UK Notebook: Arguments for, against Gillispie

Supporters are hard to find, but let's argue this both ways

Herald-Leader Staff WriterMarch 22, 2009 

Billy Gillispie: High-five him or deep-six him?

That's the question hovering over Kentucky basketball.

Judging by conversations in the last two weeks, the sentiment to fire Gillispie runs high. But a case can be made for not making a change (although it's difficult to find people willing to make it).

So let's play point-counter point on the question of whether Gillispie should remain UK coach:

■ Those who support him could say two years is too soon to judge a coach. UK would look panicky and overly obsessive about basketball. These are the seeds of a public-relations problem. Plus, to fire Gillispie now would mean admitting the mistake of hiring Gillispie two years ago.

As a counterpoint, the decision is not based on victories or defeats. A single coach whose lifestyle can be grist for the rumor mill is the wrong fit for a button-down program such as Kentucky. Like it or not, the coach represents not only UK but the entire state. Gillispie wants only to recruit and coach. There are plenty of jobs where that's sufficient. Kentucky isn't one of them.

■ Fairness dictates that a coach have more than two seasons to put his stamp on the program, showcase his style, lay a foundation. UK hired Gillispie to replenish what was perceived as an inadequate roster. So — duh — you can't expect a dominant team so soon.

But Gillispie has been his own worst enemy. Why did the dustups with Jeannine Edwards resonate? Because they supported the growing impression of a remote coach who is difficult to embrace. On the day he was announced as coach, Gillispie basked in the enthusiasm of thousands of UK fans at a pep rally in Memorial Coliseum. It would be interesting to see how many fans would come to another rally now and what their mood would be.

■ Give Gillispie time to adjust. He came as a stranger in a strange land. A smart cookie like him will change to enhance the opportunity for success.

But Gillispie describes himself as stubborn, a trait on display these two seasons. At the SEC Tournament this month, he would not acknowledge the public role of being UK coach. While conceding Jodie Meeks looked tired down the stretch this season, the coach rejected even the thought of backing off day-of-the-game practices.

■ Those interested in bottom-line concerns can note six million reasons to keep the coach. Does UK want to pay Gillispie a $6 million buyout during a time when a bad economy requires penny-pinching in such auxiliary concerns as educating students?

But perhaps boosters are willing to pool enough money to pay off Gillispie.

■ Gillispie has UK set for a return to dominance with star recruits Daniel Orton and Dominique Ferguson coming in the next two seasons.

But rival recruiters have seized on the several transfers (Alex Legion, Derrick Jasper, Morakinyo Williams) to try to sell prospects on the idea that something's wrong with UK basketball.

■ Carping about not playing zone aside, UK's defense rated among the nation's top 10. Gillispie's tough love pushed his first team to overachievement. This season included victories over West Virginia and Tennessee twice.

But this regular season ended with eight losses in the last 11 games.

Ultimately, the decision boils down to this: If Gillispie stays, will UK basketball be better next season and beyond?

'Silly Billy'

UK fan Bruce Boyens took poetic license to express his feelings about Billy Gillispie's job performance.

Here's the poem he sent the Herald-Leader.

"Silly Billy is a coach

"Who thought his style above reproach

"Silly Billy he was wrong

"Now color Silly Billy gone."

Boyens is a lawyer in Denver. He graduated from UK Law School in 1972, then spent the next 25 years representing labor unions.

In the case of Gillispie, Boyens would be better suited as a prosecutor.

"I don't think he gets it," Boyens said. "I think he's in way over his head."

He questioned the way Gillispie treats others. "It's like a bastardized Bobby Knight style of coaching," he said.

Bravo, Pitino

Columnist Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe threw a bouquet at Louisville Coach Rick Pitino last week.

Of Louisville, Ryan wrote:

"It's a team that is surely good enough to win, but if it doesn't, the Louisville players will have gained a great deal by spending time around Rick Pitino."

Then Ryan quoted senior guard Andre McGee.

"He teaches us always to be ready before things are ready to go, and just always have a professional attitude with the way you present yourself, the way you dress, the way you handle the media, the way you talk to people," McGee said. "The way you treat others is everything with him. He is professional from top to bottom, every day."

One man, one vote

Here's the ballot I turned in to The Associated Press for its various post-season awards. Keep in mind that each of the All-America teams should include perimeter and front-court players.

Player of the Year: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma. A clear-cut choice.

Coach of the Year: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh. Serious consideration also given Bill Self of Kansas and Jeff Capel of Oklahoma.

First team: Guards Stephen Curry (Davidson), Ty Lawson (North Carolina) and Jerel McNeal (Marquette) with forwards DeJuan Blair (Pittsburgh) and Griffin.

Second team: Guards Marcus Thornton (LSU) and Jonny Flynn (Syracuse), forwards Terrence Williams (Louisville) and Gerald Henderson (Duke), and center Hasheem Thabeet (UConn).

Third team: Guards Jodie Meeks (Kentucky) and Devan Downey (South Carolina), forwards Matt Bouldin (Gonzaga) and Luke Harangody (Notre Dame) and center Jarvis Varnado (Mississippi State).

