Pelphrey excited about rejoining Donovan's staff


Former Arkansas basketball coach and new UF assistant coach John Pelphrey talks with the media on May 10, 2011, in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 8:44 p.m.

John Pelphrey said he was 100 percent sure about one thing in his life — the day he married his wife, Tracy.

Yet Pelphrey said he felt good about his decision to return to Florida as an assistant coach when his family visited Gainesville last week.

"I could see my kids sort of getting excited about school," Pelphrey said. "I can see they were excited about where they were going to live, what the roads look like, the smiles on their faces and my wife getting excited about how close it was to the grocery store, Billy's house. I knew this was right."




Pelphrey hopes to have his family here full-time by mid-June or early July. For now, though, Pelphrey has hit the ground running in his return to the UF campus. As Florida's top assistant, Pelphrey spent most of April on the road during a live recruiting period.

Neil Simon wrote the screenplay "Seems Like Old Times." Pelphrey and Florida coach Billy Donovan are living it. Pelphrey worked under Donovan at both Marshall and UF from 1994-2002 before taking his first head coaching job at South Alabama.

Fired as coach at Arkansas last March, Pelphrey said he had no other head coaching offers when he returned to UF as an assistant last month.

"I don't know for me if there was another opportunity like this I would be doing it," Pelphrey said. "I think because it's (Donovan), because all of my kids were born here, this was a safe place for my wife, Tracy. There is just a lot of things here that played into it. I probably don't see myself having taken this opportunity anywhere else."

That familiarity played into Donovan's decision to hire Pelphrey after losing three assistant coaches in less than three weeks.

"The first person I hired was John because I felt like I needed somebody that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way to do things," Donovan said.

In his first stint at Florida, Pelphrey's dogged determination in recruiting helped the Gators land five-star recruit Mike Miller, who served as the centerpiece player that helped Florida make a run to the 2000 NCAA final.

"I feel like I have ownership in the program already because I was here before the renovations to the O-Dome," Pelphrey said. "I was here before the practice facility was built. I was here before the first run to the national championship game, so I feel like I'm a little bit invested."

Walking through the practice facility, though, Pelphrey has recognized how much has changed since he left UF in 2002.

"I was in this building four or five months after it was built," Pelphrey said. "But it looks totally different because of all the history and tradition that's on those walls. Nine short years, there have been a lot of things that have happened here in a very positive fashion."

Pelphrey spent five of those years away as a head coach at South Alabama before moving to Arkansas in 2007. He went 69-59 in four seasons at Arkansas with one NCAA Tournament appearance. At the time Arkansas fired Pelphrey, he put together the eighth-ranked recruiting class in the nation. Pelphrey urged all of them to keep their commitments, and all stayed with the Razorbacks.

Pelphrey received a $1.8 million buyout ($600,000 per year for three years) from Arkansas. He chose not to disclose his salary on Tuesday. Arkansas will still be on the hook for the remainder of what Pelphrey makes from Florida up to $600,000 for the next three years.

Asked what he learned from his experiences at Arkansas, Pelphrey said: "I've been very fortunate and blessed to have been to some great places, some wonderful opportunities at a young age. My goal, my focus again is to focus on those things and to be the best and play my role as part of this coaching staff."

Pelphrey, 42, said he thinks coming back to Florida as an assistant with head coaching experience will provide some perspective he admitted he lacked when he was younger.

"Hopefully I can be better than I was the first time around," Pelphrey said. "I'm sure it will come back (to Billy) that I was a tremendous pain in the neck to him. I think being in the different position you understand the value of how you want those who you work with on a daily basis to respond.

"That guy has done so much for me. The patience he had, I'm embarrassed to say there is no way I can have that for someone else. Just what he did for me, basically teaching me everything about being a coach, I'm eternally grateful."

Though Pelphrey primarily has built his reputation in coaching as a strong recruiter, he views himself as a well-rounded coach. In his first stint at Florida, Pelphrey said Donovan has him "do a little bit of everything."

"Certainly, I wouldn't want to be labeled as one-dimensional because every situation is different," Pelphrey said. "You have to be able to adjust."

Pelphrey said he's looking forward to working with the players on Florida's roster.

"Billy likes the team," Pelphrey said. "He likes the guys as people, how hard working they are, how they are connected off the court. Certainly losing those three frontcourt guys is big, those were three four-year guys. I think Vernon was a five-year guy. I'm impressed, and excited and anticipating because of the way he talks about those kids. He really likes those guys."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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