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Hoop coaches can excel at 'football' schools

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Nov. 16
Many observers feel it's very difficult for a basketball coach to survive in a "football" environment.

For example, how can you win big where football is clearly numero uno, as the pigskin parade is absolutely the king? The answer is simple: make it a positive instead of a negative.

The Spurrier-Donovan combination is the best one-two tandem nationwide in the NCAA's big-revenue sports.
Successful coaches in those situations accept reality and understand the business of the funds brought in when 70,000-plus fill football stadiums on Saturday afternoons. Those coaches know that football is big -- and they take advantage of it. They bring in big-time recruits on special weekends for the major games, showing them the major tailgating parties and the hoopla. That's a great way to sell your university.

Which coaches have been able to do this? How about the men who put their egos aside, not worrying about football but instead taking care of basketball business and doing the best they can?

Let's start down at Florida, where football coach Steve Spurrier has a consistent winner and basketball coach Billy Donovan has achieved a lot in a short time. In my view, the Spurrier-Donovan combination is the best one-two tandem nationwide in the NCAA's big-revenue sports. They simply go out, do their jobs and win. Recruiting is done on big-time weekends; what better way to show off the athletic program than a Florida-Florida State game (like this weekend)?

Florida and Florida State also meet in hoops Friday night. This year the game is in Gainesville, Fla. -- so there will probably be a few trips to see the O'Connell Center and Florida's new, $10 million state-of-the-art practice facility. Talk about building enthusiasm and excitement when showing off a campus!

Then there is basketball coach Mike Brey at Notre Dame. Yes, I know people will say the Irish football program is struggling, but the tradition and history of 11 national titles and seven Heisman winners tells another story. There is not a football weekend in America with the Friday afternoon luncheon, the pep rally with 12,000 fans and the campus with everyone in blue and gold.

Brey does a great job in exposing his program big-time to the excitement of the football program. The coach doesn't worry about how big football is. He just tries to do his best in bringing the basketball program to a higher level. Notre Dame hoops made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since my buddy, ESPN analyst Digger Phelps, was the coach.

At Oklahoma, basketball coach Kelvin Sampson and football coach Bob Stoops form a good combination. The only reason to rank Donovan and Spurrier ahead of the Sooner duo is that Spurrier has been at Florida a lot longer. Sampson doesn't have to worry about football; he is a big-time winner in his own right. He utilizes football in a positive way.

When I hear those cries that a basketball coach can't succeed at a football power, forget about it. The real tone is set by the Donovans, Breys and Sampsons of the world. You judge the individual situation and the maturity shown by the coach.

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