Billy's dilemma


What Should Donovan Do?

Billy Donovan keeps saying the question has "nothing to do with me," which is either his way of assuring he doesn't wind up making Nick Saban look honest, his way of holding up the University of Florida for millions of dollars or his way of, well, actually there is no other way.

Donovan is way too smart and way too savvy to actually believe that his repeated non-denial denials concerning his interest in the University of Kentucky job are going to make the questions go away.

Donovan-to-the-Wildcats might just overwhelm the Final Four as one of the strangest and more distracting storylines of all time, quite incredibly turning his Gators' chances of becoming the first repeat national champions in 15 years into a secondary news item.

Donovan knows this. Donovan has to know this. So when he keeps saying nothing, he has to know he is saying something.

To add fuel to the fire Monday, the Kentucky fan magazine The Cat's Pause reported a $28 million, 7-year contract offer was brokered by Donovan's agent in Lexington late last week.

The magazine didn't say Donovan had accepted, but expressed the clear confidence of people around the Wildcat athletic department that "Kentucky is poised to name Billy Donovan its new basketball coach shortly after Florida's final game in the NCAA Tournament."

Oh, boy.

You can dismiss a fan magazine's reporting if you want, but quite often these guys are the first to know. Television stations in Lexington and Louisville ran with it Monday night. The magazine said Tuesday it was reporting a "rumor," but the accuracy doesn’t matter. The fact that Donovan leaves the door open means media frenzies like this will happen.

On Wednesday, a UK source said the school, out of respect, has made no contact with Donovan or his representatives and won't until the Gators' season ends.

The idea that Donovan would agree to the deal while still competing for a national title seems farfetched. First, it's not like UK won't wait for him. Second, if he did and UF flopped on Saturday, it would haunt him forever.

You wouldn't think his agent would try something like this either, but then again Tubby Smith's agent negotiated with Minnesota for six weeks (supposedly unbeknownst to Smith) before Tubby left UK.

So you can never rule out anything when it comes to coaches.

In 1989, Michigan coach Bill Frieder, on the eve of the NCAA tournament, worked out a deal to take over at Arizona State after the season. When athletic director Bo Schembechler found out he immediately fired Frieder, famously declaring "A Michigan man will coach Michigan." He promoted assistant Steve Fisher to interim coach and the Wolverines promptly peeled off six wins for the national championship.

So forgive Gator assistant Larry Shyatt for secretly hoping this is all true. He'd only have to win twice.

We kid. We think. Actually, we have no idea what to think. Donovan is leaving everything on the table, so everything is on the table. He did take time last weekend to explain his philosophy on discussing possible coaching hires.

"I think there (are) a lot of different perspectives," Donovan said. "People sometimes want (you) to comment and if you change your mind, you went back on your word.

"The way I try to view it is, I'm not in control of any decision-making process of what other people are going to do, and it's not my place to comment on anything other than the University of Florida. And that's really the reality of it. And I think it's inappropriate and it's out of line on my part to do any of that stuff.

"That's just me. I don't know if there's a right or wrong answer, to be honest with you."

That's probably the wrong answer, of course. Sometimes philosophical honesty isn't the best policy, such as when your team is two games from a repeat national championship. Unless, of course, you want the job, or the raise that wanting the job will bring.

Now, while every Catholic school-educated kid like Donovan (St. Agnes High School, Providence College) likes to consider himself an amateur philosopher, the former Wall Streeter has always been more of the pragmatic, operations guy.

He's always been a coach who tried to control everything inside his program. His attention to detail is legendary. Even the slightest weakness or slip up is attacked directly. He worries about everything. He ignores nothing.

So now, on the eve of a rematch with UCLA, he turns "deep thinker" and leaves his intentions up to interpretation? Maybe the coming circus won't be a distraction for the Gators. Maybe it will just fuel their peculiar us-against-the-world, there's-a-lot-of-hate-out-there motivation that belies the overwhelming respect this team has had heaped on it.

But maybe it won't. Maybe this will break bad. Do you think Donovan would be so committed to his philosophy if this was the Quinnipiac job people were asking about?

Then there is the question of why leave? You can start with money. A deal that would average $4 million per year wouldn't just make Donovan (who currently gets $1.7 million per) the highest paid hoops coach in the country; it would make him the highest paid college coach by about double.

UF president Bernie Machen promised the Associated Press that the Gators "were not going to lose (Donovan) to anybody." There is little doubt Florida has the resources to match or exceed anything Kentucky can drum up. But then again, if UF pays Donovan the big dollars, it will have to pay football coach Urban Meyer the same amount, if not more.

Eventually, when you keep adding up all of those $4 million contracts you start talking some serious money. Even by SEC standards.

And that's only if $4 million per is Kentucky's final offer.

A prominent, moneyed Kentucky booster told me Monday that Donovan was the "lone candidate" and the school would "go to the wall financially" to get him. This was the same guy who told me two weeks ago he and his buddies could round up $5 million in less than 48 hours to buy out Tubby Smith.

Smith left willingly, so they got to save all of that cash. And if they were willing to spend that much to get rid of Smith, imagine what they'll do to get Donovan.

"We're going to find out how much they love basketball in Florida," said another major UK booster.

Donovan could get that kind of money if he headed to the NBA, long expected to be in his future (Miami Heat?), but you don't often get two shots at the UK job. The Wildcats have had just five coaches since 1930. It might be now or never.

In terms of basketball, it is difficult to figure how Donovan could have a better situation than Florida. He might win consecutive national titles this weekend, after all. He recruits nationally. His fans love him. His administration supports him completely.

But Kentucky is a place people dream of coaching at, the fan passion and history are immense and there is something magical about 23,000 Cat fans filling Rupp Arena each night. Even as defending national champs, Florida still routinely failed to sell out the 12,000-seat O'Connell Center this season. In football-mad Gainesville, Donovan will never be king.

As a former UK assistant, Donovan knows all of this. A less confident coach would fear the Big Blue Nation. Donovan would thrive on it.

So maybe this is his dream. Unfortunately, the timing to fulfill it couldn't have been worse. You can't fault him for that. Maybe if Kentucky's season had gone a little longer, or Florida's a little shorter, this handoff would have been easy. Since it didn't, what is he supposed to say?

Of course, that's the thing. If there is nothing to this, it's difficult to fathom that Billy Donovan risks the Final Four because he doesn't believe, philosophically, that he should discuss anything outside of UF.

He may be right that he has nothing to do with this. But he has to realize that this is quickly having plenty to do with him, his Gators, and a potentially historic weekend.