National buzz is all about Billy

ccosby@herald-leader.comMarch 28, 2009 

INDIANAPOLIS — The news of Billy Gillispie's firing was all the talk at the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Regional in Lucas Oil Stadium.

The move drew a wide variety of responses from national media covering the event.

ESPN.com columnist Pat Forde, who previously wrote for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, said there was no way to have predicted Gillispie's ouster back in January.

"I was shocked that it fell apart this fast," Forde said. "One minute, they're 16-4, 5-0 in the SEC, and you're thinking Sweet Sixteen. The next thing you know, they're in the NIT and firing (Gillispie). It's wild."

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and President Lee Todd cited Gillispie's inability to deal with the public component of his job as a large reason for his dismissal. Forde said it became clear that Gillispie didn't fit the mold.

"There's no doubt that the Kentucky job requires a unique person," he said. "Obviously Billy didn't have the main characteristics it took to be successful. It's a hard job, but they pay you a lot of money. He screwed up the opportunity of a lifetime."

Two former Wildcats, Larry Conley and Kenny Walker, said they understood the the school's need to make a move. The two were not in Indianapolis but were contacted by phone.

"I'm one of those, if it's not the right match, it's better to go ahead and end it," Conley said. "I wish him the best. I hope he gets a chance to go someplace that will be the right spot for him. I do think he is a good coach."

"It's a shame," Walker said. "If he would have been just a little bit better guy, a little easier guy to deal with, I think he would have deserved another year. But (public relations) is a big, big part of the job. You wonder how much that was discussed with him when he got the job. You also wonder about the background check (UK) did. It seems like there should have been some things that raised some red flags."

But several in the national media said Gillispie got a raw deal.

"What Billy said at the SEC Tournament about all the things that weren't in his job description, that was a misdiagnosis," Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy said. "But to make a huge issue of how he picked apart an ESPN sideline reporter, that's entirely ludicrous."

"It's a panic move," Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples said. "I disagree with the whole 'fit' thing. I know that's a major issue at Kentucky, but 'fit' is only an issue if you're not winning games. Is Nick Saban a good fit at Alabama? Not necessarily, but he's a good fit because he's winning games."

Gillispie had occasional run-ins with the media, but DeCourcy said he had had positive experiences with the ex-UK coach.

"For all the evidence you can give about how he mistreated people, I can give you direct evidence that he was more than generous with his time and that I enjoyed interacting with him," DeCourcy said. "You hear all these stories, you don't know if they're true, or if someone has a story to tell because they're not happy about going to the NIT."

All of the national media interviewed agreed that Barnhart and Todd have to share a large part of the blame in the failed Gillispie experiment.

"It's a two-way street," Forde said. "It's up to the administration to make a proper character evaluation on a coach."

DeCourcy, who lives in Cincinnati, questioned whether Barnhart should be involved in the decision-making process to find a new coach.

"I think it's a problem that the people who are doing the firing are the people who hired the guy in the first place, and now they're being allowed to hire the replacement," DeCourcy said. "Something about that doesn't add up."

Walker suggested the school get a multi-member search party to come up with the right fit.

"I think they ought to take some pressure off of Mitch," Walker said. "Kentucky basketball is a big thing, and asking one person to carry that whole weight (of finding a coach) is a lot to ask. I'd like to see them have six, eight people, get a lot of viewpoints, and make sure nothing gets overlooked. If they are not going to make a grand slam hire in the next day or so, they need to do a thorough search, really look and see who is out there."

Herald-Leader staff writer Mark Story contributed to this article.

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