Donovan has 'a level of peace' with his decision

Originally Published: June 7, 2007
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Billy Donovan agreed to what could be the richest contract for a college basketball coach at $3.5 million a year, for six years, with an option on the seventh.

Donovan will make more than football coach Urban Meyer, who agreed to a $3.25 million-a-year, six-year deal, too. Donovan won the last two NCAA titles. Meyer won the last BCS championship. Both contracts were announced by Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley Thursday.

Thursday, Donovan was able to speak on the record for the first time after he asked out of his signed, five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic. He held a news conference Thursday morning in Gainesville. He talked at length to a number of reporters during the day.

Brewer expected reticence
Katz
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Corey Brewer wasn't at all surprised that Billy Donovan changed his mind and wanted to be back coaching at Florida.

Brewer, who helped lead Donovan's Florida Gators to back-to-back national championships, was rather stunned that Donovan took the Orlando Magic job in the first place.

"I knew once he went back for that press conference (in Gainesville last Friday after the one in Orlando earlier in the day) that he would have second thoughts," said Brewer after a pre-draft workout at the Boston Celtics practice facility Thursday. "I remember when we had our press conference (to leave for the NBA in April), looking at those faces, seeing all the tears coming out, it made it hard to leave. We (Brewer and teammates Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Taurean Green) were there only three years. He was there for 11."

Brewer said Donovan has the "best situation ever" with a great recruiting class coming in and the pieces to keep it going with Mo Speights, Brandon Powell, Walter Hodge and Dan Werner.

"He can prove now how good a coach he is," Brewer said. "He took us as sophomores and made us into winners. He's got a chance to do it all over again. I think he made a good decision to go back. It's home."

-- Andy Katz, ESPN.com

There were a number of issues that needed to be addressed. Here are a few after a conversation with ESPN.com:

Katz: What happened Friday night that led you to this decision?

Donovan: When the Florida [news conference] ended, I was leaving the podium and there were a lot of people there besides the media but affiliated with Florida and they couldn't be nicer. I was leaving and I was sad and it was an emotional period.

I did "PTI" and I came back home and I told Chris [his wife] that it doesn't feel right. I worried about my heart being into it. She said, "Billy, it's been an emotional day. Relax and get through tonight and let's get prepared to go to Orlando Monday."

So I went to bed, I woke up in the morning and felt this isn't right. This isn't in my heart. I slept on and off all night.

I've always had my heart into it, and I've worked really hard. When I went to Marshall and Florida I was [into it]. I made those decisions because my heart was into it. And my heart not being into it bothered me.

I began to think about all the people this would affect, the coaching staffs, the Orlando Magic and the recruits and everyone. And I wasn't feeling it right in my heart.

I hated that it had to come to this to crystallize it for me but I made a mistake. I sat there Saturday morning and realized that my heart isn't into coaching their basketball team and heart wasn't into the challenge.

I said I can't do this and live with myself for the next two to three years. I don't know if the press conferences should have been flip-flopped or not [Orlando second and Florida first], but my heart wasn't into it.

It wasn't that something happened with my wife, or Jeremy Foley guilt-tripped me or something that the Magic did upset me or there was a problem with [Magic general manager] Otis Smith or the way Christine's face looked in a photo on the Internet at the press conference.

Everyone wants to put a reason as to why something happened. I'm terribly sorry for what happened, and I take responsibility for it. But this is a Billy Donovan issue, not a Christine Donovan or Jeremy Foley or [Orlando Magic president] Bob Vander Weide or [Magic owner] Rich DeVos issue.

It's me and I have a level of peace of what I did and although I made a mistake, I would have made a greater mistake had I gone through with it.

I thought about maybe I could cover it up for a week or two weeks or a month, but when you don't have your heart into it and you're not committed to it, I knew I would eventually get exposed.

I know everyone says, "Why didn't you bring it up and why didn't you have the courage to bring it up and that's your fault." I made a mistake. The only thing I could do is apologize.

Katz: How did Saturday play out?

Donovan: Saturday after I talked to Christine, I spoke with Jeremy and I told him how I'm feeling, but he said he can't get involved in it. So I called Otis Smith. He said he's coming over to the house to talk. So he did. He was there in two hours. He was there for a few hours in the afternoon and then he had me talk to Bob.

They wanted me to think about it. But they wanted me to talk to Mr. DeVos Sunday, but he was in Europe. They told me to think about it again and be by the phone for a call with the owners Monday afternoon.

But I wasn't conflicted at all. The main reason I didn't talk [all week publicly] was I had to give them the opportunity to get a coach. And while I hope the University of Florida will be better off, I know the Magic is better off hiring Stan Van Gundy.

Katz: Once you got a lawyer Monday, what was discussed with your exit contract?

Donovan: We talked about a lot of ideas Monday night, into Tuesday and Wednesday, and I was fine with the five years [non-competition clause so he couldn't coach in the NBA during that time]. That's great. I know I want to be at Florida. I don't want to coach in the NBA. Five years is fine with me. That's the length of the contract. I shouldn't be allowed to coach in the NBA [for those five years]. I want to stay where I'm at. I want to stay at Florida as long as they'll have me.

Everything was fair. There was nothing unfair. There will be a few other things in there that I can't discuss, but nothing was unfair.

Katz: What did you do at your house for five days?

Donovan: A lot of it was spent on the phone with the Magic, working this out. I continued to talk to them. On Monday, Christine and I went for run. I hung out with the kids a bit. Larry Shyatt [his assistant] came over but I couldn't tell him much either. I was worried about the staff and the players.

At one point, I was on a conference call with the Magic and my 4-year old [the youngest of four children] came up to me and said, "Dad can you put a movie in for me?" It was just normal for the kids. They weren't affected at all.

It was emotional. I was worried about my wife and kids and the coaching staff and the players and the University of Florida and the Orlando Magic. I wasn't feeling sorry for myself. I was stressed thinking about other people.

Christine was unbelievable. She's a great, great wife. This showed how supportive she is. She was unbelievable helping me through this. You go through this and realize you married someone terrific.

Katz: How much did you believe in what you were saying at the Magic news conference last Friday?

Donovan: I don't recall everything I said, but I do recall talking about the challenge and how it would help me grow as a coach. I still believe that and if I were to go there that would challenge me as a coach and make me better. But maybe while I was there, maybe at the time, I thought I could get through this and my heart would follow. I was excited and with good reason with good people there, with a franchise player in Dwight Howard and room for free agency and a playoff team and how much potential they had. I was feeling all of those emotions. But I realized Friday night that my heart wasn't into it. I felt bad I couldn't disclose that earlier on.

The two things that everyone said about me was that I would leave for Kentucky and the NBA. Well, it's unfortunate the way it came about but I'm not going to talk about that anymore. I'm at Florida and I'm happy to be at Florida. I'm committed to being there.'

Katz: Where does former 10-year assistant and second-year VCU head coach Anthony Grant fit into this after he was the target of Foley's trip to Richmond last Saturday but never met with him?

Donovan: Anthony and I are very, very close. We talked through all of this and had conversations on this. I don't know what Jeremy would have done or who he would have hired, but obviously I said Anthony would be great.

He called me Saturday and I told him where I was at that point after I had met with Otis Smith. He said, "Bill I'm not going to do this." I told him you do what's best for you, VCU, your administration and come out with a statement [which he did Sunday]. He's been a great friend and he's an unbelievable guy.

Katz: So what's next?

Donovan: We've got camp all next week.

And so the Donovan saga ends -- all in one week.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com