“RESPECT ME! I’m on the phone.”
What the hell was that?
By Jerry Tipton and Ryan Alessi / firstname.lastname@example.org
On his first full day in Lexington, Billy Gillispie stood grinning in front of thousands of adoring University of Kentucky fans who came to an impromptu pep rally in Memorial Coliseum. He bathed in Big Blue love before going to a news conference introducing him as UK basketball coach.
Despite that outpouring of affection, Gillispie found himself fired two years later because his UK bosses did not believe he understood the nature of his job and its connection with fans.
” … Dedicated and passionate fans deserve a coach that understands that this is not just another coaching job,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said in reading a statement at another news conference on Friday.
Winning and losing didn’t end Gillispie’s time as coach after two seasons, although his .597 winning percentage was the the worst for a UK coach since Basil Hayden’s one-season 3-13 record in 1926-27.
Ironically, failing to connect with those around him cost Gillispie his job. Ironic because in his time here, Gillispie repeatedly emphasized the importance of building relationships.
“We obviously did not achieve the results we all desired on the floor this season,” Barnhart said of UK’s 22-14 record. “Those results can occur when you are trying to grow a program. We clearly understand that.
“However, it is as important to represent the Kentucky program and the basketball program, more specifically, in a manner which best utilizes our incredible tradition, assets and platform. …
“It is my evaluation that we have not done all we can to manage the entire scope of the program and all that we expect.”
UK President Lee T. Todd echoed that reasoning. He said he spoke to Gillispie during protracted — and ultimately futile — contract negotiations about the public nature of the job.
“It’s kind of like the president’s job,” Todd said. “Nobody really writes out exactly what you have to do. Philosophically, we wanted someone that represented the entire Big Blue Nation. … This is a unique opportunity, a very unique job.”
Gillispie did not answer reporters’ questions. Holding a cell phone to his ear, he walked through raindrops in and out of Wildcat Lodge to tell the players the news and then the Craft Center to clean out his office.
Gillispie and his assistant coaches had reason to be busy. In what suggested a good-riddance sentiment, UK asked them to pack up their belongings and leave their offices by 5 p.m. (about three hours after Gillispie learned his fate in a meeting at Todd’s official residence).
The Southeastern Conference Tournament served as a stage to expose how differently Gillispie and his bosses viewed the UK job.
Gillispie, who saw celebrity as a hindrance, said the UK coach must recruit great players and coach them. Period. He did not embrace the suggestion of also being an ambassador, which showed itself in his first pre-season when he did not speak to the Lexington Rotary Club, something his predecessors did annually dating back to at least the 1950s.
Barnhart, who called fan interest in UK basketball a “cradle-to-grave love,” noted how fans drove to Omaha, Neb., earlier this week to watch the Cats play Creighton in the National Invitation Tournament.
“There is a clear difference in how the rules and responsibilities overseeing the program are viewed,” Barnhart said. “It is a gap that I do not believe can be solved by just winning games. It is a philosophical disparity that I do not believe can be repaired.”
Todd and Barnhart also spoke of their desire for coaches to provide a rewarding experience for the athletes.
The father of leading scorer Jodie Meeks suggested that Gillispie’s demanding style was distracting, if not a hindrance.
“You don’t want to throw gasoline on the flames, but, clearly, a lot of things happened behind the scenes that made it difficult for the kids to play basketball and focus on winning,” Orestes Meeks said.
Of his relationship with Gillispie, the elder Meeks cited his son’s UK record 54-point performance at Tennessee on Jan. 13.
“I got calls from every coach he ever had: baseball, basketball, all of them,” Meeks’ father said. “Except his current coach. His current coach never called. That said a lot to me. … ”
“When you start placing blame, tell them when the ship misses the harbor, do they blame the harbor?” Orestes Meeks. “I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault but his own.”
Originally, Gillispie and UK had a whirlwind romance consummated with a hiring in the first 24 hours. Without mentioning those details, Barnhart acknowledged his surprise at the unhappy ending.
“This is not a place I thought we would be at this point, or one that I would want to be,” the UK athletics director said. “However, after long and deliberate discussions, President Todd and I have decided we must charter a new direction for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program. Unfortunately there are times when a situation and the people involved do not create the right chemistry or right fit. It is our belief that is where we are and where we find ourselves with Kentucky basketball today.”
Barnhart said he and Todd have talked for a month about “dramatic differences” in how the administrators and the coach view the job of coach. Gillispie’s comments at the SEC Tournament about the job’s public component not being in the “job description” seemingly sealed his fate.
