COLUMBUS, Ohio — There comes a time in every coaching search where enough buzz begins to build around a candidate that you have no choice but to acknowledge it. The Ohio State men’s basketball program may be nearing that point with Billy Donovan.
This isn’t a “report” or anything based on inside info. Don’t attribute this to any type of “source,” other than casual conversations between people on the outside looking in at Buckeyes basketball.
Enough of those conversations, however, are resulting in some sort of story that makes you believe Donovan to Ohio State is a real possibility. One such conversation took place Tuesday, when I appeared on Fox Sports 97.5 FM’s Query and Schultz in Indianapolis to discuss the Buckeyes’ head coaching vacancy.
“When Indiana was looking for their coach when Tom Crean was relieved of his duties, here’s what I was told,” Jake Query, a longtime Indianapolis radio host told me. “People I talked to told me Indiana had some interest in feeling out Billy Donovan. But a couple of people I talked to told me, however, Billy Donovan — at least his camp — has kind of indicated that if he was going to return to college, he was going to wait for the Ohio State job. I mean, it was specifically mentioned.”
If that feels sort of like a “my brother’s girlfriend’s cousin’s neighbor heard something” type of story, that’s probably because it is one. And it’s also worth noting similar Donovan-to-Indiana stories — flight tracker and all — popped up throughout the Hoosiers’ coaching search a few months ago.
Again, this isn’t to say the Buckeyes will or won’t hire the Oklahoma City Thunder head coach. But enough people are now linking Donovan to the Ohio State opening that it feels like something worth paying attention to.
Plus, it makes sense — for all parties involved.
From the Buckeyes’ perspective, it’s hard to imagine Ohio State making a move the magnitude of firing Thad Matta without at least having an idea of who his successor could be. And while the names Chris Mack, Mick Cronin and Chris Holtmann also have been linked to the Buckeyes in recent days — if Ohio State truly is swinging for the fences — landing Donovan is the biggest home run they could hit.
A two-time national champion with the Florida Gators, Donovan is one of college basketball’s most accomplished coaches. In 19 seasons in Gainesville, he recorded a 467–186 record, including four Final Fours and eight SEC championship seasons.
Moreover, Donovan boasts one of college basketball’s top recruiting resumes. At Florida, he routinely attracted top-tier talent as he forged a preps-to-pros pipeline in Gainesville.
After two seasons in the NBA, Donovan has only increased his recruiting cachet, one would think.
Of course, it takes two to tango. While the reasons why Ohio State would want Donovan are obvious, would he reciprocate the interest? As Thunder fans have been sure to remind me on Twitter, it doesn’t make sense for a coach to leave his job coaching Russell Westbrook for a gig at a football school.
Or does it?
While Donovan’s current job has its perks — especially at $6 million per year — it’s changed drastically since he accepted it in the summer of 2015. Back then, he had Westbrook and superstar Kevin Durant at the core of one of the NBA’s most promising young teams. Now, only Westbrook remains, and the Golden State Warriors have grabbed a stranglehold on the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.
If it’s job security Donovan craves, a return to the college ranks might be his best bet.
As for the notion Donovan wouldn’t want to coach at a school where basketball takes a backseat to football, his resume says otherwise. He spent 19 seasons in Gainesville, operating in the shadow of the Gators football program. Some coaches, like Matta, thrive in such a situation. Donovan is one of those coaches. It’s also worth noting Donovan’s time at Florida coincided with Urban Meyer’s, and the two remain close friends.
When you consider all the factors at play, they start to add up.
Perhaps this is all fan fiction, fodder best reserved for online message boards. At this point, it’s probably more likely an up-and-coming coach such as Holtmann of Bulter or Mack of Xavier makes his way to Columbus than Donovan.
But the buzz for Donovan isn’t dying down. And when you look at the reasons why, the buzz just might be worth listening to.