Let's Acknowledge Billy Donovan for What He Is: The Coach K of This Generation

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Let's Acknowledge Billy Donovan for What He Is: The Coach K of This Generation
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

DALLAS — Back in 2007 when Florida renovated its basketball facilities after a second straight national title, a picture of Billy Donovan went up with some of his accomplishments.

Donovan didn't want it. ­­­­

"From a recruiting standpoint, we said, 'Coach we've got to throw that up there,'" assistant coach Matt McCall said. "'That's impressive.'"

If Donovan wins the national title on Monday—he has the best team here at the Final Four, and the smart money is on the Gators—then check out a list the Florida coach will join.

Adolph Rupp, John Wooden and...

Oh, that's it. That's the list of coaches who in the span of 10 years have won three national titles.

No matter how you dice it, Donovan is on the verge of becoming an integral part of the history of the game.

A win Monday would be Donovan's third title and make him only the fifth coach to join the exclusive three-ring club. He's already one of only seven coaches who have won back-to-back titles, and Florida is the only team to do it in the last 20 years. 

And to put in perspective how quickly Donovan got here, consider that Mike Krzyzewski won his third title in his 26th season of coaching at the age of 54. Donovan is just 48 and in his 20th year of coaching, and he already has more wins than Krzyzewski (486 to 431) at that point in the legendary Duke coach's career.

David J. Phillip

These are not cherry-picked numbers to simply make Donovan look good. It's simply a reminder of his excellence that goes relatively unnoticed probably because he's at Florida and probably because he's not out there trying to get everyone to look his way.

"I don't think he gets the recognition," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy says.

To put it another way, the word legend usually doesn't follow Donovan's name.

That's reserved for coaches like Krzyzewski or Jim Boeheim or even Donovan's mentor, Rick Pitino. Coaches in the latter part of their careers.

But it's about time we all start editing ourselves when we talk about Donovan.

It's not just an age thing either. All of those coaches bring a certain color with their personality that gives them an aura. No one tells a story like Pitino. You get the feeling wisdom is pouring out every time Coach K opens his mouth. And Boeheim has a wit and a zone defense that make him unforgettable. 

The stage doesn't even feel like it's Donovan's this week at the Final Four as it does when a Krzyzewski or a Boeheim or a Pitino are here. John Calipari, not surprisingly, is the guy gobbling up all the attention. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Calipari is at Kentucky because he loves the show. He loves being the show. Donovan turned that opportunity down in 2009 when Kentucky was interested. He is all business—probably because he spent his younger days on Wall Street as a broker—and the media isn't always attracted to such guys because they don't fill up our notepads with killer quotes. Like "succeed and then proceed," the catchphrase Calipari brought to the table on Friday.

Calipari did this, he'll say, because he's tired of hearing about "one and done." But really he's just bringing more attention to the fact that he's winning with freshmen.

We marvel at how Calipari has been able to win that way, and rightfully so, but what coaches marvel about when it comes to Donovan is what happens on the court.

"Everybody has to make a defensive rotation in one possession, but after you make that one defensive rotation, most teams break down," Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. "Florida has this uncanny ability to make multiple defensive rotations in one defensive possession and not many teams can do that. 

"I think the other thing too is those guys pass and share the ball so well. His ability to get his guys to buy into the team concept I think is the biggest thing that makes him so successful."

Defense and team...boring stuff.

Donovan is all basketball all the time, and that's why he says he flirted with the NBA back in 2007 when he left to be the head coach of the Orlando Magic and then decided to return to Gainesville.

As the years pass by, the only question that Donovan will have left to answer is whether he coaches long enough to chase down Coach K on the all-time win list.

When he was asked on Friday by CNN's Rachel Nichols if he was still intrigued by the NBA or wanted to chase Wooden's record of 10 titles, he was smart enough to not rule out the NBA.

But if anyone has that longevity in him to stay long enough to set records, it's Donovan, who has the health and approach to stick around. 

For one, Donovan works out almost every day. 

"That's the one thing that he has an ego about is his workouts—himself working out—and he thinks he's got it all figured out in the weight room," McCall said. "He'll challenge us, his assistant coaches, to some of the workouts that he does."

Donovan has also learned to lean on others through the years. He's always asking questions of his assistants, and the willingness to count on others usually leads to a long career.

Rob Kozloff

It's pretty crazy that the guy once known as "Billy the Kid" from when he led Providence to the Final Four as a player in 1987 is already in his 20th year of coaching. Over his entire career, he's now been to six Final Fours—one as a player, one as an assistant at UK and now four as a head coach—and he has already done enough to put himself in the Hall of Fame one day.

Donovan may not care about the recognition. He's not out there with a chisel ready to etch himself into the Mount Rushmore of coaches.

"Everybody looks at those guys as icons," Ray said. "But when you start to look at titles and success and getting to all those Elite Eights, he stacks right up there with the best of the best."

Whether Donovan wins his third title on Monday night or not, it's time for the rest of us to bust out a chisel and start etching.

Billy Donovan is a legend. He is the Mike Krzyzewski of this generation. And by the time he's finished, whether he likes it or not, they might need to put up a bigger picture at Florida to list all of his accomplishments.

 

C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.

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