After a brief stint as head coach of the Orlando Magic that lasted only 5 days, Donovan re-signed with the Gators on June 7, 2007, with a deal that makes him the highest-paid coach in college basketball, at $3.5-million per year.
Donovan was drafted by the Utah Jazz in the 3rd round (68th overall) of the 1987 NBA Draft. He was waived after the preseason and played briefly for the Wyoming Wildcatters of the Continental Basketball Association. He then signed a 1 year contract with the New York Knicks, coached by Pitino. Donovan averaged 2.4 points and 2.0 assists over 44 games.
His first full recruiting class at Marshall included a high-profile local recruit, point guard Jason Williams. In Donovan's second season, the team went 17-11, led the conference in scoring and three-point field goals. He agreed to take over coaching duties at Florida.
In two years at Marshall, he accumulated a 35-20 record and a league championship.
The next season, 1999-2000, saw Donovan lead the Gators to their second Final Four appearance, defeating North Carolina in the national semi-finals before falling to Michigan State in the championship game.
The team reached the NCAA Tournament in every season between 1999-2007, a streak of nine straight appearances; in eight decades of Florida men's basketball prior to Donovan's arrival, the school had never reached the Tournament more than three years running. On February 3, 2003, the team achieved a No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today poll for the first time in school history, returning there the following season on December 8, 2003.
In the 2005-2006 season, Donovan's young Gator squad posted the school's best-ever win streak to start a single season, reeling off 17 straight wins and reaching #2 in the nation in the AP Poll. However, the team failed to reach the top spot as it lost its first SEC game of the season to the Tennessee Volunteers. This win was followed by a surprising season sweep at the hands of the eventual 2006 National Invitational Tournament Champion South Carolina Gamecocks. Florida avenged those losses by ending South Carolina's surprising SEC Tournament run in the finals, winning the SEC Tournament Championship, a first for the Gators. The 2005-2006 season was the most successful in the history of both Donovan and Florida basketball, as the Gators defeated UCLA 73-57 in the NCAA championship game, winning the school's first NCAA title.
On December 20, 2006, Donovan became the winningest basketball coach in Florida history, earning his 236th win as Florida's coach in a romp over Stetson and surpassing Norm Sloan's 235 wins. During the 2006-2007 season, with the return of all his starting five from the 2005-06 team (Lee Humphrey, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Taurean Green), the Gators pulled off a championship trifecta by winning the Southeastern Conference regular season title, SEC Tournament title, and their second straight NCAA Tournament.
With the return of the entire 2006 championship team, the Gators instantly were named preseason favorites to repeat by many media pundits. The Gators raced out of the gates, losing just two non-conference ballgames (vs. Kansas and at Florida State). The 2007 Gators looked even more mature in terms of their unselfishness, passing and shooting abilities and overall team play. Although the Gators sputtered down the stretch during SEC play, losing three of four games, the team rebounded with their sixth consecutive win over their arch-rivals, the Kentucky Wildcats to regain momentum. The Gators went on to win the SEC Tournament once again with dominating performances, culminating in a win over the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Florida earned the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and defeated Jackson St, Purdue, Butler and Oregon to reach the Final Four. In a rematch of the 2006 title game against UCLA, Donovan's Gators prevailed 76-66. The Gators secured their repeat championship two nights later with an emphatic 84-75 victory over the Ohio St. Buckeyes, coached by Thad Matta. Just three months prior, the Gators had defeated the Buckeyes in the BCS Title Game.
But, on the morning of June 2, Donovan informed the Magic and the Gators that he was having second thoughts about leaving the University of Florida. On June 6, the Magic came to an agreement with Donovan to release him from his contract, leaving him free to rejoin the Gators basketball team. As a stipulation of his release, he reportedly agreed not to coach in the NBA for the following 5 seasons.
He has been described as conservative by some of his players and in the media. However, he is a registered independent .
Two Donovans surface: After Billy Donovan's saga with the Magic, the UF hoops coach is viewed in a different way.
Jun 10, 2007; Byline: Andrea Adelson Jun. 10--When you look at Billy Donovan, what do you see? Do you see Brave Billy, a man who made a mistake...