UK right to quickly correct this mistake

Herald-Leader columnistMarch 28, 2009 

John Clay

When you make a mistake, you correct it.

You correct it, and you move on.

As quickly as you can.

Hiring Billy Gillispie was a mistake. Someone didn't do their homework. Someone had the wrong idea about who they were getting. But what's done is done. Troubled waters under a very big and costly bridge.

After two years, Kentucky realized it had the wrong guy to head its basketball program. And if you have the wrong guy, you have to correct it and move on. Even if it turns out to be a $6 million mistake.

To be sure, under ordinary circumstances, 24 months is not long enough to judge the merits of a coach. The coach hasn't yet had time to recruit his own players. He hasn't had enough time to fully implement his system, his ideals.

Even in basketball, in which the numbers are lower and it takes less time for a turnaround, two years is generally considered an unfair measuring stick.

But not in this particular instance, not this job, not this coach. Fact is, Gillispie was a bad fit. Maybe he didn't do his homework, either. Maybe he didn't realize the enormity of the job, the fish-bowl feel, the rabid fan base. Maybe he was unaware of the added responsibilities that come with heading up the sport's winningest program.

Maybe he didn't realize there were aspects he was ill-equipped to handle. Gillispie is a shy person, for one thing. He's not all that comfortable around others, especially people he doesn't know. He doesn't easily discuss topics outside his comfort zones of basketball, and horse racing, and baseball. He's not a conversationalist. He wants to stick to coaching, and recruiting, and watching his game tape.

That's why he canceled a speaking engagement to the Rotary Club, ending a 60-year tradition. Adolph Rupp spoke to the Rotary Club. So did Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith. All those guys won national titles. But Billy Gillispie, who has never been farther than the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, didn't have the time. You don't do that.

You don't cold-shoulder advertisers, or ignore boosters, or treat your bosses like you're the one who's really the boss. You especially don't do those things when you're losing to the likes of Gardner-Webb, San Diego and VMI.

You don't do those things when your team suffers the most lopsided conference loss in school history (93-52 last year at Vanderbilt) or loses to a bad Georgia team on Senior Day, or becomes the first in 18 years not to make the NCAA Tournament.

Is Billy Gillispie a bad basketball coach? He proved to be a good coach at Texas A&M. He squeezed every drop out of last year's team during the SEC season. Though stubborn to a fault, he has the skills and knowledge to coach the game. But he's a flawed coach, far too flawed to handle a job of this size. In that respect, he was in over his head.

Mitch Barnhart must shoulder the blame for hiring Gillispie in the first place. It was his undertaking, his call. Yes, Gillispie was a lauded hire at the time, but hires are ultimately judged at the end, not the beginning. And any hire that ends this way, after two years, is not a good hire.

But even smart people make bad hires. I was talking the other day with a friend, a Kentucky native who has risen through the ranks to become the president and CEO of a national insurance company. I asked him what you do if you've hired someone for an important job and, after a short time, it becomes obvious to you that you've made a mistake.

"You correct it," he said. "And you move on."

That's what UK is doing.

It's the right thing to do.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service