Successor Series: Who takes over for Billy Donovan at Florida?

Friday June 27th, 2014

The Successor Series will examine who might replace some of the bigger names in college basketball when they inevitably leave their posts. It is intended as pure speculation -- fodder for discussion in the long hoops offseason. That said: Down the line, we reserve the right to claim we knew it all along.

Billy Donovan, Florida

Career Record: 486-189

NCAA titles: Two (2006, 2007)

Billy Donovan has coached at Florida for 18 seasons, and he is not even 50 years old. This creates an intriguing dynamic: Based on age alone, his expiration date in Gainesville might be a couple decades away, but are there enough challenges to keep him there that long? With three straight Elite Eight bids preceding last year's Final Four run, Donovan has recharged a Gators program after it suffered a slight dip – two NIT berths, one first-round NCAA tournament exit – following the back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. An obvious goal would be another national title, which would make him just the sixth coach to have won three.

After issuing a sort of never-say-never response to possible NBA interest this offseason, Donovan is still at Florida with a promising roster for next season. It's difficult to pinpoint when Donovan would depart, but it's our job to imagine what would happen when he does.

If Donovan left tomorrow

How Billy Donovan can stay at Florida and still fulfill his NBA dream

Shaka Smart, VCU head coach. On the list of Top 10 Possible Billy Donovan Successors, Smart might occupy slots Nos. 1 through 10. The 37-year-old made a cameo as an assistant under Donovan, in 2008-09, before being scooped up by VCU, where he has won about 75 percent of his games. The Rams' Final Four run in 2011 might blend into the background more and more with each passing season, but it's there undeniably. Smart's charisma would help him pull in the elite recruits needed to maintain a talent base that keeps pace with Kentucky in the SEC. Smart signed one top-50 prospect, guard Terry Larrier, in VCU's 2014 recruiting class – and the high-pressure “Havoc” defensive system surely would play well with fans. At this point, it would be hard to imagine Florida turning to anyone other than Smart to start the search for Donovan's replacement.

Long shots and long-range plans

Kevin Ollie, Connecticut head coach. Here's a long shot with a sprinkle of reality ... maybe. Ollie was born in Texas, grew up in California and has been associated with exactly one college program: Connecticut. His connections to Florida are limited to a couple of years playing with the Orlando Magic. He has a new contract that will pay him nearly $3 million a year, and in the event he does leave Storrs, the expectation is that he'll head to the NBA. But consider Jeremy Foley's ambition, too: Florida's athletic director sees in Ollie a 41-year-old coach who just led his team to the national championship, and he knows he can offer Ollie better resources in a bigger conference. So why not call?

Anthony Grant, Alabama head coach. In a way, the 48-year-old Grant has been a step ahead of Smart but still finds himself behind Smart among potential Donovan successors. Grant served as a Gators assistant from 1996-2006 and then moved on to VCU, and from there he became Alabama's head coach. (With Smart sliding in as his replacement in Richmond.) While Grant was at VCU, Donovan left briefly for the Orlando Magic, and Foley flew to Richmond to interview Grant. When Foley landed, he checked his phone and saw that Donovan wanted to come back to the Gators. Since taking over in Tuscaloosa, Grant is 99-71 overall with just one NCAA tournament berth in five years. He's probably closer to being fired at Alabama than to being hired in Gainesville, but his familiarity with Foley could still give him an added bonus.

One And One
Year 1 to Year 2: A chat with Minnesota coach Richard Pitino

Richard Pitino, Minnesota head coach. Pitino, who turns 32 in September, served as an assistant under Donovan for two seasons from 2009-11. It's not that he wouldn't entertain the idea of succeeding Donovan; it's that his trajectory might point more directly to following his father at Louisville. But if Rick Pitino isn't ready to leave the Cardinals when Donovan departs Florida, then Richard Pitino could jump to the Gators instead. Of course, Richard Pitino needs to continue building on the successful foundation he started in Year 1 in Minneapolis, a season that ended with the Golden Gophers winning the NIT. Timing would be everything in this case.

Josh Pastner, Memphis head coach. Another long shot, but only because Smart seems such a prohibitive favorite. Pastner is a West Virginia native who played and coached at Arizona before his time in Memphis, so there are no ties to the Sunshine State. But Foley's last two football hires – Urban Meyer from Utah and Will Muschamp from Texas (where he was defensive coordinator) – haven't come from anywhere near Florida either. For that matter, Donovan is a New York native who went to school at Providence and had most recently coached at Marshall before he arrived in Gainesville. Pastner turns 37 in September and has averaged 26 wins per season in five years at Memphis. Some of that has been due to thrashing weaker Conference USA competition, and the Tigers haven't reached the Sweet 16 in his tenure. As long as the victories keep piling up, though, Pastner has the track record and energy to make him an option at UF.

College Basketball
Year 1 to Year 2: A chat with USC coach Andy Enfield

Andy Enfield, USC head coach. Enfield went 11-21 in his first season rebuilding the Trojans, and he'll likely have to get that program humming before Florida would consider attempting to lure him back to the state. Enfield spent six years coaching in Florida, taking Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16 in 2012 after spending after spending 2006-2011 as a Florida State assistant. It's also conceivable that Enfield would eye the NBA as his next step instead of returning to the state where he made his college basketball coaching name.

John Pelphrey, Florida assistant coach. He's now on his second stint as a Donovan assistant, with the first covering 1994-2002 at Marshall and Florida. After that came a sputtering head coaching career, with a solid run at South Alabama (80-67 overall record) followed by a four-year flameout at Arkansas (69-59 overall, 25-39 in the SEC). Pelphrey's head coaching track record might be difficult to overcome. But it's possible he could be convincing enough behind the scenes to assume the reins, or perhaps he thrives at another top job before coming back to Gainesville down the line.

Matt McCall, Florida assistant coach. He's a former manager who graduated Florida in 2004 and who now has served as an assistant under Donovan since 2011. He'd probably crawl over broken glass, with actual alligators chasing him, to take the job. While he has the personality and charisma of a future head coach and players love him, McCall needs seasoning. He might need to leave the nest and succeed as a head coach elsewhere to be an option if Donovan is in for the long haul.

Chris Caputo, Miami assistant coach. He's ready to be a head coach after serving as an assistant under Jim Larrañaga at George Mason and now Miami. He's not ready to be the head coach at Florida, necessarily, but he's still in his early 30s, young enough to take a top job somewhere else, make an impression and sell the fact that he knows Florida recruiting well. Caputo replacing Donovan is much more of a down-the-line prospect.

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