By any standard measure, Billy Donovan is a picture of what it's like to succeed at a high level in the coaching profession. A former All-Big East point guard for Rick Pitino at Providence, Donovan played a brief professional career before joining Pitino's bench at Kentucky, a tenure that sprung him to the head coaching job at Marshall -- at age 28.
After two years there, it was off to Florida, making Donovan the head coach at a Power 5 school by the age of 30. He inherited a 12-16 team, but by Year 4 the Gators were in the national championship and in 2006-07 Florida won back-to-back national championships, the first and only school to pull off such a feat since Duke in 1991-92.
Florida reached four more Elite Eights and one Final Four under Donovan, and in 2015 he left to become the head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Donovan was asked about comments Tom Izzo made recently about needing a second national championship to validate his career. Izzo beat Donovan in the 2000 national title game, but his Spartans have not reached the mountaintop since despite playing in half a dozen more Final Fours, including this year. (Sorry, Doug.)
“I'd say (the fans) are right,” Izzo said last week, “because I need to validate it for me. I don't need to validate it for them. I have my own goals. And I have my own aspirations of what I want to do. …
So, Donovan was asked how he felt after winning his second title back in '07, and the answer was one Izzo probably did not expect to hear.
"I lost total sight of what it's all about," Donovan said. "And I don't mean what it's all about in terms of what goes into winning, but the fact that it doesn't change your life one bit, other than someone may write next to your name, 'national champion coach.' Outside of that, it does not change your life.
"And then what happens is you get to a place -- and the first time it really resonated with me was I saw an interview on 60 Minutes with Tom Brady when I think the Patriots had won three of their five Super Bowls and after the third one he asked himself, 'Is this what it's all about?' Because at the end of the day if it's all about the ring and the trophy, you lose the most valuable thing, and it's the group of people and the relationships that are established, of people working together to accomplish something they couldn't accomplish on their own."
Donovan's response is why each and every retired coach recollects about the relationships they built rather than the rings they won. Donovan has reached enlightenment at age 53, and hopefully Izzo and every other coach can do the same through his comments.