Sunday afternoon, news broke via ESPN's Jeff Goodman that Florida basketball assistant coach Matt McCall would be leaving the program to take the head chair at Chattanooga. Almost instantly, The Gainesville Sun's Kevin Brockway floated the speculation that former Alabama head coach and longtime Billy Donovan assistant Anthony Grant could be hired to fill the vacated position.
It took less than a day for that exact thing to formally happen.
Chris Harry's GatorZone release on the hiring includes a couple quotes from Grant:
"Pretty easy call, man. It’s all about relationships," Grant told GatorZone.com of his return alongside not only Donovan, but also assistant coach John Pelphrey, director of basketball operations Darren Hertz, head trainer David "Duke" Werner and executive assistant Tracy Pfaff, each of whom he shared years of success with before embarking on his head-coaching career. "Pretty much everyone in that office is like family to me. So this is like coming home. The way it all worked out? God has a plan."
"I’m looking forward to getting down there and doing what I love to do," said Grant, who faced the Gators twice during the 2014-15 season, falling 52-50 at home and 69-61 again in second-round play of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. "I have a lot to get familiar with. I’m the new guy coming in. I know Billy and the staff were disappointed with the results last year, but there are some good pieces in place, and the roster, I feel, will be talented next season."
The quote from Donovan is short — and sweet.
"Obviously, Anthony is one of my best friends," Donovan said. "He’s also a great coach."
Grant was one of the assistants on Donovan's first Florida staff in 1996, and stayed through the first national title in 2006, before departing for VCU. He left VCU for Alabama in 2009 after making the NCAA Tournament twice in three years (and upsetting Duke in 2007), and never won more than 25 games or lost more than 19 in Tuscaloosa, eventually being fired by the university after a 19-15 campaign in 2014-15 that concluded with a loss to Florida in the SEC Tournament.
Grant's joining a program that had an even worse record last season, but his history with Donovan — and Pelphrey, and so on, and so forth — made returning to Florida likely the most appealing prospect he would get this offseason, and bringing Grant back to Gainesville makes perfect sense for Donovan and the Gators.
It also, obviously, would seem to tip the scales toward Gainesville in regards to a potential Donovan decision between staying at Florida and jumping to the NBA. While having Grant close does make it easier to take import him (and perhaps Pelphrey) to an NBA staff, it would be just as easy to grab him from limbo for it; Grant being hired by Florida now gives the Gators the fourth recruiter they need, and is a proactive move to ensure a future for the Gators far more than it is one to set up dominoes for Donovan.
McCall was a fine coach and recruiter, by all accounts I've heard, but was also itching to take the step up to a head coaching position. Chattanooga's a great landing spot for him: Will Wade's first recruiting class netted four solid contributors who will be juniors next season, and the Mocs could be in line for an NCAA Tournament berth. (It also elongates the pipeline from Florida to VCU; Grant and Shaka Smart took jobs at the program after leaving Donovan's staff, and now McCall replaces the newest VCU coach at his old gig.)
Replacing McCall within 24 hours with a coach who a) has NCAA Tournament appearances at multiple schools, b) was just recruiting the SEC footprint as a head coach, and c) has a long-standing personal relationship with Donovan? That's about as good a hire as can be made at the assistant coach position — and it's one a coach who wants to stay at Florida makes for Florida.
If Donovan eventually leaves Gainesville for an NBA opportunity this offseason, I believe more than ever that it will have to be an irresistible one. Getting the band back together in Gators colors only to take the show on the road would be a strange prospect, indeed.