Gillispie's style ineffective and outdated

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 8, 2009 

No one should be surprised by Josh Harrellson's confirmation this week that former Kentucky basketball coach Billy Gillispie's methods bordered on the sadistic.

Here's the real surprise: That anybody thinks that kind of stuff works.

Harrellson verified to our own Jerry Tipton the rumor that during halftime of last year's game at Vanderbilt, the sophomore forward was banished to a bathroom stall, apart from the team, apparently as punishment for poor play.

Then after the Cats' 77-64 loss to the Commodores, Gillispie ordered Harrellson off the team bus and into the team equipment truck for the long ride back to Lexington.

Anyone around the UK program has heard the stories, so outlandish and embarrassing you needed confirmation from the parties involved to put them into print.

And you didn't have to be an insider to know that by season's end, there was a massive disconnect between a group of beaten-down players and their maniacal coach, one who apparently harbored a disturbing Bob Knight fetish.

My bottom line: Anyone who can't find a better way of motivating a young person than making him sit in a bathroom stall has no business being around kids, much less being a coach.

I know, I know, our sports-crazed society often celebrates a different bottom line, one in which the ends justify the means and a winning coach can do no wrong.

Had his hard-line tactics produced a winner, Billy G. would have been hailed as an old-school disciplinarian who got the most out of his players.

Only Gillispie didn't win — not enough to keep his job. A coach who uses such barbarian tactics can't win, not anymore. There's a reason Bob Knight is no longer coaching basketball.

Kids today don't want to play for those coaches, nor should they. They're too smart for that. They know too much. They've been exposed to too much. While some argue that kids today don't know the difference between right and wrong, I'd argue that they know the difference now more than ever. They can think for themselves.

Bill Curry said that in his era, when a coach told a player to run through a brick wall, the player ran through it. Now, said Curry, the player asks, "How is running through that wall going to make me a better player?"

Recently, I heard CBS color man Gary Danielson offer the best assessment of a coach's ability: "A good coach tells you what to do. A great coach shows you how to do it."

Gillispie didn't show his players how to do it as much as he tried to "toughen" them into doing it through fear, intimidation and two-bit mind games. Yelling isn't coaching.

But it isn't realistic to say Gillispie flies solo, either. Those tactics still exist in college, where the big (and getting bigger) business of college athletics keeps turning up the pressure-cooker. They're still around in high school sports, where too many coaches are on power trips while too many parents are afraid to speak out for fear their sons or daughters will suffer the consequences.

And if you think they're no longer around in youth sports, you haven't been to your local park or gymnasium lately.

I believe those methods are, thankfully, on the way out for one very good reason.

When Gillispie arrived at Kentucky from Texas A&M, he did so with the reputation of being a great recruiter. But when top-notch players kept snubbing the Cats for other schools, Kentucky fans wondered why the best of the prep stars would not not want to play for Billy G.

I think now we know.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or Read his blog at

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