Okay, the NCAA Final is over, and Florida has repeated as Champions. Now everyone in the Bluegrass State is all fired up thinking Billy Donovan will become the head coach of the Cayuts (purposely spelled like that to inject the twang). First off, it should be noted that I’m a huge Louisville fan and not the least bit a UK fan, but there is always an interest in what the rival is up to as that’s a “competitive intelligence” issue. Much like a good business, we sports fans keep up with the landscape.
Anyway, I just don’t see what Billy Donovan would have to gain by switching jobs after winning back-to-back titles at a school he’s put on the map basketball wise. Yes, it’s a football first school, and it will be for quite some time, but there are many benefits to being a coach at a school where you can set the standard versus the standard already being set for you to meet it. The bar at Kentucky is unrealistically high, and ANY coach walking into that pressure pit is going to have a tough time meeting those lofty expectations. The more they pay someone, which is apparently the biggest lure, the quicker they are going to be expected to produce. Nobody can convince me that the Wildcat faithful will be okay “mailing it in” next year even if they do land their top choice as a coach.
The Kentucky cupboard isn’t stocked next year, and the job simply isn’t as good as it used to be. They just ran off a guy that won almost 80% of his games including a championship. Whomever they get is going to have to thump the recruiting trail immediately to salvage even a mediocre class next year. Sure, Donovan would have some loyal recruits follow him IF he takes the job, but why uproot your family for a job that you’ll never totally complete? If he wins one title, they’ll want two. If he wins two, they’ll want three. It’ll never end, and there is zero tolerance for a title one year and a slip back to the Sweet 16 the next year. It’s Final Four or bust every single season, and that’s damn near impossible to achieve. He just did it at Florida, and there are no guarantees it can be done again even with facilities and tons of money flowing in.
This doesn’t even take into account that his four key players on his current team COULD return for their Senior seasons. At least one or two could, and that could make his team in Florida next year, with the addition of one or two key recruits, better than anything he’ll have at UK for three or four years. Why rebuild when you’ve already built something special? Why coach in someone’s shadow? Why try to climb the hill when you’re already at the top of the thing?
I think back to when John Wooden retired from UCLA, and Denny Crum was rumored to be the no-brainer replacement much like Donovan is now for Kentucky. Crum has publicly stated that he had a tough time saying no, but he believes it was the right decision and everything worked out nicely in the end. He was building a great program that had his finger prints all over it, and he’s now a legend in Louisville. Donovan is in a very similar situation–a former assistant coach which has done great things at a perceived lesser basketball school and is going to be offered a lot of money to return and restore the program to glory. The problem for Crum back then and Donovan today is the high standard was already set long before the offer. Taking over the program would be a losing proposition in spite of the monetary compensation. One other caveat–Crum graduated from UCLA; Donovan from Providence so his ties to UK aren’t as strong as Crum’s were to UCLA. It’s harder to turn down the alma mater more often than not, but Crum did it, and now he has his name on the court here. Donovan could have his name on the court, arena, streets leading into the arena, buildings on campus, etc. Whatever he wants his legacy to be could be achieved much easier at Florida than UK. He’s already 75% there today! His checking account might be fatter down the road at UK, but could he truly be happy living in the UK fishbowl? In the end, that’s the $4M question.
My bet is he stays put in Florida and further builds his coaching legacy to Hall of Fame status.