Wide-eyed Donovan hired to coach Magic

Updated: June 4, 2007, 12:42 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Billy Donovan found the opportunity too good to resist: a big payday, a promising team and a job close to home.

"My decision to come here had nothing to do with the University of Florida. ... This is a totally different environment," Donovan said Friday when introduced as coach of the Orlando Magic.

Donovan and the Magic agreed to terms Thursday in a whirlwind deal that turned Florida basketball upside down. For a long time, he was said to be leaving. But he quieted speculation two months ago by declining a job at Kentucky.

Donovan accepted a five-year, $27.5 million contract, which pays more than twice the annual $1.7 million he was making at Florida and the $3 million he was expected to earn on an extension there he had yet to sign.

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
2004-05Florida24-82nd round
2003-04Florida20-111st round
2002-03Florida25-82nd round
2001-02Florida22-91st round
2000-01Florida24-72nd round
1998-99Florida22-9Sweet 16

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

The 42-year-old Donovan built a budding dynasty in Gainesville, taking the school to its first national championship game in 2000 and winning the title the last two years. He has been a head coach for 13 seasons -- two at Marshall and the past 11 with the Gators.

In Orlando, Donovan will try convert that college success into a pro championship -- a notoriously difficult feat in the all-business NBA.

Donovan said one priority was finding a player who can score from the perimeter to help All-Star Dwight Howard and 7-footer Darko Milicic. General manager Otis Smith said he was looking for "someone who was going to help our young team become better basketball players."

Donovan was known for that at Florida.

"Billy Donovan has been here for 11 years, won two national championships," Florida president Bernie Machen said Thursday at the Southeastern Conference's annual spring meeting in Destin. "He's been a great ambassador for the University of Florida. We'll always love Billy Donovan, whether he's here 11 years or 21 years."

A source told ESPN.com's Pat Forde that 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.

Foley said he and Donovan talked on 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."

Donovan is leaving a Gators team that is losing its top seven scorers after the season, including potential top-10 NBA picks Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer.

In Orlando, Donovan inherits a team without a single first-round draft pick -- or much veteran experience. Orlando is rebuilding around Howard, a third-year player who made his first All-Star team this season, and counting on bigger contributions from Trevor Ariza and J.J. Redick.

The Magic intend to re-sign free agent Milicic, who flourished despite an injury in the playoffs, but he still has to prove his NBA value.

A big question mark for Orlando is whether Grant Hill will return. The often-injured star's contract expired this season, and he could retire or chase a title elsewhere. If Hill leaves, it would open much salary-cap room for a skilled offensive player.

Donovan has shown he can improve even mediocre programs. At Florida, a traditional football school, he made it to the NCAA title game three times in his 11 years. He led the Gators to nine straight 20-win seasons, nearly doubling the amount it had before his arrival. Florida won three SEC championships under Donovan after getting just one in 77 years previously. He became the winningest coach in Florida history on Dec. 20 and now has 261 victories.

With the Magic, he'll face a similar challenge. Orlando hasn't been out of the first round of the playoffs in a decade.

Donovan said he would help in Florida's search if asked and "feels strongly" about longtime former assistant Anthony Grant, currently the head coach at mid-major Virginia Commonwealth, succeeding him in Gainesville.

"If [Foley] said to me, Billy, I want to talk to you about this, I'd help in any way I can," Donovan said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.