The cool relationship between UConn's Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma is not atypical among men's and women's basketball coaches at Division I schools. In many high-profile programs that have two teams sharing the same court and competing for fan support and publicity, the men's and women's coaches are downright icy toward each other. Not so at Florida. "Coaches doing the same job, representing the same school, should be expected to get along," says Lady Gators coach Carol Ross, who is a good friend of men's coach Billy Donovan. "I've used Billy's knowledge on many occasions. We often attend each other's practices, and we talk X's and O's all the time. That should be the norm. Unfortunately, it's rare."
In other sports, it is much more common for the men's and women's coaches to get along. At UCLA, women's volleyball coach Andy Banachowski has won more games (845) than any other coach except men's volleyball coach Al Scates (958), for whom Banachowski once played and was later an assistant. The two coaches have a mutual respect and are friends. At Stanford, women's volleyball coach Don Shaw and men's coach Ruben Nieves, both have won national titles. Nieves is the godfather of Shaw's seven-year-old daughter, Jordan.
In the ego-driven world of college basketball, however, such camaraderie is seldom seen. When Donovan was hired at Florida in 1996, Ross, who was in her sixth year as the women's coach, was skeptical of the then 30-year-old boy wonder. "He's from New York, and I'm from Mississippi, but once we understood each other, we got along great," says Ross. "He was genuinely interested in the women's program, and he made it clear he was willing to do anything to help."
Donovan has stayed true to his word. He often talks to Ross's recruits, trying to sell them on the school with the same passion he has used to resurrect the men's program. And before this season Donovan taught Ross the trapping full-court press that he learned under Rick Pitino at Providence. "The more success Carol has, the better it is for us," says Donovan, whose Gators were 19-7 at week's end. (The Lady Gators were 19-13.) "The athletic department promotes a family atmosphere, and it extends to all the coaches." The friendship between Donovan and Ross is not limited to the basketball court. The two coaches tailgate together at Gators football games and often exchange E-mail on subjects other than hoops.
During a three-week stretch in January when the Lady Gators lost five of seven games, Donovan rushed to give Ross a pep talk. "When things are going well, everybody is knocking down your door, but when you're suffering, not too many people come around," says Ross. "In the middle of our losing streak Billy was the first one to come to my office. He said his team was the one that was losing last year, and he encouraged me in many ways. He's having a great year and is focused on getting back to the NCAA tournament, but he took the time out to care and worry about me. Billy's not paranoid or guarded. He's mature enough to realize we're in this together."