UK mum on coach's status

jtipton@herald-leader.comrallessi@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2009 

University of Kentucky assistant coach Tracy Webster was seen packing up his office in the Craft Center on Thursday.

Spring cleaning? Confirmation that UK had pulled the plug on the Billy Gillispie era?

It remained hard to be 100 percent certain the day after Kentucky's season ended in a 77-67 defeat at Notre Dame.

On his final radio show of the season, and possibly of his tenure as UK coach, Gillispie made several references to next season.

When host Tom Leach asked Gillipsie about his status, the coach said, "Just went to work (and) do what we normally do."

This "daily routine," as Gillispie called it, did not include any meetings with UK president Lee Todd and Director of Athletics Mitch Barnhart.

"I don't know of anything different," Gillispie told Leach. "When they tell me something is different, then I'll do something different."

Earlier this month, Barnhart noted his desire to meet with Gillispie after the season to discuss "adjustments." That plan took a hit when Gillispie sounded uncompromising during an interview at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The UK coach sounded more conciliatory on his radio show.

"Experience is a great teacher," he said, mimicking almost word-for-word the philosophy Barnhart voiced at the SEC Tournament.

But Gillispie also acknowledged his steely side.

"I'm a hard-core guy," he said. "I'm a very, very honest guy. Sometimes that comes across great. Sometimes it doesn't."

Before the game at Notre Dame, Todd acknowledged meeting with Gillispie last week to discuss the future of the basketball program. The UK president declined to say at Notre Dame whether a decision had been made on retaining Gillispie.

Todd, who returned to Lexington late Thursday afternoon, would not have any further comment, spokesman Tom Harris said.

After the Notre Dame game, Gillispie asked that the team's locker room be cleared of everyone except players. When reporters later entered, no one would say whether the coach had revealed his job status.

UK is expected to hold a news conference Friday to announce its plans for the coaching position.

Meanwhile, rumors swirled — often crisscrossing each other in logic-defying arcs — about a possible successor to Gillispie.

There were at least four supposed sightings of Florida Coach Billy Donovan in Central Kentucky. This came as a surprise to his father, Bill Donovan, who said his son had taken a break and gone to the beach. "To the best of my knowledge," the elder Donovan said.

There was also talk that Kentucky was set to hire Oklahoma State Coach Travis Ford, who combined savvy and competitiveness as a UK player in the 1990s. Then there was speculation that Barnhart was traveling to Phoenix to meet with Memphis Coach John Calipari.

All the while, Gillispie told his radio audience of successes as Kentucky coach. "Both teams we had over-achieved," he said, describing his 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons for UK.

All but one caller to the radio show voiced support for Gillispie. The exception was a man who said the UK coach had "burned too many bridges" to remain. Gillispie simply replied, "OK."

Shifting to the future, Gillispie noted the need for a "fast guard" as the recruiting season continues. He also spoke of the difference big man recruit Daniel Orton can make as a counterweight to Patrick Patterson around the basket and as an imposing body setting screens for Jodie Meeks.

"What I came here for was to cut down nets," Gillispie said, echoing a theme he announced at his introductory news conference two years ago. "And it's close to being back. We're one or two players away."

UK fans should learn today if Gillispie will be coaching this team on the brink of elite status.

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