Musings: On Billy Donovan's NBA interest, the Tie-tle, Directors' Cup, and Buddy Alexander

Ronald Martinez

Florida's finest coach is getting sniffed at again. That's better than the NBA turning up its nose at Billy Donovan.

Hey, Billy Donovan's being linked to NBA teams again! It must be the offseason.

This happens again and again with Donovan, who is one of maybe two or three unequivocally great college coaches who have national championships and no cup of coffee in the NBA to speak of, and thus have both pedigree and novelty. Tom Izzo, also linked to theTimberwolves job, is the other coach most frequently mentioned in this same air as Donovan, and Bill Self is not far behind, though Self's appeal seems to wane and wax, while Donovan and Izzo have seen theirs last.

And it makes sense, looking at things from an NBA team's perspective. Donovan routinely gets as much as is possible out of his teams, was renowned as a phenomenal offensive coach long before recently figuring out how to get his Gators to play withering defense, develops his players, and earns raves from just about everyone in the coaching industry. The list of people who Donovan knows is extensive; the list of people who don't like him is short.

I think Billy Donovan would make an excellent NBA coach, and I think Donovan himself imagines he would, too. But I don't know that he wants to be one.

Donovan had the cleanest break possible when he accepted the Orlando Magic's offer to become their head coach in 2007. Florida had just won two titles, his greatest players were moving on, his children were still young enough to move without wholly uprooting their lives (and Orlando wasn't far from Gainesville at all), and his own star was never going to be hotter. At 42, he was young enough to try the NBA and succeed ... or potentially flame out, and return to college basketball with enough time to take a job before another top-tier job like Florida, if necessary.

And yet he reneged on his deal with the Magic, citing deep disquiet with his decision, and came back to Florida, where he suffered through a re-education process, and two straight humbling NIT seasons, before getting the Gators back to rarefied air.

Donovan's already chosen to stay once, when that decision was tremendously difficult. That doesn't mean he will choose to stay every time, but it's evidence that he can.

Additionally, my suspicion, which isn't an uncommon one around the Florida program, is that Donovan's dream job is being the head coach of the New York Knicks. And that job is open, too — but leaving for it right now means inheriting a bad roster that is about to be without by far its best player, suffering through a bad season in 2014-15, and hoping that a huge war chest of salary cap space in the summer of 2015 woos some of the (kinda underwhelming) crop of free agents to the Big Apple.

Would Donovan jump at the chance to coach a Knicks team with a shot at a title? I tend to think so. But this team does not have that shot, and will not have one in the near future. And I'm not sure Donovan really wants to be the guinea pig for life with Phil Jackson as a basketball boss, either: While Donovan and Jackson would probably figure out a way to get along, they're not a natural fit, philosophically or personally.

We will worry about Donovan leaving Florida until he does so or retires. It's better to have a flight risk, though, than a coach you feel stuck with.

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(braces for Will Muschamp jokes about that last sentence)

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There is a robust discussion in the comments of our feature on Florida's co-national championship in gymnasticson Saturday night about the propriety of a tie for the national title.

Florida coach Rhonda Faehn, who actually works in and knows the sport, thinks the tie was the right call:

"I've heard arguments of both sides," Faehn said. "But I agree that the tie is the best way."

Sit down, dissidents.

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Florida's gymnastics national championship is about to vault it — pun intended — into some rarefied air in the Directors' Cup standings.

The standings through last weekend, and thus the winter sports season, aren't out yet; they'll drop on Thursday. But a little math and extrapolation from last week's standings suggests Florida is going to earn around 100 points for its national title, and that 100 points should move the Gators from No. 8 to No. 3, behind (eventual winner) Stanford and Penn State.

And with Florida's bumper crop of excellent spring teams — Florida's got five top-10 teams in at least one poll at the moment, with baseball as the only one of those squads without a consensus top-10 ranking, and the Gators should score points in men's and women's tennis and golf — the ingredients for another second place finish behind Stanford are there.

Florida has finished second to Stanford — which has won the Directors' Cup in each of the last 19 seasons, and in every season of its existence except 1993-94 — in each of the last two years, and three of the last four, and has never finished outside the top 10. The Gators have been the highest-ranked SEC team in the Directors' Cup 17 times (Georgia beat Florida in each of those three misses), and have never finished behind Florida State in the ranking. And Florida State, currently 10th despite a fantastic fall that got the Seminoles all the way to third, has just two top-five finishes in the history of the rankings, or half as many as Florida has in the past four years.

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Finally, Florida men's golf coach Buddy Alexander announced his retirement, effective after the 2013-14 season, on Tuesday, and so the end of the second-longest tenure by a coach in Florida history has come.

Only Dave Fuller, who coached 28 seasons of baseball to Alexander's 27 of golf, was a head coach at Florida for longer; no other head coach left at UF had been hired by Bill Arnsparger, Jeremy Foley's predecessor as athletic director. Alexander was the dean of Florida coaches, but in a sense greater than the term.

Both Scott Carter and Chris Harry have penned excellent farewells to Alexander already, and I can't add much to them that matters all that much, but I will say this: Alexander was an institution and a legend for his longevity and his excellence, and his most impressive feat may be knowing when to step away.

"This has been a tough year, but in reality, the last three years have not been up to our/my expected standards," Alexander said in a letter he prepared for Gator golf boosters. "Coaching is a young man’s game and it is simply time for me to turn the reins over to someone else and allow this great university, athletic department and golf program to be everything it should be.

"Life and golf are so similar. There are many ups and downs and highs and lows. Today is one of those days that stir all kinds of emotion, it’s sad that my time has come, but I’m happy everything worked out so well. I am in a good place, as will our golf program in the future."

Florida was second in the NCAA Championships in 2006, and tied for ninth in 2007, but the Gators haven't made a top-10 finish at collegiate golf's final event since, and finished 23rd, t-12th, and 25th in the last three seasons. And after Florida finished 10th at the SEC Championships in 2012-13, and recorded just one win in the regular season — in a season-opening tournament — the Gators have followed that season up by going winless in the regular season for the first time since 1997-98.

If Alexander were not an institution, he would have begun feeling the heat pretty soon. Stepping down and riding into the sunset now gives his team a chance to send him off with a rousing farewell, and gives Florida a longer timeframe for finding Buddy's successor.

But, importantly, successor is definitely the right word in this instance. Florida's not replacing Buddy Alexander. It probably shouldn't even try to.

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