Buddy Martin May 02, 2015
all the coaches I’ve come to know at Florida over the past 50
years, Billy Donovan makes my short list of the three greatest.
the lights at the O’Connell Center. Stop traffic for a moment of
silence at University and 13th. Lift your glasses and bid adieu to
one of the finest coaches and finest people ever to grace the halls
of dear Ol’ UF. There will be a little more gray than Gator blue in
the sky tomorrow.
It feels like Gator Nation has lost a chunk
of its Century Tower.
Billy Donovan is taking a piece of their
hearts to Oklahoma City.
While you’re at it, Jeremy Foley,
reserve space for another statue next to Spurrier, Wuerffel and
Tebow. If fact, reserve two. Both Billy Donovan and his former
neighbor Urban Meyer brought more bling home to Florida over a
four-year period than Tiffany has in its warehouse.
and Meyer lived only a few houses apart in what I once nicknamed “The
Cul de sac of Champions”:
national champions in 2005-06 and 2006-07.
national champions in 2006 and 2008.
Butch left first and now
Sundance has gone.
“Real happy for my neighbor,” Urban
Meyer texted me. “Changed Fla Bball forever.”
And what a
neighborhood it was!
They didn’t get to spend much time
together socially, but Billy once told me he’d drive by the Meyer
house late at night and note that Urban’s car wasn’t in the
driveway yet. Working late again, crafting that national championship
team. When things came unraveled those first two seasons, Urban
marveled that he could walk a short distance, sit down in a chair and
get some of the greatest coaching advice anybody would want from
Billy, totally free. “Most people would have to get on an airplane
and spend thousands of dollars to get that (kind of counseling),”
Urban once said.
Of all the coaches I’ve come to know at
Florida over the past 50 years, Donovan makes my short list of the
three greatest. It wasn’t just that he built the program from
scratch and took it to the top. The most endearing quality of Billy
is his genuine humility, followed by sincerity and loyalty.
saw him grow from a 31-year-old Billy The Kid to a 49-year-old Billy
The Man. I watched him grieve over the loss of a child with his wife
Christine and grieve over the loss of our mutual great friend Augie
He and Augie were pals and they teamed up for a
special dinner with the Ocala Gator Tipoff club from the very start.
Billy stayed true to his commitment of coming to my hometown every
year for that special night for 18 years. “For as long as the
Greiner family wants to do this,” Billy told me after Augie’s
death, “I will do it.”
A month ago I texted Billy and
requested his appearance on my radio show, which he always does once
or twice a season. “Buddy: Been running around. Have to go on the
road. When things settle down, would love to catch up,” he wrote
back. “Feel free to call me in a couple of weeks.”
some of his friends knew something was up. “He was all over the
place,” said one.
The magnitude of this loss for Florida
won’t really be visible until decades later when historians look
back to measure the greatness of the era. You don’t replace Billy
Donovans. They are like 200-year-old oak trees that get blown over in
a hurricane. You can rebuild buildings. Not the oaks.
not just simply a loss for Florida. College basketball has taken a
big hit, as noted by Yahoo columnist Pat Forde:
“The list of
colleges that have won national titles in both football and men's
basketball in the last 25 years is exactly one. And the Gators have
won multiples in each during that time: three in football and two in
“Brain drain in a sport that is struggling to
identify its next generation of star coaches is a significant issue.
is one of the most important figures in the modern era of college
basketball. The other negative impact of Donovan's departure is on
the Southeastern Conference. A strong case can be made that Donovan
is the second-greatest coach in SEC history, behind only Adolph
Personally, I feel the golden age has come to a close. A
true champion and a true gentleman has come and gone.
hoping to get a text from Steve McClain or somebody in the Florida
Sports Information Department, informing me of a press conference
tomorrow in which Billy Donovan will say he’s changed his
You know, like last time.
Now Donovan makes jokes
about it. He told his new team, the Oklahoma City Thunder: “"I've
been an NBA coach before ... it was only for a day."
he wasn’t joking the day he announced he was leaving the Gators for
the Magic. And he spoke with a frog in his throat a day later while
announcing he was coming back.
The man who won two national
championships and made it to four Final Fours in 19 seasons, with an
overall record of 467-186, has left the building.
there won’t be a U-Turn on I-75.