clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

On Billy Donovan and the new era of SEC Basketball Coaching

Billy Donovan is heading to the NBA leaving Florida in a lurch to replace a legend.

Billy Donovan is leaving Florida for the greener pastures of the NBA in Oklahoma City. Coaches around the SEC breathe a sigh of relief. What Donovan was able to accomplish at Florida is nothing short of miraculous and the legacy he leaves behind is enormous. This past season not-withstanding, Florida has ascended to the truly elite level in the college basketball pantheon. Before this season started Florida was projected by many to finish second in the SEC behind Kentucky. This despite losing 3 of their top 4 scorers, and 4 of 5 starters. All of that was out of respect for where Donovan had built the program. And even despite their struggles this year, the Gators were still a top 50 team according to KenPom. A little luck and they probably hit 20 wins.

Think about this, Billy Donovan coached at Florida for 19 years. His first two years were a little rocky going 27-32 overall, but after that he went to the NCAA tournament in 14 of 17 years, with 2 National Championships, 4 Finals Fours and was ranked in the top 10 in 13 of of 17 seasons.  He did this at a place that had a combined 5 total NCAA tournament trips since 1920. That is why they named the court after him.

Even a homerun hire is unlikely to yield the kind of results that Donovan has been able to glean in Gainesville.

Billy Donovan going to the NBA leaves a big hole in the SEC and will likely level off Florida a bit no matter who they bring in. He is on the list of premier coaches in college basketball, and it doesn't matter who Florida brings in, it won't be somebody on the level of Billy Donovan. Even a homerun hire is unlikely to yield the kind of results that Donovan has been able to gleen in Gainesville. So while the SEC has done a marvelous job in upgrading the coaching talent in the league over the last few seasons, and while Florida has a chance to lure a big name to attempt to sustain the success that Donovan has built, there is no denying that losing him impacts the SEC in a bad way.

A few years ago, SEC basketball was in a bad place. Sure the league had Kentucky and Florida, and they would always be there because of John Calipari and Billy Donovan but how was the league going to elevate basketball from the doldrums? The easiest way for them to pick it up was to get serious about hiring coaches. So Auburn dumped Tony Barbee and went and got Bruce Pearl. Mississippi State moved on from Rick Ray and hired Ben Howland. Tennessee lost out on Cuonzo Martin leaving, hired Donnie Tyndall and lucked out when they were able to dump him because of some NCAA rules infractions and go out and get Rick Barnes who had recently been dumped by Texas. Mike Slive gave schools the directive to get serious about basketball and they did.

Turnover is usually one of the biggest deterrents when it comes to success and Donovan had established himself at Florida for nearly 20 years. No other coach had been at his school that long, with only Kevin Stallings lasting anywhere close at 16 years. At this point, the SEC is largely a new league.

School Coach Tenure
Vanderbilt Kevin Stallings 16 years
Ole Miss Andy Kennedy 9 years
Georgia Mark Fox 7 years
Kentucky John Calipari 7 years
Arkansas Mike Anderson 5 years
Texas A&M Billy Kennedy 5 years
South Carolina Frank Martin 4 years
LSU Johnny Jones 4 years
Auburn Bruce Pearl 2 years
Missouri Kim Anderson 2 years
Mississippi State Ben Howland 1 year
Tennessee Rick Barnes 1 year
Alabama Avery Johnson 1 year
Florida ??? 1 year

With 8 coaches having as much experience in the SEC as it's longest tenured coach, it's a really interesting time to be an SEC basketball fan. While the faces are new to the SEC, they aren't to basketball (for the most part). Ben Howland went to Final Fours at UCLA and was fired after winning the conference regular season championship just one win shy of 400 in division one. Rick Barnes was almost a victim of his own success at Texas. 14 straight trips to the NCAA tournament and only one losing season during his time at Texas weren't enough to keep him in Austin, but a change of scenery might be what he needs. He's still won over 600 games as a head coach. Avery Johnson shows up in Alabama not having coached a game in college, but winning a lot of games in the NBA.

Along with these new coaches bring new recruiting styles, and that hasn't disappointed. There are 7 (out of a total of 30) 5-star incoming freshmen headed into the SEC this season, and only 2 of them are headed to Kentucky. Frank Martin, Ben Howland, Billy Kennedy and Johnny Jones all landed 5-star recruits this time around. So it's easy to see where the new crop of SEC coaches has elevated the profile of the league, where some of the existing coaches are going to have to make sure they keep pace.

None of these guys were Billy Donovan though. Florida is going to have to play the game right in order to make sure they keep pace with the rest of the league, but they're not going to replace what Donovan brought to that school.