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How Florida's 'maniac' coach Billy Donovan relieves stress

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports
Wilbekin, Donovan, Randle take AP SEC honors
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Florida head coach Billy Donovan reacts to play against Kentucky during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Championship round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament, Sunday, March 16, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ARLINGTON, Texas – The trash talk starts before they reach the weight room.

"You're not going to be able to complete the workout," Florida strength coach Preston Greene will say to his boss. "It's way too hard for you."

"Let's see what you've got," Billy Donovan will respond.

After the satellite radio has been tuned to classic rock for Donovan to sing along while he toils, Greene will bring the pain. For 25 minutes, three days a week, his job is to "smash" the Gators basketball coach with a hyper-intense workout that would send most 48-year-old men in search of a defibrillator, or at least a recliner. Three other days a week, Donovan runs a series of 25 sprint intervals – on the treadmill when he's on the road, on the track when he's at home.

He's not sprinting to simply break a sweat. He's sprinting until he's doubled over and gasping. Then he's sprinting some more.

"He wants to just get smashed," Greene said, and not in the old-school, frat-party sense. "All our coaches do some type of activity, but not at his level. He's training like an 18-year-old draft prospect. I've never seen anything like it from a head coach."

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Billy Donovan is just two wins away from a third NCAA title. (AP)

For Donovan, grueling physical exercise has become a release valve from the stress of the job. Whether the workout is at lunch time or after practice, it's a chance to get away from everything and go one-on-one with Greene to see how much his body can take. It's not a show workout to impress anyone else; it's simply Billy vs. himself in a lung-burning, muscle-searing cleanse session.

This is a guy incapable of doing anything halfway. Even relieving stress becomes an all-out pursuit.

"I feel better when I do it," he said. "I think I'm a better coach, better person and better all the way around. I feel better about myself just health-wise.

"I like the competitiveness part of it. Even when you do conditioning, there's always some kind of goal or something we've got to do. In lifting, there's always some kind of goal. … As demanding as the job is, traveling and coaching and recruiting and all this stuff, I don't know if you can do it well if you don't really take care of yourself."

Over the years, Donovan has become a workout warrior on par with his players. He watched Greene – an 18-year veteran of strength and conditioning coaching – put the Gators through creative, strongman-style drills flipping tires and pulling cars with ropes and was intrigued. Donovan had never allowed himself to slip far from his college playing condition at Providence in the 1980s, but he wanted to up the ante on his fitness entering middle age.

"He saw some things we were doing with our players and said, 'Hey, I can do that,' " Greene recalled. "We said, 'No you can't, coach.' He said, 'Yes, I can.' "

Donovan isn't out doing the strongman stuff – "It's a fine line between being able to smash him and not injure him," Greene said – but he's doing a lot of other high-level work. In addition to the cardio element, Donovan also has a weight regimen that is similar to his team's – rep after rep, set after set, day after day. One day it's an upper-body circuit, the next is legs, the third is shoulders and arms.

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The only difference is, it's nearly 60 minutes of exercise condensed to less than half an hour to fit it into a basketball coach's crazy-busy schedule. There may be time for some small talk over a protein shake when it's over, but the actual workout is all business.

"You better be ready and have a plan, because he wants to get after it," Greene said. "He'll do four or five exercises in a row without resting. Then I'll tell him he has to rest for one minute. After 30 seconds he's bored and wants to go again. He's a maniac."

A maniac with remarkable recovery ability, as it turns out. Greene is convinced that Donovan can get his heart rate lowered and eliminate lactic acid easily enough to be an elite endurance athlete.

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Billy Donovan reacts to getting an ice bath after Florida won the South regional. (Y! Sports)

"He is genetically one in 100,000," Greene said. "The volume he can handle at such a high level, he can train with Lance Armstrong."

Without the PEDs, presumably. Over the course of three years working out with Greene, Donovan has lowered his body fat from 16 percent to 10 percent while simultaneously adding 14 pounds of muscle. Under his trademark sideline shirt and tie is a coiled steel body – a far cry from the doughy collegian who was whipped into shape by Rick Pitino nearly three decades ago.

"Sometimes we make fun of him for how big his chest is," said Billy Donovan Jr., the coach's son and a reserve guard for the Gators.

The challenge for Greene is to keep the workouts varied and stimulating. The head coach isn't fond of rote repetition.

"You have to make it fun and interesting because he gets so bored," Greene said. "If we did the same workout from a year and a half ago, he will know. He'll say, 'Oh, this is easy. I've done this before.' I tell him, 'I have as many training methods as you have ball plays.' "

If you're in the workout room at the Hilton Anatole on Saturday, the guy running killer interval sprints on the treadmill may look familiar. You can find him later that night in AT&T Stadium coaching Florida against Connecticut in the Final Four. Even on game days, Billy Donovan is determined to get smashed.

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