College basketball coaching changes are in a weird place in 2016.
Gregg Marshall passed on Alabama to stay at Wichita State. He’ll make more than $3 million to coach the Shockers, he’ll have the institutional support of any major conference team, and he’ll enjoy near-ironclad job security.
Shaka Smart didn’t go to UCLA two years ago; he went to Texas this season. And who knows what kind of college job would have pulled Brad Stevens from Butler if the Boston Celtics never took a chance on the Bulldogs coach.
Florida isn’t Alabama. Nor is it UCLA. Perhaps not until the Gators hire a successor or two for Billy Donovan will we know exactly what Florida is in college basketball for the long haul.
The Gators lost a top-five college coach to the NBA on Thursday. If they didn’t know it before, the Gators will soon learn they aren’t hiring to a top-five job, perhaps not a top-10 job in college basketball.
That’s not exactly a bad place to be, considering that Donovan left Marshall for a job that wasn’t even close to top 10 or top 20 in 1996. There's no better way to say it: Donovan took Florida basketball to unimaginable heights. He took the Gators to their second Final Four in school history and added three more. He won 500 career games before he turned 50 and could be a Hall of Famer.
When Donovan was hired at Florida, the Gators had been to five all-time NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four. He went to 14 tournaments and four Final Fours, winning two titles.
The previous all-time wins leader had 235 victories and was fired amid NCAA sanctions. Donovan finished with 232 wins more than Norm Sloan at Florida and 363 wins more than Lon Kruger, the only other Florida coach to reach the Final Four.
Donovan probably have the court at the O’Connell Center named after him some day, and he built the program to a point where the Gators can chase after the most attractive names on the coaching market if they choose.
The question, though, is how Archie Miller and those of his ilk look at Florida.
They may see Florida as the two-time national champion and a team that has reached the Elite Eight six times in the last 10 seasons. Or as the only SEC program that can consistently challenge Kentucky in the league.
At the same time Florida has been putting up blue blood results, Florida can't claim to be a basketball blue blood like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, UCLA or Kansas.
First, this isn’t a salary issue. Donovan’s salary kept up with those programs, ranking fifth behind Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Rick Pitino and Bill Self.
This isn’t a football school issue, either. The Gators may still be one of only a handful of schools — Ohio State, Texas, Michigan, Michigan State and Louisville — who can claim to be both right now. Beyond basketball, Florida’s non-revenue teams have thrived in the last 20 years.
Even if the institutional support is there, Florida’s ability to stay at the top is in question.
Florida has committed to a $1.2 million upgrade for the basketball weight room (also used by women’s basketball, golf and tennis). Meanwhile, the renovation to the O’Connell Center has been delayed a year.
Although Florida has upgraded its football facility and stadium in the last 15 years, the Gators tend to step into the facilities arms race cautiously. The Gators are the last program in the SEC to begin work on an indoor football facility.
In other words, Florida’s not going to renovate a facility just because its SEC brethren are.
Recruiting may be of greater concern if Florida is going to compete for titles on a yearly basis, especially in a league that has added Bruce Pearl, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland to keep pace with Calipari at Kentucky.
Florida is a good state for talent, but not one where the Gators can set up a base. Of the 20 top-50 prospects in the state of Florida since 2010, Florida has signed four of them.
That said, in-state recruiting in basketball isn’t the same as in football. Too many prospects move around from high school to high school or AAU team to AAU team.
Florida’s never struggled to bring McDonald’s All-Americans to Gainesville under Donovan. The Gators signed 14 in 19 season under Donovan and at a fairly consistent pace from Teddy Dupay, Mike Miller and Brett Nelson through Patric Young, Kenny Boynton and Kasey Hill.
There’s also a reason Donovan so embraced the emerging transfer market at a pace second only to Iowa State.
Since the class of 2007 — after Florida’s first national championship, mind you — the Gators signed six McDonald’s All-Americans. Kentucky signed 24, Duke and North Carolina signed 18 each. Kansas signed 10. UCLA — a team Florida knocked out of the NCAA Tournament four times under two coaches during this span — signed nine.
Again, Florida shouldn’t be surprised it is hauling in fewer McDonald’s All-Americans than Duke, Kentucky, Kansas or North Carolina. But that much fewer with an established coach with two national titles on his resume?
Even if Florida won big with players who didn’t get the McDonald’s stamp of approval — Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Scottie Wilbekin for starters — those are pretty telling numbers.
Horford and Noah, highly touted recruits, became two-time champions under Donovan. Wilbekin was a three-star who ended up playing in three Elite Eights and a Final Four.
The next coach at Florida will know has quite a legacy to maintain. The question is if he’ll have the tools to do so.