Donovan, Magic work out end of fleeting relationship

Updated: June 7, 2007, 9:52 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Billy Donovan's short-but-hardly-sweet tenure as the head coach of the Orlando Magic officially ended Wednesday night.

Orlando issued a statement saying that it had released Donovan from his contract, allowing him to return to the University of Florida where he had recently coached the Gators to their second consecutive NCAA championship.

Donovan Owns Up

Billy Donovan summarized an emotional five days by admitting he made a mistake. Appearing on The Dan Patrick Show on ESPN Radio, Donovan said he was ready for the challenge of the NBA but later realized his heart wasn't into it. Listen Insider

After three days of back-and-forth negotiations, the Magic and Donovan agreed to terms of a settlement, which were not disclosed. But ESPN.com has reported that Donovan and the Magic were in agreement on a five-year non-compete clause in the deal that would prevent him from coaching in the NBA during that period of time -- a move Donovan, according to sources, supported to show recruits he was recommitted to Florida.

"As our signing of Billy Donovan showed, we are committed to winning a championship," the Magic statement said. "We have the legal right to hold Billy to the contract he signed, but with him having a change of heart about leaving college basketball, we want him at the University of Florida. We have granted him permission to break his commitment and return to the Gators."

On Thursday, Donovan apologized to the Magic, his family and Florida.

"I feel terrible about it. [The Magic are] a great organization. They have great ownership, and they're great people. I feel sorry and have apologized,'' he said at a news conference in Gainesville. "It was my decision, it was my mistake. I have to take responsibility for that, which I'm trying to do.

"Really, it was my decision. There were no lures, there was no pressure by anybody to come back. It was what was in my heart."

Donovan had planned to call his returning players and newcomers, as well as their families, Wednesday night.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, reached late Wednesday by The Associated Press, said: "It's great news for the Gators."

Van Gundy was to be introduced at a news conference in Orlando late Thursday afternoon. He had visited Sacramento Kings officials on Wednesday to talk about their opening.

It was a week ago to the day that Orlando's brass, led by general manager Otis Smith, visited Donovan in his Gainesville home and made him an offer to replace Brian Hill as coach. Smith had first called Donovan the previous weekend, but after the home visit last Wednesday, Donovan slept on the idea and last Thursday accepted their five-year year for $27.5 million.

Last Friday, Donovan arrived in Orlando to a standing ovation from the Magic staff and was introduced as head coach. Later that afternoon he was whisked away to a farewell news conference in Gainesville. It was after that news conference that Donovan began to have second thoughts.

Then, Saturday morning, he awoke, according to those close to him, and felt he had made a mistake by signing the contract and accepting the job. He immediately wanted to return to the University of Florida. So, he called Foley, who was on his way to Richmond, Va., to likely offer the job to Donovan's former 10-year assistant, Anthony Grant of VCU. Foley never met with Grant and returned to Gainesville.

The Magic brass went to Gainesville Saturday night in an attempt to convince Donovan to stay, and the discussions continued into Sunday.

But Donovan insisted on returning to Florida and by Monday night had hired a lawyer to get him out of the contract.

Wednesday, all of the exit agreements were agreed upon and Donovan was allowed to return to the Gators.

"When I made the decision, the next morning it just did not feel right for me," Donovan said Thursday. "I've got too much respect for the Magic, for the organization, for their team, for their fans, to continue on."

Donovan will work under his previous contract, which has two years remaining. In the coming weeks, he is expected to sign a new $3.5 million-per-year deal that will run for six years, with an option for a seventh.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com