Billy Donovan’s sudden jump from rock-star status at the University of Florida to coach of the Orlando Magic really took me by surprise. After two straight titles and 11 years of building, Donovan looked to be getting rather comfortable in Gainesville. He had even turned down a rather lucrative offer to coach at his alma matter at Kentucky. So, initially the news came across as shocking. But, not really. With five years of security and $27.5 million ($5.5 million per year) staring him in the face, Donovan did what any sane person did. He took the money.
The talk among many was that if Donovan would have agreed to a contract extension with the Gators, he would have become one of the highest paid college coaches in the country, or he would at least come close. To provide a bit of scale on that, Rick Pitino, the college-to-pros-is-a-bad-idea poster child, just signed a six-year extension with Louisville that will earn him about $23.2 million (average of $3.86 million per year) over a six-year period. According to The Orlando Sentinel, if Donovan had signed an extension with Florida, it would have started at $3 million per year and escalate to $3.75 million by the end of his contract in 2013-14. At seven years, assuming a $0.125 million-per-year increase that would graduate up to $3.75 million in the final year, that would likely earn him $23.625 million. That's a difference of $3.825 million total...but in two more years if he stayed at Florida.
Every time a successful college coach makes the jump to the pros, everyone compiles the list of the past failures who have done the same. I’ll spare your time, as well as mine as it really isn't the point.
Many national columnists have second guessed Donovan, as they do every time a coach leaves college for the NBA for leaving a supposed dream situation to coach in a higher pressure, potentially higher profile environment.
Maybe Donovan really just wanted a different challenge, just like he said. Maybe that extra $3.8 million was too much to pass up. Or maybe, in the back of his mind, he knew he could do what Pitino did and test out his NBA coaching prowess and return to the college ranks later on if it doesn't suit him. I'm imagining it's a combination of all three.