The text arrived two days after Halloween, well before Billy Donovan got to the cemetery.
“Thinking of you,” it read.
For almost a decade, it’s never failed. Every year, on Nov. 2, Arkansas coach John Pelphrey –
along with Alabama’s Anthony Grant - have reached out to their former boss at Florida. A phone call, an e-mail, a card or text. J
“No staff,” Grant says, “has ever experienced what we experienced. What happened with all of
us … I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Long before they were all head coaches in the SEC -- long before they became competitors --
Donovan, Pelphrey and Grant helped Florida blossom into one of the country’s most-dominating
programs during the early and mid-2000s. Still, the moments the three of them remember the
most -- the three precise dates that spurred one of the strongest, most unique bonds in all of
sports -- have nothing to do with winning NCAA titles and conference championships.
Instead, they involve the loss of life, and the strengthening of friendship.
“The human body is amazing,” Pelphrey says. “We can all sense when those days are coming
November 2 for Donovan.
February 6 for Grant.
August 22 for Pelphrey.
“I’m sitting there,” Donovan says, “and I look over at this church, and there’s a sign on the
marquee that says, ‘God is Good All of the Time.’ I kind of shook my head and thought, ‘What’s
good about this?’
“But then I sat there a little longer, and I said to myself, ‘I’ve got an incredible wife, and right
now I’m going home to three healthy kids.’ A lot of times, when bad things happen in your life,
you fail to remember all the good things that are in your life, too.
“At that moment, a calm came over me, a peace that made me realize that, although this was a
terrible loss, I was still very, very blessed.”
Donovan didn’t realize it initially, but working with various groups has been therapeutic for a coach who for years kept many of his thoughts and feelings about Jacqueline’s death inside. Pelphrey left Gainesville in 2002 and Grant departed in 2006. For a while, Donovan didn’t know anyone nearby who could relate.
Just like that stranger in the buffet line, Donovan now continuously comes into contact with
people who understand his pain. In some ways, friends say, Donovan’s charity work has been
“By giving, he receives,” said Cassisi, the former Florida faculty rep. “By helping them, he’s
also helping himself.”
Full story here.