Donovan apologizes, returns to Florida with 6-year deal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan swallowed a gulp of water and then his pride.
He apologized Thursday to the Orlando Magic, his family and the Florida Gators for changing his mind about joining the NBA coaching ranks. Instead, he'll rejoin Florida with a new six-year contract worth $3.5 million per year.
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
"It was my decision to go to the Magic," Donovan said. "It was my mistake. And I have to take responsibility for that, which I'm trying to do."
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley announced Donovan and the Gators have agreed in principle to a new contract, with an option for a seventh year. Foley also said football coach Urban Meyer agreed to a new six-year deal at $3.25 million per year, with an option for a seventh.
"We never wanted [Donovan] to leave," Foley said. "But we're not going to sit here and take great pleasure knowing a lot of lives have been turned upside down."
Donovan struck a deal late Wednesday to opt out of the five-year, $27.5 million contract he signed last week with the Magic. The deal has a clause that prohibits Donovan from coaching in the NBA for five years. He is now set to sign a long-term contract that would keep him in Gainesville through 2013.
The Florida contracts mark the first time under Foley that the basketball coach would earn more than the football coach. Neither contract has been signed. Donovan led the Gators to the last two national championships; Meyer's team won the football crown last January in his second season with the Gators.
Donovan said he didn't feel good last Friday after signing the contract with the Magic. And when he woke up Saturday morning, he felt he made a "huge mistake."
He put the reasons for reneging on the deal squarely on himself.
"There was no words, there was no pressure by anyone to come back," Donovan said. "It was what was in my heart. You realize you made a mistake and you go forward. I think sometimes people think, 'Well what happened? What was the reason?' There really wasn't one. It had nothing to do with the Magic, my wife, the University of Florida, it was a process I went through myself that I'm sorry for."
Donovan, whose NBA playing career consisted of 44 games with the New York Knicks in 1987-88, said last week that he had always been intrigued by the pro game. He said Orlando was the perfect situation because it was an up-and-coming team and close to home.
That all changed when he contacted the Magic on Saturday to back out of the deal, something that took him time to work up to.
"It was a hard phone call," Donovan said.
During the brief coaching vacancy, the Gators contacted Virginia Commonwealth coach Anthony Grant.
Foley left for Richmond, Va., on Saturday to interview Grant, a former assistant under Donovan. But when Foley landed, he was contacted by Donovan's wife, Christine, who told him her husband was having second thoughts. Foley said he was on the ground for about 20 minutes, never met with Grant and immediately flew back to Gainesville.
"At that point in time we couldn't talk to another candidate," Foley said.
Donovan, 42, agreed to the deal with Orlando one day after the Magic met with former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy, who also interviewed for coaching vacancies in Charlotte, Indiana and Sacramento in recent weeks, was hired Thursday to coach the Magic.
But even though Donovan is back at Florida, his rash decision to bolt to the NBA may come with consequences.
Donovan may have to convince future recruits he won't forsake them again. The same can hold true for his current players and assistant coaches.
Donovan, who already signed one of the top recruiting classes this year, said he doesn't think trust will be an issue.
"I think if I would have come out and promised a young man and said, 'I'm never leaving Florida, you have nothing to worry about, I'm never leaving' -- then, to me, there's a trust issue," Donovan said. "I never had those conversations with anybody."
Florida forward Marreese Speights downplayed the significance of Donovan's turnaround.
"He was only gone for like five days," Speights said. "It was like he never left. But, obviously, there might be a little respect owed."
Donovan has compiled a 261-103 record in 11 seasons at Florida, and is the school's all-time winningest coach.
He said his commitment is now, and will always remain, with the Gators.
"As long as the University of Florida would like to have me here, this is where I want to be," Donovan said. "For my part, I want to be at the University of Florida for the rest of my time coaching."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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MAGIC MAN DISAPPEARS
Billy Donovan's tenure as the Magic coach lasted six days, and he knew he wanted out sooner than that. He becomes one of the highest profile examples of coaches flip-flopping.
• Donovan apologizes to Magic and Florida
• Donovan released from Magic contract
• Donovan waiting to hear from Magic
• Donovan has second thoughts
• Florida contacts Grant
• Magic introduce new coach
• Donovan takes Magic job
• Bilas: Donovan's unprofessional maneuver
• Forde: Donovan, Bryant dine at waffle house
• Hill: Curse of Shaq: Orlando jilted again
• Stein: What now for Orlando?
• Katz: Donovan's tough decision
• Forde: Is Donovan like all the others?
• Schlabach: Grant and the Gators
• Katz: Florida's future
• Schlabach: Donovan's contract
• Andy Katz