After denying any regrets in the hire, Barnhart said, “He’s a good basketball coach. Sometimes it’s not the right fit.”
I Blame it all on Tubby! Especially this…
Turns out, he wasn’t Rick Pitino.
Say what you want about the rabid nature of the Wildcats’ basketball fans, but after all these years, that’s really all they want. And is it so much to ask?
They want a slick, sharp coach on the bench. They want him to unleash a team such as the Cardinals upon the rest of college basketball like Huns attacking the Great Wall. They want to break the scoreboard, demoralize the opposition and serve notice upon the field.
Most of all, they want possibilities.
Frankly, they want to be Louisville.
And if you know a Kentucky basketball fan, you know how painful that must be to admit.
Tell me. Short of a scandal or three, has there ever been a worse day to be a Kentucky fan? First of all, Gillispie was fired in disgrace, which either came much too early (the prevailing national opinion) or much too late (the overwhelming viewpoint of the Wildcat faithful). Then, before you can dribble a ball the length of a court, their designated next-guy, Billy Donovan, flatly turned them down … again. Evidently, having two years to reconsider didn’t change a thing for Donovan.
Then, after all that, they had to withstand this:
Louisville, the new team of Kentucky’s old coach, looks a lot like a champion-in-waiting.
The Cardinals were darned near perfect against Arizona on Friday. They ran, they shot, they passed, they defended, they rebounded. They drubbed Arizona 103-64, the most points Louisville has scored in an NCAA Tournament game. If it hadn’t been for a late burst of mercy, the 39-point margin might have been 60.
For one night, at least, the Cardinals had the look of greatness. They are so deep, so skilled. The players come at an opponent all at once, and all can dribble, and all can shoot. They dunk, and it is like hearing an airplane break the sound barrier. It is difficult to tell guards from forwards or subs from starters. Stopping them is like trying to hold back a flood with a sponge.
Want to know how wonderful the Cardinals were? Just ask Pitino, who sounded like Roger Ebert at a foreign film festival.
“Fabulous,” Pitino said.
“Brilliant,” he said.
“Dominating,” he added.
So it went. Pitino, 56, also said “tremendous” and “great” and “terrific” and “beautiful” and “unselfish.” You kept waiting for him to give his team an enthusiastic thumbs-up. For the record, Pitino also suggested that humility was very, very important.
The thing is, who is going to disagree? The Cardinals shot 57 percent from the floor, and 93 percent from the free-throw line, and they outrebounded Arizona, and they had 29 assists to only nine turnovers. It looked as if everyone else was playing one game of basketball, and the Cardinals were playing something better, something more pure.
Did anyone see a flaw? Oh, Pitino apologized for the final dunks of the game, but they were just exclamation points on a paragraph. The message already had been sent.
Who is going to stop Louisville if the Cards play this close to capacity? Pitt? North Carolina? Connecticut?
“It’s going to be hard to beat them if they play like that,” Arizona coach Russ Pennell said. “I think it has to be someone who has the quickness to really put pressure against their fullcourt press. Yet Louisville kind of preys upon people who do that.”
For the opponent, that’s the conundrum. For the Cardinals, it is matching their own excellence.
“We know we’re not going to play like this again,” Pitino said, “because of the types of defenses we’re going to run into now. It’s going to be a totally different type of game. We did a great job getting second shots tonight. Michigan State and Kansas don’t give you those.
“Guys, we all know we’re one game from the Final Four. We’re three games from the national championship. I think this team has stayed grounded. Their egos are in check. I’ll find something to be upset about. We’re not going to fall in love with ourselves because we had a good game. We understand what we’re up against.”
In the old days, back before the Wildcats were in a snit — you spell it with an “N” and an “I” and a “T” — coaches at Kentucky used to talk like that. They, too, played like a regal team about to storm the castle. They, too, looked like the team to beat.
As for that brunet in the fifth row cheering on the Cardinals?
No, that wasn’t Ashley Judd.
If Tubby had left to the Hawks, UK could have hired Pitino and all would have been right in the Big Blue Nation. Instead, Tubby waits until he’s decimated the team to leave. Mitch screws up and makes a bad hire and Lee Todd steps in and fires him.
One could blame CM Newton for making the wrong hire. He hired the wrong assistant. Instead of hiring Billy D back in 97, he hired the guy who would be the cause of the storm now crashing through the Big Blue Nation.
Oh, and by the way, UL is on the way to the Final Four and probably a Championship. lol
It could be worse. The moon could crash into the sun tonight. haha
This all sounds like a really bad Univision Soap Opera from Mexico.
This one is for you Billy G: