Billy Donovan still working Magic with Gators

Three greatest professional moves in history:

1. Cher dumps Sonny and becomes a solo star.

2. Frank Sinatra makes "From Here to Eternity" and resurrects his career.

3. Billy Donovan reneges on the Orlando Magic and immortalizes his.

Hate to say I told you so, Magic fans, but I said it then and I'll reiterate it now:

The best move Donovan ever made was to inexplicably change his mind six years ago, back out of the Magic job after one day and return to the University of Florida.

As I wrote back then: "NBA coaches are known but not loved. Coaching in the pros is about building your bank account; coaching in college is about building your legacy. If you stay in college basketball long enough, you become a legend. If you stay in the NBA long enough, you become a retread."

And, so, I present to you Billy Donovan, who on Saturday won his 400th game at UF to go with two national championships, three Final Fours, two consecutive Elite 8 appearances, umpteen NCAA Tournament appearances and a team that this year appears to be an NCAA title contender once again.

He's gone from Billy the Kid to Billy the Legend.

He's gone from Billy Basketball to Billy Icon.

He's become a mythic figure at UF.

If he'd not backed out on the Magic, he'd be just another fired NBA coach.

"Obviously that was a difficult conversation to have with the Magic during that time," Donovan recalled earlier this week. "It was just something in my heart and something I couldn't put my finger on. I just felt like it was the right thing to do – not only for myself but for the Magic. For whatever reason, it just was not comfortable or right for me. … I'm excited that I've been able to be at Florida for as long as I have."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those who believes Donovan would have been just another college coach who flopped in the NBA (see Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Lon Kruger, etc.) He's a great enough coach and has the mental makeup to succeed on the pro level, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have been fired. Stan Van Gundy got fired, and he's one of the elite coaches in the NBA.

Bum Phillips may have been talking about the NFL but he could have easily been referring to the NBA when he famously said, "There are two kinds of coaches; them that are fired and them that are gonna be fired."

Translation: In Gainesville, Billy is the Gators' version of John Wooden.

In Orlando, he'd be the Magic's version of John Lucas.

In Gainesville, his boss, athletic director Jeremy Foley, would love to give him a lifetime contract.

In Orlando, his boss, Dwight Howard, would have probably canned him years ago.

Can you believe it? Donovan, still only 47 years old, has become a living legend and one of college basketball's all-time greats right before our very eyes. Already, he's third in SEC history in career victories behind Adolph Rupp and Dale Brown. Only two other coaches in major college history -- Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight -- ever won two national titles at a younger age than Donovan. If Donovan wins one more national title, he'll have as many as Knight. If he wins two more, he ties Krzyzewski and Rupp and trails only Wooden.

He is the only coach in the business who has consistently and perennially made the basketball program more successful at a football school than the football program. All of the other great coaches out there – Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, etc. – have never been asked to win national titles at a football school. It is why I believe Donovan is the greatest college coach – football or basketball – in this state's history.

Let's be honest, it's not all that difficult to win a football national title in the State of Florida. Seven coaches have done it, including the relatively pedestrian Dennis Erickson, who won two of them. Donovan, though, is the only coach in state history who's won a basketball national title – and he's won two of them and played for another.

And guess what? He has the team this year that might just compete for it again. The Gators aren't just beating opponents; they are bludgeoning them. Donovan got his 400th with Saturday's 83-52 dismantling of No. 17 Missouri. The Gators' four SEC wins have come by an average margin of 26.8 points. Florida destroyed Big Ten power Wisconsin 74-56, Big East power Marquette 82-49 and defending ACC champion Florida State 72-47.

Meanwhile, Van Gundy, the best coach in Orlando franchise history, has been fired, and the Magic have lost 13 of their last 15 heading into Tuesday night's game.

Billy Legend has shown us that sometimes the best career moves are the ones we never make.

mbianchi@tribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @BianchiWrites. Listen to his radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on 740 AM.

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