John Clay: Gillispie's bullying tactics out of date, out of touch

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 5, 2012 

A couple of weekends ago, when the 1972 USA Olympic basketball team met at Georgetown College for their 40th reunion, plenty of war stories were told about their head coach, the legendary Henry Iba, and what the team went through during tryouts, training and then the games in Munich.

Here's one: The U.S. was to play Cuba, and word was Fidel Castro had promised to come and personally place the medals around the necks of the Cuban players if they could beat the Americans and continue on to win the gold.

Before the game, Iba walked into the U.S. locker room and said four words: "Let the blood run."

The U.S. won 67-48.

"It was a different time back then," said Doug Collins at the reunion.

Somehow, Billy Gillispie never got the memo.

Billy Gillispie wants to be Henry Iba. He wants to be Bobby Knight. He wants to be Bear Bryant in Junction, Texas, in 1954, drilling his soft players in hellish conditions, conducting practices at all hours until all hours, challenging players to play through pain all for the supposed good of the team.

Nobody told Billy G. those days are over.

The former Kentucky basketball coach is now in trouble at Texas Tech. His players have aired complaints to the school administrators about long practice hours, incessant mind games and cruel behavior.

The stories leaked to the media sound remarkably similar to the stories that were whispered about and even covered up here.

Gillispie is alleged to have held brutal practices before games at Texas Tech, been purposely vague with players over their scholarship status, worked his team ridiculously beyond the NCAA's 20-hour limit, even driven a player to tears when he was forced to practice after the team medical staff said the player was suffering from stress fractures.

Hmm, stress fractures? Didn't Patrick Patterson encounter stress fractures at UK when Gillispie was coach? Didn't Jodie Meeks have a mysterious injury that later was declared a sports hernia?

Didn't Derrick Jasper continue to practice and play after having microfracture surgery on his knee even though he walked with a pronounced limp?

Each new accusation out of Lubbock only serves to make UK's former hire look that much worse.

It raises old questions about how Kentucky could have been caught so unaware of Gillispie's tactics. How did the school let its rush to snap up a hot coach keep it from doing the required homework?

Mitch Barnhart and Co. paid for that mistake two years later to the tune of $3 million, the price of Gillispie's buyout on that memorandum of understanding.

Then Texas Tech repeated Kentucky's mistake. It bought Billy G.'s song and dance that he had changed and the player-treatment stories and scurrilous rumors out of Lexington were overblown.

"I've forced myself to become educated in a lot of different areas because of some of the mistakes I've made," Gillispie told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before being hired in Lubbock. "I think I've used my time wisely."

Now, Gillispie is spending his time in a Lubbock hospital with what he says are heart attack and stroke symptoms, while the world of college basketball is making bets he will be fired sooner rather than later.

True, it's a fine line coaches walk, the one between discipline and abuse, between motivation and just plain meanness. The best ones know how far they can go without crossing that line.

Still, there's a reason Bob Knight isn't coaching anymore and it's not his age. Today's best players don't want to play for the type of coach who exercises power through fear and bullying.

They don't have to play for that kind of coach, either, because there are too many other good coaches out there who don't follow in those worn-out footsteps.

Today's players want a coach who will show them how to get better, not a coach who will make them play through a stress fracture.

That (mind) game is gone. It's a different time now. And for the better.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226.Email: jclay@herald-leader.comTwitter: @johnclayiv.Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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