Most coaches spend their 20s and early 30s paying their dues, working their way up through the ranks of graduate assistant and assistant coaching positions. The 2010 John R. Wooden Award Legends of Coaching honoree, however, was always a leader. Billy Donovan began his head coaching career earlier than most, at the young age of 28, when he accepted the top job at Marshall.
Donovan began his coaching career at Kentucky, where he served five years under Rick Pitino before landing the Marshall job. He spent two seasons at the school, compiling a 35-20 record and winning a Southern Conference title, before accepting the head coaching position at Florida in 1996.
Donovan led Florida to back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007; college basketball fans will long remember the inspired play of Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford those two seasons. Florida has experienced unprecedented success under Donovan; in 14 seasons, Donovan’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times, and played in three NITs. His only losing season was his first season, and in just his third year with the Gators, in 1998, they finished 22-9 and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. The 2000 squad was the national runner-up,
In 2005, Donovan guided the Gators to their first SEC Tournament title, adding to the two regular season SEC crowns and three SEC East titles Florida has won under his guidance. In 2006 the Gators won a then-school record 33 games, including the final 11 of the season, winning the SEC and NCAA Tournament title. The Gators became the first team in 15 years to win back-to-back NCAA titles, as his 2007 squad won a school record 35 games.
With a 21-12 regular season record in 2010, Florida advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Heading into the postseason, Donovan’s career record stood at 366-157 overall in 15 years, including 332-138 at Florida. Among Donovan’s coaching awards include being named Basketball Times Rookie Coach of the Year in 1994, and ESPN National Coach of the Year in 2001. He is one of only a handful of coaches to have played in a Final Four and coached a team to an NCAA title.
A native of Rockville Centre, N.Y., Donovan was a part-time player for Providence in his first two seasons, averaging just over two points as a freshman and three points as a sophomore. Enter Rick Pitino as head coach at Providence in 1985,and “Billy the Kid” was born. Once considered undersized and underdeveloped, Donovan thrived under the new system and finished his career as one of the premier players in Providence history. As a junior he averaged 15.1 points a game and shot better than 50 percent from the field at the guard spot. As a senior at Providence in 1987, averaging 20.6 ppg, Donovan led the Friars to a Final Four and was named the NCAA Southeast Region MVP as a point guard and team captain. He was inducted into the Providence Hall of Fame in 1999.