John Clay: Texas Tech might be right fit for Gillispie, if he passes inspection

Here's laundry list for Texas Tech

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMarch 9, 2011 

Billy Gillispie spoke to the media on March 28, 2009, a day after he was fired as Kentucky's head coach following a troubled two-year stint.

We know Billy.

We know Billy Gillispie well.

Texas Tech has just entered the market for a new basketball coach. Focus has already centered on Billy G. No surprise there.

Texas Tech knows Gillispie as the coach who turned UTEP around in two years. It knows Gillispie as the coach who took a bereft Texas A&M program to the Sweet 16.

In Kentucky, however, we saw him from a sharply different angle. We got him close-up. We had two years of it.

Our advice: If Texas Tech is serious about hiring Gillispie as Pat Knight's successor, do a better background check than the one done by his previous employer.

Here, we now know some things about the mystery that is Billy G., and we know some things about which the Red Raiders should ask.

First, ask him about his personal life.

There is misinformation out there that Gillispie received a DUI charge while UK coach. Not true. He was fired March 27, 2009. His DUI came on Aug. 27, 2009, while he was still hanging around the state. However, he'd gained the attention of the law before, and his time in Lexington was filled with whispers and innuendo.

Has Gillispie done enough reputation rehab to slow the tawdry rumor mill? He spent time at John Lucas' treatment facility. He's done work with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

He told Jason King of Yahoo Sports last week that he stopped drinking because he didn't need to drink anymore. In fact, Gillispie said he never needed to drink.

Let's hope that's true.

Next, ask him about his treatment of his players.

In Gillispie's first season at UK, there were times Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley admitted sitting in a car outside the Craft Center debating whether they wanted to go inside for practice. That should tell you something.

There is the now-infamous Josh Harrellson bathroom story. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of odd and tyrannical behavior during the Billy G. reign, one in which his mantra was "We've just got to get tougher."

"We laugh about it now," Harrellson said recently.

Recruits won't. Word spreads fast on the prospects trail. At Kentucky, everything basketball is front-page news. Has Billy G. altered his approach? Or can he at least explain it?

Ask him about his interaction with others.

Gillispie's Big Blue pink slip was about more than just wins and losses. He had a good first season, going 12-4 in the conference, making the NCAA Tournament. His second year bottomed out with the Cats losing eight of their last 11 regular-season games. Both years, however, Gillispie was an ill-equipped fit for the program's demands.

He was the shy guy expected to take center stage. He was never bad with the local media, but he didn't cotton to fans or boosters. He had a fractured relationship with the school's administration.

His death knell came March 12, 2009, at the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Tampa, Fla. Asked about the UK basketball coach being a public figure, Gillispie replied, "That wasn't on the job description."

Two weeks later, Gillispie no longer had a job.

Soon, he might finally have another. That's fine. If there were no second chances, we wouldn't have refried beans. A terrible fit doesn't automatically equal a terrible coach. In the right circumstances, Gillispie can succeed.

All along, football-friendly Texas Tech in secluded Lubbock appeared a perfect landing spot for the mystery that is Billy G.

But before Texas Tech drafts its memorandum of understanding, it needs to ask the right questions.

More importantly, Gillispie needs to provide the right answers.

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.

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