BILLY DONOVAN put in 21 years of coaching at the college ranks, two with Marshall, the rest at the University of Florida, where he won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007.
Still only 50, he decided to leave the SEC to head the Oklahoma City Thunder for a challenge that is probably a little bit bigger, more lucrative but certainly not as stable, even though he took over a team that includes two of the best players in the game in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Which made it kind of surprising when Brett Brown, the Sixers' coach of three seasons who has won 46 of 233 games during his tenure, said of Donovan's decsion: "That's a hard job."
It was hard to keep a straight face when Brown said it, considering what he has had to put up with during his short tenure, with trades, instability of rosters and below-average talent during the strip-down. But Brown sees the whole picture of the NBA. He was on the bench of a perennial powerhouse for 12 years in San Antonio, finishing five of those seasons at the NBA Finals, winning four of them. Those teams, like Oklahoma City, have different challenges. So while Brown currently tries to improve the shooting stroke of Jerami Grant, or the defense of Robert Covington and Jahlil Okafor, Donovan battles a whole different set of issues with an organization that hasn't won fewer than 45 games over the past seven seasons.
Since taking over for Scott Brooks this season, Donovan has been given the task of getting the organization over the top, somehow looking to climb over the Spurs and Golden State Warriors and capture that elusive NBA title.
It's obviously an envious task, especially for someone like Brown. But it also possesses so many different challenges than the Sixers' coach faces.
"Because Kevin and Russell, can they get better skillwise? Maybe a little bit," reasoned Donovan. "But Kevin Durant has taken so many shots over his career in terms of getting himself ready and prepared to play, and Russell the same thing."
Donovan's point was that making them better basketball players - something Brown has had to do with each of the players he's inherited during his time here - isn't really the challenge that is presented to him.
Donovan continued: "Do you get them to think mentally about the game differently? Do you put things in front of them that is going to foster and create a level of thought that they can evaluate and look at things? It's not so much about going to the gym and say, 'Hey, Kevin, your elbow is sticking out (on your shot)?' He knows those things. Same thing with Russell. So it's, how can I help them inside the game with regards to spacing to create situations where they can be efficient and productive? How can I create situations where they're in positions to really lead and look at things a little differently, handle different situations?
"I think those are the kinds of things that bring value, more so than making their game better. It's trying to help them, maybe elevate all the way around. Some of the elevation, in my opinion, is how they view the game as well."
Though their job challenges are vastly different, Brown and Donovan do have a lot in common. They both played their college ball for Rick Pitino (Brown at Boston University, Donovan at Providence), both got the most out of their playing skills and both possessed a coaching mentality during their playing days. They even shared a cabin together in the Poconos during a Five-Star basketball camp when Donovan was still a player and Brown a counselor.
So while Brown, five years Donovan's elder, sees and understands the hardships that await the Thunder coach, he has his own challenges, ones that are so much more simplistic.
"Nerlens (Noel), as an example, for the whole year we've been asking him to rise up as he picks and pops," said Brown. "And Jerami, we're trying to grow his threes. We admit all those things aren't high-percentage shots that we talked about. Next year it's going to be one of the main things where you say, this is your role. To identify, clearly, roles. Right now, I think the freedom that we're giving our guys is going to help them grow. As far as picking a single thing and giving them more freedom to do it, or telling Nerlens that we want to get him down to the block and try to get four or five jump hooks a game, we haven't bucketed up that directly. I think the path that they're on is OK and I think the freedom that they have is just going to be continued."
There are so many obvious differences between the 47-22 Thunder and 9-60 Sixers. Many were evident Friday in Oklahoma City's lopsided win. But when you look at the challenges presented to the two coaches, you see just how many miles apart the organizations are.
"I just think that there is sort of a down-to-earth part of him that allows him to come in and be excellent at inheriting a hell of a team," Brown said of Donovan. "That's a hard job in different ways you look at it. Because it is so veteran and they have been used to success. I thought Scotty did a hell of a job with them, too. It's not an easy job."
No, but you have to believe Brown would love to have Donovan's problems, instead of the ones he has.