A story in the New York Post on Sunday said that Florida coach Billy Donovan was “intrigued” about the vacant head coaching job at St. John’s.
According to that report, St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch had contacted Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley to speak with Donovan directly. But on Sunday, Foley told Sun columnist Pat Dooley that the report was false and he had not been contacted.
In a text message to Dooley on Sunday, Donovan said he had not talked to anyone at St. John’s, but an alumnus reached out to him.
In a text message to the Post’s Len Robbins on Saturday, Donovan said: “”I am very happy here (at Florida), and we have a very good team coming back next season. St. John’s has a great tradition, and I have great respect for that program.”
Donovan just completed the third year of a six-year contract extension that pays him, with incentives, a package of close to $3.3 million annually. Among public universities, Donovan is the second-highest paid head coach behind Kentucky’s John Calipari ($4 million per year). Duke coach Mike Krzyzewksi’s salary is not public record because he works at a private university. Through tax records, Forbes reported that Coach K’s salary in 2009 was $3.6 million.
According to Donovan’s contract, he has a window from March 1 to April 1 where he can leave without paying a $500,000 buyout. But Donovan also would pass up a $500,000 loyalty bonus if he left before April 1.
St. John’s, which hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2002, fired coach Norm Roberts on Friday. Monasch is seeking a big name to replace him. Other reported candidates include Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt and Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
If Donovan was to interview with St. John’s, it would serve as a chance to return home. Donovan was raised in Rockville Centre, N.Y., about a 10-minute drive from the St. John’s campus. It would also be a chance to return to the Big East Conference, where Donovan starred at Providence as a player in the 1980s.
Donovan could generate fan support if he was to build a winner at St. John’s, but currently, the Red Storm’s average home attendance is 6,107, close to 4,000 less than the average home attendance at UF this season. The Red Storm play the majority of their home games at Carnesecca Arena, which seats just 5,995. But in seven regular-season games at Madison Square Garden in New York City, St. John’s drew more than 7,500 fans just once (14,432 for Villanova).
St. John’s has made a push to improve its facilities. In 2005, the school opened a $16 million practice facility, though half of the four basketball courts are for student recreational use. The two remaining courts are split between the men’s and women’s programs.
Donovan turned down overtures from Kentucky in 2007, and perhaps again in 2009, to stay at Florida. He also returned to UF in 2007 after a six-day stint with the Orlando Magic, citing a change of heart. In a speaking engagement in Gainesville last May, Donovan acknowledged that his desire for his oldest son, William, to finish high school in Gainesville played a role in his decision to return to UF. William will graduate high school this May before attending Catholic University in Washington D.C. on a basketball scholarship.
On the court, Donovan projects to return five starters who took a higher seed (BYU) to double overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing 99-92. St. John’s, coming off a 17-16 season, returns most of its players off a team that was eliminated by Memphis in the first round of the NIT.