Donovan has second thoughts about Magic job

Updated: June 4, 2007, 1:50 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Billy Donovan informed the Magic and the University of Florida over the weekend that he had second thoughts about agreeing to be Orlando's head coach, and the NBA team was deciding on Monday whether to let him go.

Donovan signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal on Friday, multiple sources told ESPN.com on Sunday. If the Magic do let Donovan out of the deal, they have to decide whether to enforce a financial penalty. Both sides aren't talking publicly because there are legal issues involved in such a decision.

Early Monday morning, the Magic issued a statement: "While Central Florida, the Orlando Magic and Billy were energized with the announcement of his contract signing on Friday, we know there was a different feeling in Gainesville and people have been tugging at him since that time.

"Billy is conflicted with those emotions and the opportunity he has ahead in Orlando and in the NBA.

"We've had numerous conversations and a personal visit in Gainesville with Billy over the last 48 hours and we have a commitment from him that the dialogue between us will continue."

Multiple sources said the decision now rests in the hands of the Magic. Late Sunday night, the Orlando Sentinel cited a source close to the situation that reported the Magic had decided to release Donovan. A source told ESPN.com that Magic ownership was out of the country and didn't arrive back until late Sunday night.

According to a source, Florida doesn't expect a resolution Monday unless the Magic are willing to release Donovan from his contract, and as of Monday morning, that wasn't the case. The Magic were still trying to convince Donovan to honor his commitment and his signed contract. The source said Donovan was expected to stay out of the public eye Monday and away from campus.

Florida won't have any announcement until the Magic and Donovan resolve the contractual issues. Until then, Florida's search for a head coach, which is centered on Anthony Grant of VCU, is on hold. Ultimately, Florida is of the belief that Donovan will return to the Gators, but can't comment or make an assumption while there is an ongoing contractual issue with the Magic.

Once Donovan signed the contract, he was committed unless there is a provision allowing the party to get out of the contract within a certain period. The parties can either agree to rescind or the Magic could sue Donovan for breach of contract. But what are the damages? It is unlikely that there would be any financial damages to pursue a lawsuit.

Donovan's hiring Thursday prompted the sale of 200 Magic season tickets by Friday afternoon. Magic communications director Joel Glass confirmed that number after Friday's news conference introducing Donovan to a standing ovation from the entire on-site Magic organization at the RDV Sportsplex in Orlando. Losing Donovan as coach likely would be a public relations hit to a franchise that needed a pop.

Coaching flip-flops
Billy Donovan could become the third college basketball coach in the last two years to last less than two weeks on a new job before returning to the old one:
Coach
Returned to
Left at altar
Days
'07 Billy DonovanFlorida?Magic?3
'07 Dana AltmanCreightonArkansas1
'06 Gregg MarshallWinthropColl. of Charleston1

Donovan is coming off back-to-back national titles at Florida, the first time a school has done that since Duke in 1991-92. Donovan, who turned 42 Wednesday, agonized over the decision to accept the Magic offer after first being approached last week.

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley flew to Richmond, Va., on Saturday to meet with Donovan's former assistant, Grant, about the opening. But multiple sources confirmed that the plane was on the ground for less than an hour. Foley left without Grant aboard.

Over the weekend, multiple sources said Grant was the top choice but both he and Donovan wanted to make sure that all of their respective staffs were taken care of before any move was made.

"I have been contacted by the University of Florida regarding their coaching vacancy," Grant said in a statement Sunday night. "I have not had any in-person contact with any Florida representative, nor have I been offered the job. At this point in time, I will have no further comment on this situation as my focus is on my responsibilities at VCU."

On Friday, Donovan was emphatic about why he ultimately made the choice. He said he wanted a new challenge and saw the proximity to his home in Gainesville and the young stars on the Magic roster, such as Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, as well as $10 million-$13 million in salary cap space as a primary reason for jumping at this job.

Notable short tenures
Changes of heart have taken place in all sports. Sometimes the decision was the team's.
Person
Job
Days
How left
Dan MarinoDolphins Senior VP22Changed mind
Wally BackmanD-Backs manager4Fired
George O'LearyND football coach4Resigned
Bobby CreminsS. Carolina hoops coach2Changed mind
Bill BelichickJets football coach1Changed mind
Eddie StankyTexas Rangers manager1Changed mind

"My initial reaction was to stay," Donovan said Friday. "But then I asked myself why? And [staying] was easier. If I don't take this job, then I don't have to talk to Jeremy Foley and the players. I was going to get paid a good salary and had a good life there. I just went back and forth.

"But then I asked myself, 'What do I really want?' I do want the challenge. That's what I wanted to do in my heart."

If Donovan had a change of heart, he wouldn't be the first in college basketball.

Creighton coach Dana Altman was introduced as Arkansas' new basketball coach earlier this spring, then decided two days later to return to Creighton.

Altman's reversal was not without precedent. In 1993, Bobby Cremins accepted the South Carolina job, then reneged two days later and returned to Georgia Tech.

And in June 2006, Charleston hired Winthrop's Gregg Marshall, but Marshall told the Cougars one day later that he was returning to Winthrop.

Should the Magic part ways with Donovan, former Miami coach Stan Van Gundy would likely become the leading candidate for the Orlando vacancy. He recently turned down the Indiana Pacers coaching job but had spoken with Magic officials before Donovan's hiring.

In May, Van Gundy said he had "a great interest" in coaching Orlando next season.

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