Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Matt Herring has the same kind of feeling he had when Gators coach Billy Donovan called him in 2004.
At the time Herring was in San Antonio for the Final Four as Oklahoma State’s strength-and-conditioning coach. The Cowboys’ season ended with a two-point loss to Georgia Tech and as Herring began looking ahead to the next season, Donovan reached out about a potential job.
“He literally called me as we were leaving the Final Four just to gauge my interest,’’ Herring said Wednesday. “It was one of those opportunities that don’t come around very often. If you don’t take that leap of faith and step out there, you never know what’s going to happen.’’
Seven years later, Herring has two national championships on his résumé and memories of a lifetime during his time as Florida’s strength-and-conditioning coordinator.
Oddly enough, Herring is leaving Gainesville to return to San Antonio, where he has been named Director of Athletic Performance for the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Herring is also returning home. The Texas native and his wife’s family live in Texas.
Herring said the decision to leave Florida was a difficult one considering the relationships he built here.
“I really hadn’t thought about it until San Antonio came calling,’’ Herring said. “The main reason why we even considered it is one, it’s a great organization and we certainly follow them, and then the draw to get closer to family and see my little girl get a chance to get closer to her grandparents and foster those relationships.
“It was just a tremendous opportunity for us on a personal level. The University of Florida is a fantastic place to be and Coach Donovan and the administration certainly tried to encourage me to stay here, but at the end of the day, they can’t move Gainesville to Texas, and that was the biggest draw.’’
Donovan will immediately open up a search to replace Herring. However, he knows replacing Herring’s impact on the program will take time.
The Gators won an SEC Tournament title in Herring’s first season – the freshman season of the noted class of 2004 – and then won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. They did it with the help of Herring’s training program and a culture based on being in the best physical shape possible.
“I'm very happy for Matt and his family,” Donovan said. “This is an opportunity with a great organization and a chance to be closer to his family. Matt has contributed a large part to our success here, and we appreciate what he's invested in our program and our players over the last seven years.”
Herring starts his new job on Sept. 1 and joins an organization that has won four NBA titles, more than any franchise other than the Celtics, Lakers and Bulls.
With the lockout creating uncertainty over the start of the 2011-12 NBA season, Herring is focused on building relationships with San Antonio’s current staff, led by longtime head coach Gregg Popovich, and creating a strength-and-conditioning program for the veteran Spurs once they return.
“It’s going to make it a little difficult to develop the relationships I should with these players,’’ Herring said of the unique transition. “We can’t talk to them.’’
Still, Herring is comfortable knowing that the Spurs have developed a similar culture around athletic training that he experienced at Florida. The coaching staff creates a plan with the trainers and the players, including star Tim Duncan, have bought in over the years to fuel much of the team’s success.
“I’ve never had to worry about trying to get guys to buy in. It’s just been an underlying culture that’s been built here across the board in all teams and all sports,’’ Herring said. “Our athletes seek us out; we don’t have to go and hunt them down. Talking with the Spurs, they also have that culture.’’
Herring pointed out that the last time the NBA faced a lockout in 1999, the Spurs returned and won their first NBA title that season. Duncan elevated his status as one of the game’s superstars by winning Finals MVP.
Herring said he is excited about the opportunity to work with players at the game’s highest level.
“You [can] have an impact on their lives – their livelihood and their career,’’ he said.
Former UF standout Al Horford, who recently completed his fourth season with the Atlanta Hawks, credits Herring with helping turn him into a first-round draft pick.
“Matt was a huge part of my growth and development as a player during my time at Florida,’’ Horford said. “We were always prepared physically, he was so basketball-specific in his training, and he was a big part of our two national championships and all of the success we had in the SEC.”
Chandler Parsons, the 2011 SEC Player of the Year who was recently drafted in the second round by the Houston Rockets, also credited Herring with making a huge impact in his career.
“Matt's a great guy and he'll certainly be missed at Florida. He always pushes you to get the absolute best out of you,’’ Parsons said. “I look back at where I was physically coming into college and how I left and Matt played such a big role in that. You can count on him in and out of the weight room."
Herring says working with Donovan and players like Horford and Parsons is what he’ll remember most about his time with the Gators, even more than those two national championships.
“We’ve had some tremendous success and we’ve gone the other direction and we’ve seen this program turn around and get back to that place where we all want to be,’’ Herring said. “I’m extremely proud of getting to be a part of all this. I’ve gotten to work with some really, really special people.
“We’re going to miss everybody here.”