GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida Gators fans are quickly piecing together their broken hearts after Billy Donovan announced he will
return as coach and the Orlando Magic gave him permission to do so.
Donovan, who bolted from Florida to sign a five-year, $27.5
million contract Friday with the NBA's Magic, was released from the
deal by the NBA team Wednesday night.
The coach won't have to crawl or beg to be taken back.
"I don't see how anyone can be upset with him here," said
Florida student Chris Andrews, a 21-year-old senior marketing
major. "He went for the money. He realized it was stupid. Now
hopefully he'll be back winning championships where he belongs."
Wednesday brought little change on campus, as Gators awaited
developments 100 miles south in Orlando. Florida officials,
including athletic director Jeremy Foley, declined to comment until
Donovan was released because of pending legal issues Donovan had
with the Magic.
"Great news for the Gators," Foley told The Associated Press
on Wednesday night.
A news conference announcing Donovan's return to Florida has
been scheduled for Thursday morning.
The football-loving school has become basketball crazy in recent
years -- in large part to Donovan, who built the program into a
powerhouse, winning the last two national titles.
The school's bookstore, once overflowing with football gear, is
now filled with basketball championship apparel. And football
players now largely walk on campus in the shadow of the school's
When Donovan returns, he will earn more than football coach
Urban Meyer -- an unprecedented statement at Florida. Donovan was
set to sign a seven-year deal worth approximately $3.5 million
annually with Florida, a deal that was nearly finished when he
agreed to coach the Magic. Meyer made $2 million last season plus
incentives as he led his own team to the national title.
"For all that [Donovan's] done for the school, I think he's
earned the right to do what he wants," said 19-year-old student
Jennifer Gardener. "I trust he knows what he's doing."
The basketball complex was crawling with youngsters attending
Donovan's basketball camp Wednesday. The only thing missing was
Donovan, who has not spoken publicly since reports of him jilting
the Magic surfaced.
But the respect for Donovan hasn't changed.
"We love him," said Ron Parker, who dropped off his son at the
camp. "He's the reason this is such a big deal."
Although it might take a few years, or wins, for Donovan to earn
back his credibility with everyone. Some were critical of his rash
decision to bolt for the NBA.
"Don't get me wrong -- Donovan is the man, but I was
disappointed when he left," said Matt Lavender, a 21-year-old
Florida student. "He's going to have to earn his respect back."
Donovan has a 261-103 record in 11 seasons at Florida, and is
the school's all-time leader in wins.