Midlife U-turn

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Couldn't Billy Donovan just have bought a sports car?

What a midlife crisis the once and soon-to-be again(?) Florida coach has had since capturing another national championship in April.

There was the flirting with Kentucky, the budding romance with the Memphis Grizzlies, the full-fledged fling with the Orlando Magic and now, after a weekend of apparent regret, a push for a quickie divorce so he can scamper home to the old thing in Gainesville.

Donovan, 42, according to multiple sources and first reported by foxsports.com, is trying to get out of his just-signed contract with the Magic so he can return to UF.

Donovan hasn't spoken about the situation, but at this point would you believe anything he said? On Friday, he was gushing about the challenges of competing at the highest level and claiming staying at Florida was the "easy thing." Now he'll fall back on claiming his interest in molding young men or some coachspeak.

Not that it matters to Gators fans. Donovan will be forgiven faster than you can raise another championship banner.

The question is: What the heck happened?

One thing that didn't happen was Donovan being forced into a quick decision. The NBA didn't just spring up out of nowhere. Donovan has thought he wanted to coach in the league (maybe he still does) for years.

"I've always been intrigued by the NBA and I believe I've said that publicly many times," Donovan said Friday.

This spring, according to both league and Donovan sources, he had his representatives put out feelers to the Heat, Knicks and Pacers.

Then there were the Grizzlies. No matter what UF tried to claim in an effort to fool recruits, Donovan and owner Michael Heisley had anything but a chance meeting. They didn't get together to talk about the weather.

According to league and Donovan sources, that dance went back and forth for more than a week. Money was hashed out, responsibilities, the whole thing, until it eventually fell through.

Then the Magic got involved in a process that took nearly a week.

For Donovan, this was the perfect time for a new challenge. The NBA is a low-risk job for a successful college coach. You get richer, get a break from recruiting and live a far more normal, family-conducive life. While college coaches rarely get two or three hours off from work – there always is some fire to put out – in the NBA everything all but shuts down for the month of August.

Forget that stuff about too many games and too few practices. The NBA life is a breeze in comparison. Try no AAU coaches, no suitcases full of cash and no alumni functions. Almost no one in the NBA wants to get into the college game, but the majority of college coaches would jump to the league in a second.

For Donovan, the added appeal of the Magic was, of course, that he might even succeed with Dwight Howard and salary-cap room.

Even if he lost, he would just go back and get a better (or comparable) job and better recruits because he once coached in the NBA. Tim Floyd went 93-235 (a .284 winning percentage) in the league, and at Southern California he signed mega-recruit O.J. Mayo, in part because Mayo wanted to play for an "NBA coach."

This is the ultimate win-win for a college guy.

Whether Donovan was going to be successful was the question. He made sense for Orlando because his local popularity and star power was going to help get a new arena financed.

But it's not like he ever has been regarded as a genius innovator on the sideline. He certainly is solid, but his strength always has been in recruiting and motivating. He's a tour de force, perfect in the college game where attention to detail in all facets of the "program" is paramount.

He had plenty of underachieving teams, listless players and big-talent busts through the years. Just three seasons ago, there were plenty of Florida fans who weren't sure where the program was headed. He won a ton the last two seasons, but he also had superior talent, which wasn't happening in Orlando. So who knew if he would make it in the league?

But with those titles, Donovan had earned the opportunity to give it a go. He wanted it. They wanted him.

Then just days (hours?) after a rich marriage was consummated and he made all kinds of bold, earnest comments, he had buyer's remorse. Hey, it happens.

The question now is how he'll get ESPN to spin it for him. Was it his devotion to campus life? Or his realization that his true calling is teaching "kids"? Or maybe how he just loved practices too much to take on those NBA mercenaries?

Don't worry; it'll work out. Donovan will be a bigger hero than ever when Dick Vitale and the crew are done with him. Rival coaches will use this to attack him on the recruiting trail and the NBA may not be so interested anymore. But in the end, it'll be no harm, no foul for Billy D after the wild spring of his midlife crisis.

Maybe Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley can just get him a Porsche as a coming-home present. It might save a lot of headaches next spring.

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