GAINESVILLE — The rumors about Billy Donovan's impending departure to Kentucky began early Friday. By the time Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie was officially fired at a 4:30 p.m. news conference, the Donovan rumors had ballooned into a full-blown Internet and media frenzy.
But unlike two years ago when a similar situation ensued, the Florida coach decided to put a quick stop to the speculation.
"In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible," Donovan said in a statement. "I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here."
Gillispie, 49, was fired after two seasons in which the Wildcats went 40-27. They went 22-14 this season, tying for the second-most losses in the program's 106-year history, and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991. He had a seven-year deal with Kentucky that had a base salary of $2.3 million annually.
Donovan, a former Kentucky assistant, was involved in a similar situation two years ago when Tubby Smith resigned as coach at UK. Donovan eventually turned down Kentucky and later took a job with the NBA's Orlando Magic, only to back out and return to Florida one week later.
In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times two weeks ago, Donovan discussed his reluctance to publicly comment on job rumors, citing the previous situation with Kentucky.
"People maybe say he's trying to be coy, he's trying to be evasive, or this and that," he said. "Listen, I know about changing your mind on something. … If I say no and something happened to change my mind, I would be perceived as a guy that wasn't truthful. And if I said I'm not interested, that in a certain aspect would have been disrespectful because it's not like I had gotten a phone call from them. It was a no-win situation for me."
Donovan, 43, has a contract that runs through the 2012-13 season and is worth about $3.5 million a year. The deal includes a clause that allows him to talk with other schools about employment only with written permission from UF athletic director Jeremy Foley. And it has a provision that if he leaves on his own, he must pay UF $500,000 or the total termination compensation of his assistant coaches, whichever is less.
As for Kentucky? It finally had enough of Gillispie.
Saying the Wildcats deserve a leader who understands "this is not just another coaching job," athletic director Mitch Barnhart and president Lee Todd chose to fire him.
Barnhart said rebuilding years are expected when a coach is hired. The trouble was "philosophical differences" between the university and Gillispie on the role the school's coach plays in the fabric of a fan base.
"There is a clear gap in how the rules and responsibilities overseeing the program are viewed," Barnhart said. "It is a gap I do not believe can be solved by just winning games."
And Kentucky did not plan to pay Gillispie a $6 million buyout that was to be part of his seven-year deal that was never signed, Barnhart said. Gillispie agreed to a memorandum of understanding when hired in April 2007. A deal appeared to be a formality, but neither side could come to terms. The school considers it a year-to-year contract.
Gillispie met with players Friday afternoon but did not address reporters.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.