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Friday, March 30, 2007

The Kentucky Coaching Job

Apparently getting the right coach for your legendary program has no upper limits, or, at least, no realistic ceiling. Click here to read the latest article from espn.com on what Kentucky is prepared to offer Florida's Billy Donovan.

A king's ransom, that's what. (And long-time readers know my feelings on the particular topic of the salaries of coaches, the numbers of assistant coaches, and the facilities dedicated to athletes who play revenue sports).

Let's visit the issue of the most desirable jobs in college hoops (and I'll rattle off, say, the top 10 or so jobs):

Duke
North Carolina
Kentucky
Kansas
Indiana
UCLA
Ohio State
Illinois
Louisville
Syracuse
Florida (and, here, only because Billy Donovan is the head coach now, and, yes, I named 11 programs, not 10). (As an aside, I have always thought it would be great to promote a start-of-the-season tournament featuring the Top 16 programs in all-time wins; full disclosure: as a native Philadelphian, this tourney would include 2-3 Philadelphia-area teams, I believe -- Temple, Penn and possibly St. Joe's or Villanova).

At any rate, those are very prestigious jobs, and I've added Florida only because of the lustre that Billy Donovan has brought to the program. Prior to the arrival of Donovan, there's no way you would have put the Florida job among the Top 40 in college hoops (sorry, Gator fans, but why would you have?). So, if you do the analysis on the surface, you'd ask, "why on earth would Donovan leave Gainesville, he virtually owns the place and he coaches at one of the top 10 programs in the country." Actually, the way he's coached, his is a Top 5 program, but, historically, Florida hasn't been a top program, and Kentucky has.

Still, that's a great question, why would Donovan leave. The only reason I can think of is that Kentucky is a basketball school whose football program is not likely to eclipses the basketball program, while Florida is a football school whose football program has eclipsed the basketball program. Translated into an English that non-sports fans speak, that means that Billy Donovan isn't the first toast of the town in Gainesville, Urban Meyer, the football coach for the Gators, is. And, believe it or not, that fact matters to those who coache in the rarified air. They like to be the biggest dog in the yard.

But I just don't see Donovan's leaving. Yes, were he to leave Gainesville Kentucky's prospects would surge greatly and Florida's would drop, because it's unlikely that the Gators would be able to hire the next great coach two times in a row. But, guys named Rupp, Pitino and Smith (for Tubby won a national title in Lexington) already have marked the Kentucky program indelibly. At Florida, it's been totally the Billy Donovan Show the way, after 16 years of tinkering, John Wooden turned UCLA hoops into the John Wooden Show. I just have trouble believing that such a successful coach would want to return to a more legendary program when he's on the verge of building a dynasty in Gainesville.

I don't blame the Wildcats for pursuing Donovan hard and for putting out feelers for John Calipari (if that's what happened). But somehow I don't see Donovan leaving for Kentucky or any other SEC school. I might be wrong about this, but the bet here is that Florida tears up Coach Donovan's contract, makes him one of the most highly paid college hoops coaches and watches him remain one of the game's preeminent coaches until he retires.

Unless, of course, he hates football.

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