It's almost difficult to remember when Florida wasn't a top-notch basketball program, when football-addled Gators fans regarded the bouncy orange balls on the indoor hardwood less as a viable competitive outlet than a mild winter diversion. It's hard to remember when Florida wasn't good. And that's thanks to Billy Donovan.
In his 16 years at Florida, Donovan has brought success on the court and changed the culture away from it. He's built Florida into a haven for top recruits, a consistent SEC contender and high NCAA tournament seed, and the type of place that doesn't just compete for national titles but has the gall to go out and win them.
Given all that, it should be no surprise that Florida was eager to sign its coach to a contract extension and ensure his continued long-term presence at the helm in the O-Dome. It did this week. Donovan, according to the Orlando Sentinel, signed an extension that will keep him at the school until the 2015-16 season. The financial terms of his deal are essentially unchanged; Donovan will continue to haul in a tidy $3.5 million per season.
That seems like a lot of money to spend on a basketball coach (though it's hardly out of line with, and in some cases less than, what other top programs pay their coaches). But these two paragraphs from the Sentinel's Rachel George sum up why Donovan, or any coach with his record of program-building success, would be worth the cold, hard cash. To wit:
Under Donovan, the Gators won back-to-back national championships, have four SEC titles, three SEC Tournament titles and five division championships. The Gators have had 13 consecutive 20-win seasons under him. They have made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Final Four during his tenure.
Florida had five NCAA Tournament appearances and one SEC title in the 77 years before Donovan arrived.
And there you have it. Before Donovan arrived 16 seasons ago, Florida basketball wasn't rebuilding. It wasn't going through a tough stretch or in need of an energetic young leader or any of the things we often say about programs that fire old coaches and hire new ones. Before Donovan arrived, Florida basketball barely existed. It was a dormant program, a sideshow at the school, an SEC weakling that bowed like so many others to the excellence of Kentucky and Arkansas.
All those wins and NCAA tournament appearances translate into dollars, of course, but they've also provided the groundwork for long-term success in the future. If Donovan ever leaves Florida -- and that doesn't look likely anytime soon, especially now -- he'll leave a program entirely different, and in every way superior, to the one he inherited. Sixteen years later, Florida is one of college hoops' consistently elite programs. It's difficult to remember what Florida basketball used to be like. The school has Billy Donovan to thank for that.