Wednesday afternoon, the Oklahoma City Thunder finally made official what had been rumored for months, firing coach Scott Brooks, according to Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski.
And the two primary candidates to replace him are, as has also been rumored, Florida coach Billy Donovan and Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie.
Wojnarowski writes in that report that Donovan "is expected to become a serious candidate to replace Brooks," citing his "longstanding friendship" with Thunder general manager Sam Presti. He writes only that Ollie "could be a candidate for the Thunder's coaching job," and cites Ollie's Wednesday morning statement that he is "proud and honored" to be UConn's head coach "no plans to pursue other opportunities."
But on Twitter, Woj is telling a slightly different story:
Despite public statement, UConn's Kevin Ollie has significant interest in OKC coaching job, sources tell Yahoo. He's a top choice for Presti— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 22, 2015
And that makes this sound a little more like a two-man race than one in which Donovan is the clear frontrunner — as does his note that the Thunder talking to one coach first might spur the other to remove his hat from the ring.
Here's thing with Donovan and Ollie: If OKC talks to one of the coaches first, expect the other to pull out of consideration -- and fast.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) April 22, 2015
And then there's what Andy Katz is reporting, which suggests (to me) the lion's share of the interest in this coaching search is coming from Presti's front office:
FWIW: Sources: ADs at UConn/UF no indication/or sign Ollie or Donovan leaving for OKC. But until OKC makes hire, they are top candidates.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) April 22, 2015
Ollie and/or Donovan aren't going to leave current job unless they are 100 percent comfortable with management. Presti makes it possible.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) April 22, 2015
So who would seem to have the edge?
Both Donovan and Ollie can count one national title on their résumés: Ollie's was won in 2014, and with a win over Donovan's Gators in the Final Four, while Donovan has two, and two other Final Four appearances. Donovan's reputation as one of the better Xs and Os coaches in college basketball has made him an attractive candidate for an NBA job for years, and he's also known as a player-friendly coach, if a somewhat strict one; Ollie, who played in the NBA for 13 seasons, most recently in 2010, isn't highly-regarded as a tactician, but is seen as a master motivator, and, especially given his age (just 42; Donovan turns 50 at the end of May), seen as one of the best coaches in basketball at connecting with players.
Donovan's friendship with Presti has been a common theme when connecting him to the Thunder, and likely helped get former Florida support staffers Mark Daigneault and Oliver Winterbone jobs within the Thunder organization. (Daigneault is now the head coach of the Oklahoma City Blue, the franchise's D-League affiliate; Winterbone is a "basketball information analyst.")
But Ollie certainly has one, too, given that his final season in the league was spent on the Oklahoma City roster — and apparently so momentous that Kevin Durant credited him with "chang(ing) the whole culture in Oklahoma City" in a 2014 interview.
Evaluating the Donovan-Ollie derby seems to be surveying a dead heat, really. I think, were I hiring a coach for the Thunder, I'd lean ever so slightly to Ollie — given his greater familiarity with the NBA game, and the near certainty that he will command the respect of a locker room — but Donovan could obviously make up for what he may lack in those areas with other skills, and is defintely a quick study.
Regardless of which coach is ultimately hired by the Thunder — Donovan, Ollie, or some other candidate — it seems that the Florida and UConn programs that played three times in the past 12 months are once again inextricably linked.
The Huskies gave Ollie a 3-0 edge in those matchups on the court against Donovan. Florida fans will be hoping Ollie beats out Donovan again, no doubt.