If Billy Donovan Leaves for Oklahoma City, it Changes the SEC Competitive Landscape.
Billy Donovan’s potential exit from Florida would signal a major change in the competitive balance of power in the SEC. The loss of one of the greatest coaches of all time and the man that made Florida Basketball a powerhouse would be incredibly difficult much the way replacing Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer was a major challenge for the Florida Football program.
There is another article from Dawg Sports that covers this topic, but taking this story from another angle certainly would not be harmful. Billy Donovan’s potential exit is significant for Georgia even though the rivalry has been more toned down since Dennis Felton era. A lot of it has to do with the dominance of the Florida program and Georgia’s complete inability to win in Gainesville since January 19, 2001. Dennis Felton and Mark Fox have never silenced the O’Connell Center and that speaks to how much the UGA program has struggled and the Florida program has thrived under Billy Donovan. Prior to Dennis Felton, Donovan was 8-6 against UGA (counting the vacated wins). Overall, Donovan is 26-11 against Georgia (counting the vacated wins on the side of Georgia).
The games in Gainesville were as brutal to watch as they were to see in the boxscore. A prepared, faster and more confident Florida team would press a rattled and scared Georgia team in front of hostile crowds. Florida would be able to pass the ball with confidence and knock down open three point shots with ease as they would typically jump out in front by a large margin as the Dawgs would lose their composure. Florida wouldn’t experience the same sort of success at Stegeman Coliseum and would not play the same style of basketball, but yet Donovan found ways to win in Athens.
Billy Donovan built upon the foundation that Lon Kruger had laid for him. Lon Kruger in figurative terms gave Billy Donovan a functioning hi-ranch home with a lot of land. Billy Donovan turned it into an overdeveloped mega mansion. Before Kruger, Florida Basketball was a floundering program with far less success than Georgia and much like the Florida Football program saw its meteoric rise in the 1990s and it came at the expense of Georgia. Florida Basketball and Football’s rapid rise came at a time when the State of Florida’s population was starting to boom and the state rose in prominence, which is something that is forgotten. Florida was a sleeper program that made the most of a population and economic boom.
It is important to not forget what Florida Basketball was and it is also hard not to forget that with the economic boom and shifts in population, Florida recruiting talent rose at the same time. Billy Donovan took full advantage of an ever-improving crop of high school talent in the state. The success that Florida had combined with the recognition of such talent made the State of Florida a top place to recruit talent for coaches all around the country. Donovan’s success and style of play kept guys home and enticed recruits from out-of-state to come to Gainesville.
Florida being able to recruit in their own state and having a now national appeal has helped Georgia in a sense because Georgia does not face as much head-to-head competition from Florida in the Atlanta area. Florida is spread out in their recruiting approach and winning back-to-back National Championships and going to a multitude of Elite Eights and Final Fours earns that distinction. Georgia rarely competes with Florida for a recruit and usually when both Florida and Georgia pursue a recruit, Georgia is never a serious contender. The biggest recruiting rival from the State of Florida for UGA is Florida State. Florida State pursues the talent in Middle Georgia, South Georgia and the Atlanta area with greater intensity.
The hope is that with Billy Donovan’s exit, Florida State may try to allocate less recruiting resources in the State of Georgia and put them to use to land recruits from Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa. Florida State has been extremely effective in beating Georgia for recruits. The two most notable recruiting wins for the Seminoles have been for Jarquez Smith and Malik Beasley.
Florida without Donovan would likely not be as dominant and this hurts the conference as a whole, but it may not be as bad NOW considering the competitive atmosphere that exists. The SEC is about to get as competitive in basketball as it is in football. A weaker Florida would certainly help the win total for Mark Fox and the Dawgs. Getting a win in Gainesville would also exorcise some major demons in the program. The days of Kentucky and Florida being on top and the rest of the SEC struggling are over and it appears parity is the future of the conference. Every night could be like the Big XII in the SEC in a year or two.
Billy Donovan leaving Florida would be a major loss and while it would be nice to get more wins against the Gators, there would be something missing and Ric Flair (out of all people) sums up the sentiments quite well.
Georgia did not really beat THE MAN, THE MAN is potentially leaving and although beating Florida in any sport is satisfying, it also feels empty as it could be without that sense of accomplishment. Georgia not winning in Gainesville since 2001, failing to be competitive with Florida and then experiencing success because a coach leaves is a bit more hollow. It’s nice to know that Georgia beat Florida in possibly Donovan’s last game against the Dawgs, but in the whole scheme of things, he completely dominated us.
Overall, if Billy Donovan were to leave it means:
- Recruiting: Possible indirect benefits
- Odds of Winning in Athens against UF: Increased significantly
- Odds of Winning in Gainesville against UF: Increased significantly
- SEC Parity: Increased
- Awkwardness with John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant at UF: Skyrocketing
Would like to close things out when talking about Billy Donovan on a bit of a serious note. Donovan, although he coached at an arch-rival institution, is a class act all the way. He maintains a good relationship with almost every coach in the profession and has been a very good influence on the lives of the young men he has coached at Florida. He also has been a great contributor to the Gainesville community and his own personal tragedy inspired him to assist in charitable work for the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation and Pel’s Pals (founded by his assistant coach John Pelphrey) just to name a few of the charities that he has helped.