Written and Media by Austin Brinkman[divide]
One day, University of Florida’s basketball coach Billy Donovan went for a jog and ran by this woman sitting on a curb sobbing. When he turned around, she was still there so Donovan sat down next to her and asked, “What’s wrong?” The women told him that she just lost a child at birth. Billy knew her pain because, in 2000, he lost a child himself. His daughter, Jacqueline, was killed by her own umbilical cord. Donovan could feel her pain and knew she needed someone there to be with her to talk and pray about it.
Donovan maintains a humble approach on his loss. “In the end, I had to accept that it was just a freak accident. I had to believe something good would come out of it.” Since the loss of his daughter, Billy Donovan had been helping to raise funds for a new children’s hospital at the University of Florida. This group he has helped the group Little Bits of Honey Memorial Fund that covers the cost of infant funerals for couples. He is always offering to teach from his own deep wounds, even at curbside.
As you can tell, Billy Donovan is not a person who focuses entirely on basketball, but a caring person. He took the time out of his busy day, which consisted of planning practice, completing piles of paperwork on his desk, and watching game film because he couldn’t run by her twice. It shows that some coaches have a caring heart underneath their competitive shell. I wonder if other coaches would have done what Billy Donovan did that day.
Sure, Donovan has won a couple of back to back NCAA National Championships in 2006 and 2007. He has had 16 consecutive 20-win seasons and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. It is not all about the winning success and trophies, but making a difference and teaching athletes and other coaches his model as a coach.
At only 28, Billy Donovan was the youngest coach ever to be hired in NCAA history. He started his coaching career of at Marshall, and now at 47 he already has 445 wins as a coach and is entering his 16th season at the University of Florida. He finished with 19 seasons as head coach at Florida and 467 total wins at Florida. He is on pace to win more than 900 games as a coach at the age of 70. Donovan is already exhausted: “I love what I’m doing,” he says, “but when my time is done, I don’t want to look back and see that I left a path of destruction with a bunch of trophies thrown in. I don’t want to be some old gray-haired coach sitting there with a ton of wins but no friends.”
Many coaches act like short-tempered toddlers that unleash heavy amounts of anger to referees whereas Donovan stays inside his safe zone and doesn’t blow up. Once Donovan learned that win or lose, he could not trigger the cosmos; he started teaching it to others. He helped out football coach Urban Meyer, coaching at Ohio State now. “You start to realize that the trophy brings you nothing of real value. The joy in coaching is helping a group of kids accomplish something they couldn’t accomplish by themselves.”
Another coach Donovan helped was the Miami Heat head coach, Erik Spoelstra an NBA Championship winner. Donovan helped Spoelstra to realize that you have to enjoy the ride as a family of a team of the process, the struggles, the joys, and the pain.
Donovan says, “You have to take both ends of it. You have to realize so much of it is just luck, the breaks of life.”
Now Donovan has to prepare himself for the first time as an NBA coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder team. Donovan has the honor to coach several talented players such as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. He is ready to pass on his model that has brought him success on and off the court. Now let’s listen to a few Greenville College students on campus, along with Coach Barber, talk about how they know Billy Donovan on and off the court.
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