Matthew R. Perry

Greener Pastures Syndrome Bites Billy Donovan — Will You Be Next?

In Church Life on June 1, 2007 at 3:37 pm

So the Greener Pastures Syndrome (GPS or GreenPasSyn) has claimed one more casualty in our midst. Billy Donovan, coach of the University of Florida basketball program since 1996 and two-time national champion has bolted for the National Basketball Association’s Orlando Magic to become their head coach. While Jeremy Foley, UF’s Athletic Director, was prepared to offer Donovan a seven year contract in the neighborhood of $3.5 million per year, he opted for a five-year, $27.5 million ($5.5 million per year) to go from the college to the pro ranks.

My point is not simply to go through the list of those who have tried and failed (miserably) at the professional level after succeeding in college. Pat Forde of has done admirably in that regard. That list includes some very elite names.

What frustrates me about this is that these coaches who ‘make the jump’ fail to learn the lessons of their past colleagues. Look at what Forde has to say about what Donovan leaves behind:

Billy Donovan is leaving a great thing at the University of
Florida. He is leaving a program he built into the finest in the
country, the winner of consecutive national championships, to chase the
white whale of success in the NBA. He might wind up the next in a
series of Ahabs.

He’s abandoning the chance to be the next Mike Krzyzewski —
for my money the second-best coach in college hoops history — for the
chance to be the next Leonard Hamilton. Make no mistake: with two
national titles at age 42, Donovan was on a flight plan toward

How many titles do you want to win, Billy? Three, which would
put you on par with Kryzewski and Bob Knight? Four, which would tie you
with Adolph Rupp? Why not go for five, leaving you ahead of everyone
not named John Wooden?

Historic greatness was within his reach.

Instead he’s chosen to grasp for glory in the pros.

Why make this move? Some reasons come to mind:

  • Maybe Donovan feels he has nothing left to prove at the college level. He took a program whose college was known as a ‘football’ school and turned it into the best basketball country in the nation, bar none. He needed another challenge.
  • Maybe the Orlando Magic are the right fit. Dwight Howard is blossoming into a superstardom; they have some great pieces in place. A couple of right moves could have the Magic contending in what many consider a very weak Eastern Conference.
  • Maybe it was because he was able to stay in Florida near his family;
  • Maybe it was because $5.5 million per year is just hard to turn down.

Lessons for Pastors

Recently in the Western Recorder, our state Baptist newspaper, they ran an article on the main reason why pastors leave their churches for other churches. The number one reason? Money. Not that God called. It was money.

I have a number of things to say about this. First, if the church where you pastor is not permitting you enough to provide for your family, then you have to explore other options such as bi-vocational pastoring or, if they can but won’t help, moving along. The reason for this last portion is not that you want to live the high-life, but 1 Timothy 5 tells us that a pastor is worth ‘double honor.’ Churches must do all they can to take care of their pastors. If they don’t, it is a deeper problem than simple salary — it’s a faith problem and a stewardship rpoblem. Consider this from Lazarus’ Ministries:

I’m sure you are much too spiritual for money to matter. Unfortunately the electric, phone, gas, grocery, and insurance people don’t feel the same way. They like to be paid, and promptly too. Then there is your wife and kids who have gotten accustomed to eating several times a day, and wearing shoes. Nothing will kill your ministry faster than a lack of finances to adequately take care of your family. Many people see the pastor’s salary as a minor issue, but It becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the needs of others when your own family is wondering how to keep the lights on and food on the table.

Your family will see the expectations upon you 24 hours a day 7 days a week, yet they will feel neglected by you and the church if their needs are not taken care of. Your children will grow up with distain for the church, because they will feel you have been used by people that were supposed to be loving and caring, yet didn’t notice or care that your family often went without.

The other side of the coin is that most churches are not wealthy and can’t provide thier pastor with a good salary and financial package. They base their expenditures upon what they received in last year’s offerings and if the people are not good tithers they don’t have much to work with.

Here is the bottom line, 70% of pastors feel grossly underpaid.  80% of pastor’s wives feel left out and unappreciated by church members.  When pastors and their families are struggling to stay afloat, the ministry will suffer too. (click here to read the rest)

Survival is one thing — you know, eating, being clothed, insurance, etc. Yet, if you are able to provide the basics for your family and the church makes every effort to provide this, then stick around and see the task through that God has for you and his church. It’s a tough balance to find for many pastors.

Back to Donovan: this should not have been a difficult decision in my opinion. He could have been a legend. At 42, he already had two championships and four Final Fours, I believe. He could have left Coach K at Duke and Bobby Knight(3), Adolph Rupp (4) in the dust. Maybe even (dare I say it) John Wooden who won 10 at UCLA in the 1960s and 1970s. He had a good thing (I know he wouldn’t have starved with $3.5 million per year).

Pastors must balance calling with making sure their family is taken care of (as should churches). Being bitten by the Greener Pastures Syndrome clouds the judgment of many. Are they leaving because of money, or because of calling and making sure family is taken care of? If it’s really due to the money, then what is over the hill at your next situation will not be what you expect it to be.

I fear this will be the case for Billy Donovan. He may just buck the trend and succeed. Or he may become frustrated and return to the college level only to go back to Square One.

As Jim Valvano said, “Don’t mess with happiness.” Sure, the money will be there, but Paul noted to Timothy that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:9). Money is necessary to survive. You need money to eat, clothe yourselves, send your kids to school, buy gasoline, for insurance, retirement, savings — you know, to survive. But when you are surviving nicely and God is taking care of you — don’t mess with what God provides you.


What would I have done if I were Donovan? I would have stayed. I know what I’m getting. I know what’s expected of me. I would stay to help groom young men not just in the game of basketball but in the reality of life. That is something that money just could not buy.

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  1. Matt:

    This is a very well thought out and convicting post for pastors. Also, thank you for tuning me on to Lazarus Ministries…GREAT RESOURCE!

    Keep it up!


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