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.
"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
"At that point in time we couldn't talk to another candidate,"
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
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
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