May 31, 2007

Donovan may discover pros full of cons

More from Gators signees caught off guard
More from Donovan's Magic act?
The next step: Florida has few options

The Orlando Magic pulled a rabbit out of a hat, doing what the University of Kentucky and the Miami Heat couldn't do.

The Magic announced the hiring of Billy Donovan as their new head coach late Thursday.

The world's hottest basketball coaching commodity will be cashing in, too, with a contract that could pay him as much as $6 million a year.

Donovan, 42, has never made a secret about being intrigued by the NBA. The chance to become the $6 million man makes it that much more intriguing. You can't blame a guy for leaving for any job that more than doubles his salary.

But the lure of the NBA has been a siren song for some college head coaches. As a matter of fact, do the words "Rick Pitino" ring a bell?

The NBA left a ringing in Pitino's ears. The New York Knicks hired him out of Providence after the Friars' miracle Final Four run that not coincidentally featured a scrappy guard named Donovan.

Pitino had a decent couple of seasons (going 90-74) before jumping ship for Kentucky. His wildly successful run in Lexington led the Boston Celtics to throw a lot of money at him and give him total control, and it turned out to be a total disaster. He went 102-146 and resigned midway through his fourth season.

The NBA has made a scrap heap of college coaches. John Calipari. Lon Kruger. Mike Montgomery. Tim Floyd. All had excellent credentials. None made a dent as a pro coach. Calipari, Kruger and Floyd returned to the college game, and all three took their teams to at least the NCAA Sweet 16 last season.

Donovan has no pro experience. None. It's kind of like going for your first swim in choppy waters off the Great Barrier Reef. Donovan's career will either continue to paddle along merrily or it will wash up on the shore.

Here's a look at how a handful of high-profile coaches from the college ranks fared when they made the jump to the NBA:
John Calipari
1988-96 UMass 193-71
1997-99 New Jersey Nets 72-112
Tim Floyd
1995-98 Iowa State 81-47
1999-2002 Chicago Bulls 49-190
Leonard Hamilton
1991-2000 Miami 144-147
2001 Washington Wizards 19-63
Lon Kruger
1996-2000 Illinois 81-48
2000-03 Atlanta Hawks 69-122
Mike Montgomery
1986-2004 Stanford 393-167
2004-06 Golden State Warriors 68-96
Donovan had the kingdom in Gainesville. He built the castle. UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley loved him. What's not to love? The guy had won back-to-back national championships. Even with four star juniors leaving early, Donovan had the nation's No. 1 incoming recruiting class according to

Donovan had a contract extension on the table in Gainesville at around $3 million a year. Do you have any idea how far $3 million goes in Gainesville?

Meanwhile, the life expectancy of an NBA coaching tenure is roughly the same as that of a fruit fly. Two NBA coaches have more than five years with their current teams. Two. The SEC alone has five coaches heading into at least their seventh season - not including Donovan, who was the dean of the league's coaches with 11 seasons under his belt.

Donovan is no shoo-in to win in Orlando as he was 120 miles up the road in Gainesville. He won't be dealing with guys he recruited. He'll be dealing with oft-petulant multimillionaires whose salaries in some cases dwarf even what he'd be making.

The NBA is grinding, demanding. It's four games in a week, not two. It's hitting the road 41 times, not 10 times like the Gators did last season (and two of those were in-state trips). There are no non-conference cupcakes, although there are two games with the Memphis Grizzlies.

The fact is coaches don't leave the NBA because they get better gigs. They leave because they get pink slips. They leave exhausted, chewed up and spit out, black and blue.

Orange and Blue would have been the safer choice.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for He can be reached at

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