Jones plans to follow Donovan’s road map at UCF
Associated Press Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Donnie Jones’ plan at Central Florida is to follow the map Billy Donovan laid out when the two arrived at Florida.
He’s not kidding, either.
After being introduced as the Knights’ new coach Tuesday, Jones said the first thing he plans to do is drive around the state to strengthen recruiting relationships. That’s the same thing Donovan did at Florida, where Jones was an assistant for 11 years under the Gators’ coach.
“You got to get people on campus. It’s like having a Mercedes that’s parked in the garage. A lot of people haven’t seen it riding around town,” Jones said.
Attracting high-level recruits is the new coach’s top priority.
The Knights have lacked top talent for several seasons, a big reason why Kirk Speraw was fired after 17 years despite being the program’s winningest coach. They’re coming off a disappointing 15-17 season and haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2005.
That’s a troubling trend for UCF, a bustling school in the heart of Florida that has ballooned into the third-largest university in the country with more than 53,000 students. UCF has built a new on-campus football stadium, basketball arena and upgraded facilities in the past few years but is still lagging behind in the most important category in sports: winning.
“Everybody says the sleeping giant. Well, it’s time to wake up the sleeping giant,” Jones said.
“Why not us? Why not now?” he said.
Before Jones can sign his five-year deal with UCF, he said he has to work out the details of his buyout at Marshall. He said that shouldn’t be a problem despite Marshall being a rival Conference USA program.
Jump-starting UCF could be much more difficult.
The Knights have seemingly always lost out on recruiting to the state’s more established programs – Florida, Florida State, Miami and South Florida – and have struggled in conference since moving from the Atlantic Sun in 2005. For a school with goals of moving to the Big East if conferences expand, the Knights need to start showing results.
UCF athletic director Keith Tribble denied that he referenced the school is hoping to move to a BCS conference as a way to lure Jones from Marshall. Instead, he said he has simpler goals for now.
“I mentioned that we need to win Conference USA,” Tribble said.
Making the move wasn’t something Jones did swiftly.
He said he agonized over the decision because almost all of his family lives in West Virginia. He had seemed to turn things around and has deep ties with the program, going back to when he was an assistant coach at Marshall before following Donovan to Florida in 1996.
Jones said he spoke with Donovan throughout the process seeking advice. He said Donovan, who coached the Thundering Herd from 1994-96, first questioned why he would leave Marshall.
“He has a lot of allegiance to Marshall. So at first thought he asked, ‘Why?’ Once he understood, he knew the ability of this school and where it was headed, and he was excited for that. Obviously, he wanted me to be happy,” Jones said.
Already, Jones said he and Donovan have talked about playing the Gators across town at the Orlando Magic’s new arena next season. That would be the first time Donovan played in the Magic’s home since he took the job to coach the NBA franchise and then abruptly announced he would return to Florida days later.
That’s just an example of how fast Jones is hoping to move at UCF.
He went 55-41 the last three seasons at Marshall, including a 24-10 mark this season. But he’s looking forward to getting back to his Florida roots.
Jones was a relentless recruiter who helped build the foundation for the Gators’ back-to-back national titles and three Final Four appearances. He can draw the parallels at UCF, a program with little basketball success in a football-crazed state.
“It reminds me so much of what we had when we first came to Florida,” Jones said. “I don’t know why that can’t happen here.”