With news that Oklahoma City has offered Billy Donovan its head coaching position, the end of an era is upon Gainesville. Word first trickled out that Donovan would only leave Florida for the perfect situation. It then shifted to him likely accepting should the Thunder offer. And finally, after meetings with GM Sam Presti, the other shoe fell on Thursday with confirmed reports that Donovan had agreed to become Oklahoma City’s new head coach.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is now tasked with the uncommon (and unenviable) position of replacing both his football and basketball coach in the span of five months. Foley has a history of sniffing out young or under-the-radar coaches (Donovan, Urban Meyer, Ron Zook and Jim McElwain – even Will Muschamp was out of left field, considering his deal, at the time, with Texas), so it will be interesting to see where he looks for a replacement.
Below is a list of six candidates whose names you can expect to hear mentioned during the coaching search. Some fit better than others, but all are young enough to put in two decades minimum, should they be successful. They also all have head-coaching backgrounds, a necessity given that Foley’s last two marquee hires without any leadership experience – Zook and Muschamp – were less than stellar. Moreso, Florida is a much different (see: more prominent) program now than it was in 1996, and isn’t the place for a coach to begin his career.
List Of Potential Coaches
Marshall is call No. 1. It doesn’t matter that he rebuffed Alabama and its dump truck filled with gold. It also doesn’t matter that he just re-upped with Wichita State for $3 million per year (a raise from his $1.85 per season). Foley makes this call, even if it’s just to say he did. In 17 years as a head coach, Marshall has only had one losing season. Over the past three years he’s averaged just three losses per season and raked up a stellar 95-15 record. If Florida were to land Marshall, it would be not only a banner hire of the country’s hottest mid-major coach, but also a monumental big-leaguing of conference rival Alabama.
He’s 36, has a track record of success and hails from a family of coaches. Miller proved last year’s Elite Eight run with the Flyers wasn’t a fluke by taking his 2014-15 squad all the way from the
play-in game First Round to the second weekend of March Madness. He’s not as lightning hot as in 2013-14, so Florida might be able to get him at a bit of a discount. Working against Miller could be the fact that the last coach to leave Dayton for a major conference (Brian Gregory to Georgia Tech) has more or less bottomed out, and Florida is arguably in a rougher patch than the Flyers were when he took over. Nonetheless, his roots to North Carolina (played at NC State) give him an open door to one of the nation’s hotbeds for hardwood talent.
Another one where Foley makes the call, even if it’s unlikely anyone answers. The Mayor grew up in Ames, played at Iowa State and now coaches his alma mater. It’s a safe bet that he’s a lifer. Nonetheless, he makes the tournament consistently, is coming off consecutive Big 12 Tournament titles and is one of the game’s top young coaches. Folely at least sends a “Y/N” text.
And here’s where things become intriguing. No coach has been more consistent over the past two seasons than Tony Bennett at Virginia. Would he leave a traditional basketball school, where he’s arguably the top dog, and conference for a program where basketball will forever take a backseat to football? It’s interesting to consider, given that Florida, albeit a football school, has much better resources and is a stronger overall athletic department. Also: flip the coin and see if Foley would consider bringing in a defensive-minded coach who stresses what many consider a brand of basketball. Would there be any bleed-over from football (see Meyer’s spread to Muschamp’s slog) in Folely replacing fast-paced Billy Ball with grind it out play?
Here’s an off-the-radar name that feels like it’s right out of the Jeremy Foley playbook. Dawkins has a strong pedigree (Duke), a record of success (Sweet 16 last year; NIT Championship this season), and is doing so at a place with difficult admissions standards (Stanford). Hmm … a guy from a legend’s coaching tree who was doing his thing out West despite having lesser resources … where have we heard that before? Before he took the Stanford gig, Dawkins was long-considered to be Mike Krzyzewski’s heir-apparent. Given that Tommy Amaker already had his run at a major program (Michigan), the way things at Oklahoma ended for Jeff Capel, and the fact that Steve Wojciechowski is still wet behind the ears at Marquette, Dawkins is the prime Duke disciple with head-coaching experience to land this spot. The fact that he’s not as talked about as the Marshalls and Millers of the world also plays right to Foley’s methods.
Speaking of the Foley playbook: the last time he hired a basketball coach it was an energetic 30-something who once learned under Rick Pitino and had only two years of moderate coaching success. Richard Pitino has three years of experience under his belt. He hasn’t been a world-beater, but he also hasn’t bottomed out at Minnesota (NIT Championship and winning 60% of his games). He’s 32. And he coached under Billy D from 2009-11 (as well as his father before that). He’s the most obvious choice you will hear batted around, if for no other reason than his similarities to Donovan and ties to the program.
Again, Florida is a much different program than it was when it took a stab with Donovan back in 1996. Foley could afford to gamble on the unknown at the time. Twenty years later and Florida is a benchmark program in college basketball, carrying much loftier ambitions. Once again tasked with replacing a campus legend, Foley will look to catch lightning in a bottle.