Originally created 05/29/99

Florida signs Donovan to 5-year, $3.5 million deal



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As Billy Donovan's reputation grows, so does the cost of keeping him at Florida.

Hoping to stave off a bidding war for one of college basketball's top young coaches, Florida's athletic director agreed to terms with Donovan Friday on a five-year contract worth $700,000 per season.

The deal will replace the $500,000-per-year extension Donovan signed last year. It will make him the third-highest paid coach in the Southeastern Conference, behind Tubby Smith of Kentucky and Nolan Richardson of Arkansas.

Donovan, who turns 34 Sunday, said he had been contacted by other schools last season, but had no intention of leaving regardless of his contract status.

"We not only have some good basketball players here, but they're quality kids, kids I enjoy coaching," Donovan said. "To go somewhere else and start all over again doesn't really make any sense."

Donovan, who learned his game as a player at Providence and an assistant to Rick Pitino at Kentucky, led the Gators from a sub-.500 record three years ago to a spot in the round of 16 of the NCAA tournament last season.

Aware of Donovan's popularity, Athletic Director Jeremy Foley wanted to prevent other schools from upping the ante in an effort to steal him away.

"We were worried about another school coming in here and trying to nab him," Foley said. "Especially because Florida doesn't yet have all the basketball tradition that some other schools do."

Foley is trying to prevent what happened after the 1995-96 season, when Lon Kruger left the school for a more established program at Illinois.

Of course, pre-emptive strikes are nothing new at Florida, which has one of the highest-paid coaching staffs in the country, across the board.

In 1997, Foley renegotiated with football coach Steve Spurrier, a perennial candidate for NFL jobs. Spurrier stayed in Gainesville for a $2 million-per-year extension that remains the richest in college football.

Donovan is on track to take the basketball program to where the football program has been since Spurrier arrived.

For the second straight season, Donovan has brought in a top recruiting class, adding McDonald's All-Americans Donnell Harvey and Brett Nelson to last year's class, which included Mike Miller, Teddy Dupay and Udonis Haslem, all of whom were key in the Gators' surge.

Donovan said he has been encouraged by renovations to the O'Connell Center and plans for an $8 million practice facility.

"It sends a message to me, to recruits, to kids on campus," Donovan said. "They see a practice facility going up, and all the other things that allow us to keep up with the Kentuckys and North Carolinas."

Donovan went 13-17 and 14-15 in his first two years. But the big recruiting class of last season paid quick dividends, as the Gators finished 22-9 and made it to the tournament for the first time in four years.

Included in the contract are Donovan's apparel and media deals. He is eligible for bonuses that include an extra month's salary for making the NCAA tournament and 2« months' salary if the Gators win the national title. It also includes incentives for graduating certain percentages of his players.