Regrets: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Jeff Teague (Wake Forest), James Harden (Arizona State), Patrick Mills (Saint Mary's).

Second thoughts: Patrick Patterson (Kentucky), Jack McClinton (Miami), Chase Budinger (Arizona), Lester Hudson (Tennessee-Martin), A.J. Abrams (Texas).

If I could do it over: Hans brough replacing Varnado, Mills replacing Downey.

Bid-ness decision

The SEC received only three bids to the NCAA Tournament. League consultant C.M. Newton cited pre-conference schedules as a factor.

Playing non-conference games that attract attention helps bolster a claim of an at-large bid. "So the national committee can compare you," Newton said. "That's one reason Arizona got in. They beat Kansas. They beat Gonzaga. They stepped out of their league and won (eye-catching) games.

"South Carolina was hurt by that. Auburn was hurt by that."

Here are some numbers to ponder. According to collegerpi.com, Arizona (62), South Carolina (58) and Auburn (64) had similar Rating Percentage Index numbers.

But there was a big difference in strength of schedule: Arizona 34, Auburn 62 and South Carolina 94. Arizona got an NCAA bid, while Auburn and South Carolina went to the NIT.

By the way, Kentucky had a RPI of 79 and a strength of schedule at 64.

As Creighton officials lamented the difficulty in scheduling big-name opponents, so did Auburn Coach Jeff Lebo.

"You just can't call somebody up — a North Carolina and Duke — and say, let's play home and home," Lebo said.

Big-name teams play big-name teams or guarantee games.

"It's not as easy (as people think)," Lebo said, "especially for a perceived lower-level team in a higher conference. That's where it's a little bit frustrating."

Even though his team got an NIT bid for a second straight year, Florida Coach Billy Donovan did not sound ready to give up scheduling a relative soft group of non-conference opponents.

"I've been scheduling like this since I've been here," he said. "It's worked out pretty well."

Recruit isn't worried

Konner Tucker's commitment to Kentucky during a visit last week raised an obvious question: Why?

With Billy Gillispie's job security a topic of intense speculation, why would a prospect commit to UK before UK re-commits to Gillispie?

Tucker, a guard from Lon Morris College, denied having any concern about UK firing Gillispie (or Gillispie leaving voluntarily).

"I definitely think he will be the coach here," Tucker said before leaving Lexington. "But I would love to come here no matter the situation."

Tucker acknowledged the grumbling of UK fans. "It's been kind of a down year for Kentucky," he said. "But, hey, they won over 20 games."

Tucker, the leading scorer for Lon Morris, envisioned helping UK return to glory. If he works hard and followed orders, Tucker said, he could have "a major impact" for the Cats.

From age 5 to 9, Tucker lived in Laurel County. His father, Mark Tucker, coached at North Laurel High. Tucker became a UK fan, which made his commitment a dream come true.

'Good grief'

Lon Morris Coach Dale Dotson has been in the business for 42 years. He's familiar with UK basketball and he's friends with Billy Gillispie.

So Dotson can supply perspective on Gillispie's job insecurity.

"Pretty good coaches are not at Kentucky anymore," he said. "Tubby (Smith), my lord, came after (Rick) Pitino. Good grief. What could you do?

"Guys winning national championships are getting clobbered. You kind of expect that."

With Gillispie staring at a coaching guillotine, Dotson saw a bright side for coaches in that situation.

"The best thing to happen is to have a five-year contract and get fired after one," he said.

'Very innocent day'

The imagination raced after spotting UK recruit Jon Hood and his father, Brian, leaving the Craft Center on Friday.

It turned out that Hood simply was in town for the Sweet Sixteen and wanted to take in a practice.

"A very innocent day," Brian Hood said. "He wanted to hang out with the guys."

Elite company

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams is seeking his seventh trip to the Final Four. Only John Wooden (12), Dean Smith (11) and Mike Krzyzewski (10) have been to more.

For now, Williams is tied at six Final Fours with Denny Crum and Adolph Rupp.

Parity

Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has not been to the Final Four in the last four years.

If the streak stretches to five, it would equal his longest absence from college basketball's grand stage.

Krzyzewski did not reach a Final Four until his sixth season at Duke.

Herrmann for hire

Georgia's interim coach, Pete Herrmann, left the SEC Tournament intent on continuing his coaching career. He's been coaching since graduating from college in 1970, and he's not ready to stop.

"As long as my worth is there and the players believe, I'll continue," he said.

This past season might have been the toughest in Herrmann's career. Certainly it had to rank among the oddest. He took over for good friend Dennis Felton during the SEC portion of the schedule and led the Bulldogs to victories over Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He took satisfaction in getting the players to improve despite difficult circumstances.

A basketball lifer, Herr mann, 60, has a full résumé.He coached David Robinson at Navy. He has also worked as an assistant in the ACC (Virginia), Big 8 (Kansas State) and, of course, the SEC.

"I've enjoyed being a head coach again," he said. "I know I can help a program as an associate head coach."

Happy birthday

To UK freshman Darius Miller. He turned 19 on Saturday.

Jerry Tipton covers UK basketball for the Herald-Leader. This article contains his opinions and observations. Reach him at jtipton@herald-leader.com.

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