Lean On Me Florida's Carol Ross and Billy Donovan give each other something rare among college hoops coaches: support

March 08, 1999

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."

--B.J. Schecter

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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