Donovan takes big-money deal to coach Magic

Updated: June 4, 2007, 12:43 AM ET
ESPN.com

Billy Donovan, who led Florida to back-to-back national championships this past season, was named head coach of the Orlando Magic on Friday.

After weeks of waiting for the Gators to finalize a new seven-year contract extension, Donovan on Thursday was offered a big-money deal. Sources say the pact is for five years and $27.5 million. Orlando formally introduced the 42-year-old Donovan as their coach at a Friday morning news conference.

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"Personally this was very difficult for me because my 11 years at Florida were a very great 11 years," Donovan said at his news conference. "But I really looked at myself in a couple of aspects; one, the easy decision for me personally would have been to stay at Florida, or the next step would be to do something that would really challenge me as a person and coach and help me me grow and get better.

"And I've always been intrigued by the NBA. To leave Florida would have taken something very, very special."

Donovan's future has been the subject of speculation since the Gators won their second straight NCAA championship in April. He turned down an offer to coach Kentucky, whose storied program launched his career as an assistant in 1990. Magic officials told the Orlando Sentinel, which first reported the story on its Web site, that Donovan accepted the lucrative job earlier on Thursday afternoon.

"We're not worried about hiring a college coach -- not this college coach," a source told ESPN.com's Pat Forde. "He's proven he's won. He's young and he works well with a young team. This team is one step above a college team right now, it's so young. They're just learning how to play together, and someone like Billy will be perfect.

"I also don't think this job is as bad as some of the others that college coaches have walked into. It's not like he's inheriting a bad team, and that's usually the case for a college guy making the transition. The hardest part was for Billy. It was a tough decision for him because of everything that's happened at Florida, because of what he's built there. He was happy there."

The source said that the 42-year-old Donovan will have no front-office responsibilities. "He's just the coach," the source said.

"I love Billy Donovan to death and thank him for what he did for us," Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley told ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Thursday night.

Foley said he and Donovan talked earlier Thursday and Donovan told him that the Magic job intrigued him more than any other and that he was ready for a new challenge. And, "the Magic made him one helluva an offer," Foley said.

"He just felt it was the right time," Foley said. "I think he's ready for a new challenge in his life. He's had two great years here and obviously he's an attractive candidate. But it was a tough decision for him."

Foley said that going to Orlando, which is less than two hours away from his home in Gainesville, also made it palatable for his family.

"He doesn't have to move very far," Foley said. "They're giving him some authority to hire some people and they've got a young team with salary cap money. It's not like it was in middle America or the West Coast. It's ideal."

Foley said that he hasn't had time to think about replacement candidates, saying he would deal with it after Donovan's news conference in Gainesville (which follows his introduction in Orlando). But Foley said he will contact the families of all current Gator players and incoming recruits to tell them Florida will find the best possible coach for the university.

Donovan's father, Bill Sr., a fixture at nearly every Gators game -- he splits time in his native Long Island, N.Y. and Gainesville -- said, "I can't tell you how excruciating this was for him. He went back and forth for so long on it. But the recruiting really takes a toll on a coach and hopefully he can spend more time with his family now."

Donovan Sr. said he expects his son's family to stay in Gainesville for the short term as Billy commutes to Orlando; his eldest son is in the midst of playing high school basketball.

Donovan at a glance

Billy Donovan
Born: May 30, 1965, Rockville Centre, N.Y.
Coaching experience: 13 years
College: Providence
Legacy: Donovan led Florida to a school-record nine straight NCAA Tournament berths and the last two national titles. He's 296-123 overall as a college coach with a 22-7 tournament mark.

Year Team Record NCAA Tournament finish
2006-07Florida35-5Champions
2005-06Florida33-6Champions
2004-05Florida24-82nd round
2003-04Florida20-111st round
2002-03Florida25-82nd round
2001-02Florida22-91st round
2000-01Florida24-72nd round
1999-2000Florida29-8Runner-up
1998-99Florida22-9Sweet 16
1997-98Florida14-15None
1996-97Florida13-17None
1995-96Marshall17-11None
1994-95Marshall18-9None
TOTALS296-12322-7

"I think it's great for Billy," Donovan Sr. said of his son's future as an NBA coach. "I love Florida and I love Jeremy Foley. He stuck by Billy when things were tough. I just hope the transition for Florida will be smooth."

Donovan is expected to bring with him to the Magic Florida assistant Larry Shyatt and hire an NBA veteran to his staff as well. Meanwhile, assistants Rob Lanier, who left Virginia last week to join Florida's staff, and Lewis Preston will likely wait and see who Foley hires before evaluating their futures.

Earlier at the NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Memphis coach John Calipari and Marquette coach Tom Crean both said they are not candidates to replace Donovan. If Florida were to look outside, meaning not VCU's Anthony Grant, then Villanova's Jay Wright is expected to be on the radar. But there is definitely a groundswell of support to hire Grant, who Bill Sr. said he hoped the Gators would hire. Grant was a 10-year assistant to his son at Florida, was instrumental in recruiting the players who were at the core of both national championship teams, and coached VCU to the NCAA Tournament second round in his first season. VCU beat Duke in the first round.

When Orlando's offer to Donovan went public, multiple sources said he had to fast-track his decision.

"Billy Donovan has been here 11 years and has won two national championships," Florida president Dr. J. Bernard Machen told ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach. "We'll always love Billy Donovan, whether he was here 11 years or 21 years. I don't think the University of Florida has to worry about who their next coach is."

Florida's four juniors -- Al Horford, Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green -- who led the Gators to the back-to-back national titles and all declared for the NBA draft and signed with an agent were impressed with the deal that Donovan was going to receive from the Magic. Horford, Noah and Brewer all said they couldn't see how he would turn down that kind of money.

Green, who was playing in a game Thursday night at the pre-draft camp, told ESPN.com, "I think it was a real tough decision. He's got a great opportunity. But I'm sure he's real sad about leaving. He'll always be a legend at the University of Florida. He won two national championships."

Horford, Noah and Brewer all said that the Gators should be fine going forward and expected the Gators to hire within the family with VCU's Grant. They said they would be surprised if Grant didn't get the job, which would allow assistant coach Shyatt to stay with the Gators. Shyatt was instrumental in the Gators winning the last two titles with his defensive principles he brought with him in his years as an assistant to Rick Barnes and a head coach at Wyoming and Clemson.

Donovan's new contract at Florida -- it was presented to him on May 17 but he had yet to sign it as of May 25 -- was to pay him around $3 million in the first year. The contract then was to escalate to more than $3.75 in guaranteed income by the end of the contract in 2013-14, a person familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.com.

There is precedent for a college coach turning down the NBA. Former Atlanta Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said Thursday that the Hawks thought Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was going to accept their job when they offered it a few years ago. The same thing occurred when Duke's Mike Krzyzewski turned down a lucrative offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers.

Donovan is one of only 12 college basketball coaches to win multiple national championships. The Gators won their second straight in April after beating Ohio State.

He replaces Brian Hill, who was fired after two straight losing seasons. Hill's ouster followed the Magic's first playoff appearance in four years, which ended in the first round against Detroit.

Orlando is rebuilding around third-year player Dwight Howard, who made his first All-Star team this season, and counting on bigger contributions from Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick.

Information from ESPN.com's Pat Forde, Andy Katz and Mark Schlabach and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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