Billy Donovan is on his way to Oklahoma City.
On Thursday, Donovan and the Thunder agreed to a deal that will make the former Florida head man the new coach in Oklahoma City. The deal is for five years, according to Yahoo Sports. Donovan is close with Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who has hired two former Florida staffers to work in his organization.
Frankly, this was an easy decision for Donovan to make. It’s not a secret in the coaching community that he’s wanted to try his hand at coaching at the NBA level, and he’ll never get a better opportunity than the one in front of him now. Who wouldn’t want to coach Kevin Durant, a top four player in the world, and Russell Westbrook, who isn’t that far behind?
The question now: Who will be Donovan’s replacement? And just how good of a job is Florida?
The two popular names for the job: Xavier head coach Chris Mack and Dayton head coach Archie Miller. It also should be noted that Donovan’s current staff at Florida has two recent SEC head coaches on it, former Alabama head man Anthony Grant and former Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, although they may be on their way to Oklahoma City as well. Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino’s name is one that has popped up in the conversations I’ve had about the opening. The elder Pitino was Donovan’s head coach back at Providence. I’ve also heard Louisiana Tech’s Michael White, Duke assistant Jeff Capel and even Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley mentioned.
It’s worth noting here that Florida likely won’t be throwing around $4 million a year. Their new head football coach Jim McElwain makes $3.5 million annually, and that was after he chipped in $2 million of his own money to help with his buyout at Colorado State. The SEC’s three major hires in the last two seasons — Bruce Pearl at Auburn, Ben Howland at Mississippi State and Rick Barnes at Tennessee — all make a little more than $2 million a year, and many believe that’s roughly what Florida will spend to make their basketball hire.
So can Florida actually generate interest from someone like Gregg Marshall? That remains to be seen. Marshall wasn’t lured by the blank check that Alabama had to offer him and signed an extension with Wichita State worth $3.3 million annually in a place where he A) is treated like a king, and B) will never, ever be fired. Marshall might have taken the Texas job if it was available to him, but is Florida on the same level as Texas?
I’m not so sure it is.
It’s a top 25 job at this point — that’s not even debatable — between the sustained success that they’ve had, the amount of talent in the state and the relative lack of pressure to win in hoops at a football school. But it will be interesting to see just how much of that was a result of Donovan and how good of a coach he is. In other words, was it Donovan that was a consistent Final Four contender that routinely courted McDonald’s All-Americans more than it was the Florida program?
The good news for whoever eventually takes over the program is that there are plenty of pieces currently available on the roster.
Senior Dorian Finney-Smith will be back, as will former five-star prospect Alex Murphy. Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza will return in the back court, while sophomore wing Devin Robinson is back and big man John Egbunu is now eligible. Throw in redshirt freshman Brandone Francis and a solid four-man recruiting class — Kevaughn Allen, Noah Dickerson, Keith Stone and Kevarrius Hayes — and the cupboard is far from bare in Gainesville.
The pieces are there for the Gators, who are coming off of a 16-17 season, to get back to the NCAA tournament in their first season in nearly two decades without Donovan.