After working throughout the weekend to free himself from his freshly minted $27.5 million contract with the Orlando Magic, team officials apparently have stopped trying to change Billy Donovan's mind and allowed him to return to the University of Florida.
The Orlando Sentinel reported on its web site early Monday morning that the franchise had relented and allowed Donovan to back out of his agreement, though the Magic maintain that the dialogue between Donovan and the team will continue. Foxsports.com first reported the story of Donovan's desire to return to Florida, where he had won back-to-back NCAA titles.
"While Central Florida, the Orlando Magic and Billy were energized with the announcement of his contract signing on Friday, we know there was a different feeling in Gainesville and people have been tugging at him since that time," a statement from the Magic read. "Billy is conflicted with those emotions and the opportunity he has ahead in Orlando and in the NBA.
"We've had numerous conversations and a personal visit in Gainesville with Billy over the last 48 hours and we have a commitment from him that the dialogue between us will continue."
This is a devastating blow to the Magic's public relations score of hiring Donovan. His was a popular hire in Central Florida, even if it didn't frighten teams around the league. Orlando general manager Otis Smith likely will turn to former Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy to coach the Magic. Van Gundy actually was one of the people with whom Donovan sought counsel before accepting the Magic job last Thursday. Van Gundy doesn't look as good in a suit but is considered an excellent pro coach. He turned down the Indiana Pacers job last week.
P.J. Carlesimo, the San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, also had been on the Magic's short list.
An AAU coach who has a player being recruited by the Gators' staff said he learned on Sunday through conversations with assistant coaches from Florida and Virginia Commonwealth that Donovan had second thoughts on his five-year deal with the Magic and contacted UF athletic director Jeremy Foley on Saturday about returning to his old job.
Foley flew on Saturday to Richmond, Va., to meet with VCU coach Anthony Grant, his No. 1 target to replace Donovan, but returned to Gainesville without meeting with Grant, a former Florida assistant.
"Right when Foley landed in Richmond to meet with Anthony Grant, there was a message on his voice mail from Billy telling him to hold off on hiring anyone until they talked," the source said.
Grant released a statement on Sunday night, saying, "I have been contacted by the University of Florida regarding their coaching vacancy. I have not had any in-person contact with any Florida representative, nor have I been offered the job. At this point in time, I will have no further comment on this situation as my focus is on my responsibilities at VCU."