Continuing the trend (cont.)
Posted: Monday June 4, 2007 12:51PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 11:35AM
Little did Gregg Marshall know that by expressing his affection for the College of Charleston at a press conference on June 28, 2006, and then returning to Winthrop on June 29, he was being a trendsetter.
"The timing was right," Marshall said of his hiring at the College of Charleston, where he was formerly an assistant. "So here we are now, and we're going to make the most of this opportunity."
The next day, back with the Eagles in Rock Hill, S.C., Marshall opined, "Sometimes, it's not always what you think you want that's important. It's what you already have."
What Donovan had -- and what he's deciding to give up -- is on a much grander scale. Altman relinquished a job at a big-name school with a loaded roster, but an athletic department in disarray, in order to stay at the cushiest mid-major job in the nation. Marshall was not planning to remain at Winthrop for a lifetime. He realized he was walking away from an NCAA tournament team, came back, took the Eagles to the second round, and parlayed that into an even better gig at Wichita State this offseason. Billy D was deciding between a lifetime post in Gainesville and five years, $27.5 million in Orlando. He was balancing a potential Hall of Fame-level college career against an NBA future where nothing but the money was guaranteed. When asked, during that Magic press conference, about passing on the chance to have a Dean Smith- or Bob Knight-like legacy, Donovan said:
"That really entered in to the equation for me... And one thing that I realized was that yes, that can happen, but the other thing that could happen is it could just level itself out. I don't know what the future is going to hold. I felt like the future for me was, 'How do I grow, as a coach, as a person, how do I get better,' and I think the way you get better is taking on different challenges."
Coming from an intense competitor -- especially one who had admitted to being "intrigued" by the idea of following mentor Rick Pitino's footsteps and attempting to coach in the NBA -- those were reasonable words. Donovan also acknowledged what many in the media had been saying: That it was unlikely he'd ever pull off another repeat in the NCAA, and also perhaps never be able to re-create the beautiful on-court dynamic of his recently departed Oh-Fours. If the duration of his new contract at UF were spent simply fighting to get back to the title game, how fulfilling would that be? Now that he's coming back, however, will those statements -- both about "leveling off" and having a lingering interest in the NBA -- be used against him in recruiting? And how long will it take to convince everyone at Florida that he's a truly a Gator for the long haul?
In the larger context of the college hoops world, you have to wonder: Why has there been a boom in these overnight change-of-hearts? Prior to Marshall's move, the most famous about-face was made by Bobby Cremins, who left Georgia Tech for South Carolina in 1993 before returning three days later (coincidentally, Cremins was the coach who came out of retirement to take the Charleston job last summer after Marshall reneged). It's a potentially damaging trend for the profession, especially considering how many lives can be affected by one hire -- everyone from players, to recruits, to current and future assistants, to the coaching-carousel jobs that open as a ripple effect.
Part of the problem is the hasty, clandestine manner in which most of these negotiations are conducted. Altman, in explaining his cold feet, said he had "rushed into a decision" without fully considering the pros and cons. In the current climate, where athletic directors attempt to sneak in and out of meetings on private planes to make multi-million-dollar job offers, and the scoop-hungry media tracks aircraft registration numbers and stakes out coaches' houses to obtain information, answers are expected instantly. Schools want to make quick hires to eliminate any impression of instability, and keep recruits -- as well as current players -- from wavering. Thus, major life decisions are made overnight.
No doubt Donovan agonized over his move to the Magic, but how much time, really, did he have to deliberate between a Wednesday-night call with Smith and a Friday-morning press conference? And, for every Donovan, or Altman, or Marshall, how many coaches out there took jobs and were too principled to do a 180 when they began to feel similar pangs of regret?
Another issue -- and this is perhaps the reason so many pundits initially reacted to Donovan's NBA jump with understanding -- is that in college coaching culture, the natural expectation is that everyone's No. 2 goal, after winning, is moving up to the biggest gig possible. Assistants are supposed to want to be head coaches. Head coaches at low-majors are expected to want mid-major jobs. Mid-major coaches are expected to want major jobs. Major coaches are supposed to want destination jobs, and the destination guys are expected to at least flirt with the NBA.
These moves also tend to be considered by the public with no regard to coaches' personal situations -- where their wives or kids or parents want to live. Donovan, who was born and raised in Long Island, has put roots down in Gainesville over 11 years as the Gators' head coach. In addition to his own family, his parents, his in-laws and his sister all moved to the college town of 120,000 in north Florida.
After a chaotic weekend, Gainesville is where Donovan will be staying, with the intention of building his legacy as one of the college game's most legendary coaches. He could stalk the sideline there for 25 more wonderful years and make a run at Knight's wins record, perhaps. Or maybe his career, like Donovan said on Friday, will level off, and he'll find himself regretting turning down the challenge of the NBA. But that's life in the change-of-heart coaching world.
Florida would be well-advised to put Donovan right back to work this week, and not let him dwell on his latest decision. The Magic learned that lesson in the most painful way possible. Part of their Web site's special, Donovan-themed welcome screen was a season-ticket advertisement that read, "Secure the best seat locations now, before it's too late."
By 11:30 a.m. Monday, the ad had disappeared. Too late, indeed.