton, including a 55-20 mark over the past two seasons.
Although his name makes him sound like he’s 75, Miller is actually only 36 years old, and there is the question of whether he’s ready to head up a big-time program like Florida’s after only four years as a head man. College programs make the mistake all the time of hiring new coaches based on a few games in the NCAA Tournament; the Gators would need to be sure that wouldn’t be the case with Miller before they consider hiring him.
3. John Pelphrey, Florida assistant coach
The simple reality on finding a new head coach in May is that most of the really good candidates have either found new jobs or are preparing for next season and unwilling to change teams so late (although many would probably make an exception for Florida, especially with millions of dollars involved). So the easiest path to take might be to hire a current Donovan assistant.
Pelphrey is the only current Florida assistant with head coaching experience, having been Arkansas’ head coach from 2007 to 2011. While Florida might be wary of hiring a failed head coach, Pelphrey would allow them to keep continuity, keeping the same systems and giving the players a coach they are already familiar with, which would likely minimize transfers and recruits changing their minds. It’s not the sexiest choice, but it might be the smart one.
4. Anthony Grant, ex-Alabama head coach
Back in 2007, when Donovan ever-so-briefly left the Gators, Grant was the first person they called. Of course, Grant was a bigger name back then before his failed stint at Alabama, but he remains familiar with the system Florida has been running for 19 years, has a history of head coaching success at VCU, and a familiarity of coaching in the SEC. Plus, he did lead Alabama to winning records in five of his six seasons. Grant may not be their top choice off the bat, but he should definitely get a call.
5. Billy Donovan
Don’t laugh, it could happen! It’s happened before, in fact. In 2007, the Orlando Magic hired Donovan as their new head coach. They held a press conference introducing him and everything, but the very next day, Donovan told the Magic he had changed his mind and wanted to return to Florida.
Could it happen again? Donovan has obviously been very happy and successful at Florida, and has repeatedly turned down NBA jobs in the past. He probably won’t change his mind again, because no one wants to be known as the guy who always changes his mind. But don’t forget: nothing’s finalized in the Donovan/Thunder deal just yet. There’s still a chance (a small chance, but a chance nonetheless) that when the 2015-16 Florida Gators take the court, Billy Donovan will still be the man leading them.
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