Sports Outside the Beltway

Billy Donovan to Coach Orlando Magic

After weeks of speculation as to his future, Billy Donovan will stay in Florida — with the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Rich history wasn’t enough to lure Billy Donovan away from Florida. In the end, it was just riches. Donovan will have plenty of them after he was hired to coach the Orlando Magic on Thursday. The team confirmed the hiring Thursday night and scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.

Donovan agreed to a five-year deal paying $5.5 million annually, an official in the NBA told The Associated Press.

“Billy Donovan is a winner,” general manager Otis Smith said. “We feel he is the right person to develop and maximize the talents of our players. We look forward to Billy leading us to the next level.”

Donovan has been the subject of speculation since the Gators’ second straight NCAA championship in April. He turned down an offer to coach Kentucky, whose storied program launched his career as an assistant in 1990, and was more recently linked to the
Memphis Grizzlies’ vacant coaching job.

He seemed to squash those rumors after turning down the Kentucky position, proclaiming, “I love the University of Florida.” But Orlando, about 115 miles south of Gainesville, proved too strong to resist. The Magic job pays more than twice Donovan’s $1.7 million annual deal with the Gators. “There’s going to be a lot of hamburgers, a lot of filet,” departing Florida star Joakim Noah joked.

Both Donovan and the school had said all along they were negotiating a contract extension. Florida president Bernie Machen said Thursday the deal was basically done, just not signed. “There’s always a next,” Machen said at the Southeastern Conference’s annual spring meeting in Destin, Fla. “Billy Donovan has been here for 11 years, won two national championships. He’s been a great ambassador for the University of Florida. We’ll always love Billy Donovan, whether he’s here 11 years or 21 years.”

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also emphasized there were no hard feelings. “We certainly wish this run could have gone on forever. It’s been an incredible privilege to be a part of. We’re indebted to Billy Donovan,” Foley said in a written statement. “We hired him 11 years ago to build Florida basketball and he did that beyond anyone’s expectations. We’ll miss him as a coach, but we’ll always be friends and remain close to Billy and his family.”

That’s the right attitude. Despite the AP lede, Donovan was being paid plenty to coach the Gators and could have probably gotten something close to the money the Magic is paying to stay there or go to Kentucky. But with all his stars gone and two national championships under his belt, he has nowhere to go but down. A new challenge just makes sense. And the fact that he won’t even have to move his family to take the job is a huge bonus.

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