Some coaches get so good at shading the truth they occasionally lose sight of it themselves. At some point, with some guys, it becomes an occupational hazard. Billy Donovan, to cite the latest example, talked so long and so longingly about coaching in the NBA someday that he stubbornly pursued the opportunity even after he knew deep down it wasn't what he wanted.
Coaches used to fear being called dishonest or double-dealing, but that apparently troubles them less nowadays than being labeled ``not for sale.'' Yet by most accounts, that's the tag Donovan should have been wearing,
He was coming off a second straight college basketball championship at Florida, backed by an administration, an athletic director and a fan base whose commitment hadn't wavered since the day he walked through the door in Gainesville. And there was that contract extension sitting on his desk since the end of the 2005-06 season, awaiting only a signature.
Yet when the Gators arrived at the Final Four in Atlanta this year, the deal still wasn't sealed and suddenly the job at Kentucky was open. Donovan could have ended any speculation then and there with a few strokes of the pen, but he didn't. As a negotiating ploy, it made plenty of sense. In retrospect, viewed as part of a continuing pattern of saying one thing and thinking another, it was a troubling omen.
Despite returning his starters, Donovan downplayed the Gators' chances last season nearly every chance he got. He maintained they wouldn't amount to much - let alone repeat as national champions - unless they played with a title-game intensity every night, No sooner did Florida lock up a second straight title against Ohio State, though, than Donovan began insisting these Gators be ranked alongside the UCLA, Duke and Carolina teams regarded as among the best of all-time.
And the contract extension Donovan said he wouldn't sign during the season because he didn't want to cash in on the title while his returning players were leaving NBA dollars on the table? When the numbers in it grew to $3.5 million a year, he finally said leaving for Kentucky wasn't an option and agreed to sit down and sign it. Soon after, the funny stuff started.
many of whom had already relocated in and around Gainesville.
Only Donovan knows at what point he convinced himself it was the right move. Nobody who heard him talk at the news conference in Orlando had any idea he was harboring any doubts. He talked about leaving his comfort zone, about discovering things about himself as a coach and person that only a career in the pros would make possible.
Getting everybody else to buy in was never Donovan's problem. The Magic figured they were getting a name and a face to shore up an ailing franchise and an image, enough goodwill to sell a few hundred season tickets right off the bat, and maybe get a reluctant community to help finance a new arena.
Donovan turned to be every bit as convincing as the Magic could have hoped. He got just about everybody to buy into the move, ultimately, except himself. A day later, returning to Gainesville for what should have been a graceful exit, Donovan broke into tears several times and went to work soon after, trying to undo all that work, all those hopes and expectations.
It's happened to a few coaches in recent years. Rick Majerus is going back to work as coach at St. Louis, but only after backing out of the Southern California job after three days in 2004. Gregg Marshall took the College of Charleston job in 2005 and returning home to Winthrop to pack up his family, changed his mind and stayed for one more season.
Bobby Cremins wound up with the Charleston job, a nice twist of fate since in 1993, Cremins left the Georgia Tech job to move to South Carolina, his alma mater, and moved back to Atlanta two days later. Back then, that kind of waffling was considered rare. Increasingly, with both coaches and schools increasingly itchy about long-term commitments, it looks like the wave of the future.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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