"Big Four" Highlights


‘Billy the Kid’ Coach

Florida’s Donovan values faith, family, sports

By James Breig

Billy Donovan, head coach of the University of Florida Gators, has guided his No. 2-ranked basketball team through the opening phases of March Madness.

Guiding Donovan, a devout Catholic, is God, something the coach has made clear again and again, never more so than when tragedy struck his family in 2000.

“My faith in God and reading the Bible, with my wife’s support and my assistant coaches’ support, have helped me,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “That’s been our source of strength.”

Billy Donovan shown against Kentucky during March 13 SEC game. (Photo above and on homepage: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

He was referring to the death of his fourth child just before her birth. His wife, Christine, had become aware that the infant was no longer moving inside her. She was rushed to the hospital, but the baby had died. Donovan had to break the news to his other kids.

To do so, he had to surrender to God’s will. “For whatever reason this happened,” he told a reporter, “it's all going to work out for the good somehow. It may not appear good now, but it's all going to work out for the best.”

That attitude is probably rooted in his upbringing. Raised as a Catholic on Long Island, New York, he attended St. Agnes Cathedral High School and the Dominican-run Providence College, playing basketball at both. As a player, he was nicknamed “Billy the Kid” both for his small basketball stature and his outsized passion for the game.

Then he entered the coaching ranks. His website outlines his string of successes: a record at the University of Florida of 331-139 (.704); a record in 15 years of coaching of 366-159 (.697); 2006 and 2007 NCAA Championships; 2000, 2001 and 2007 SEC Champions; 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2007 SEC East Champions; 2005, 2006, 2007 SEC Tournament Champions; and 2000 NCAA runner-up. He has racked up 12 straight 20-win seasons and two 30-win seasons, including a Florida record of 35 wins in 2006-07.

The athletic and coaching skills that have remained with him throughout life are matched by his long-held and deep faith. He told Catholic News Service that he is “a big believer that everything starts with God.”

In the same article, he declared that “if your faith is strong and you’re living a faith-based life, the chances are that you will make better decisions and you’re probably going to be happier.”

He urges young people to "remember five words: peace, love, hope, joy and forgiveness," and to take “the strengths, talents and gifts God gave them and utilize them to help other people.”

The 45-year-old coach has written that “God has a chance to use you in a way to inspire other people. There are things that happen spiritually that we’re not capable of applying ourselves….It’s the blessings of God. God works through all of us in different ways and can touch us in different ways.”
Donovan said that his favorite Scripture passages include this one: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”

Whether that includes an NCAA championship remains to be seen, but the coach’s faith won’t be shaken by a loss.

“I think my priorities are straight as far as my faith, my family and then my job,” he has said.

James Breig is a veteran Catholic journalist.

Read the story on other Catholic Final Four coaches.