UK Men's Basketball

Gillispie, Barnhart give different views on UK coach's job responsibilities

TAMPA, Fla. — While agreeing that Kentucky basketball needs improvement, Coach Billy Gillispie and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart apparently don't share the same vision on how UK returns to preeminence.

Gillispie's tunnel vision creates a minimalist approach: recruit better players and coach them into dominant teams. Any responsibility to UK fans pretty much ends there.

Barnhart, who keeps an eye on the till, sees an additional duty: ambassador to the fans and public face of the commonwealth.

The two spoke of their views Thursday after Kentucky beat Mississippi in the Southeastern Conference Tournament. These contrasting views figure to come up when the two meet after the season to discuss the path Kentucky basketball must take into the future.

When a reporter suggested that any UK basketball coach is a public figure with public responsibilities, Gillispie said, "That wasn't on the job description."

He downplayed the importance of being a public figure.

"You can be as public as you want to be and not win enough games," he said. "It makes no difference. We have to win games. We have to recruit players that give us an opportunity to win games. That's what our task has been, and that's what it will remain."

In that regard, coaching at Kentucky is no different than coaching at other programs. "Not for me," Gillispie said.

To become concerned with celebrity is to become distracted from the sole objective: top-notch basketball.

"You start trying to be a celebrity ... you definitely are going to lose focus," Gillispie said. "That's just not going to be a very good solution to the problem."

But Barnhart said intense fan interest makes UK basketball an exceptional program. Fans see the coach as their representative.

"We are University of Kentucky basketball ... in many, many ways the heartbeat of the state," he said. "And we have a public responsibility to that. We need to make sure we honor their faith. ... A lot of little things go with that away from the game."

In an interview earlier this month with ESPN.com, Barnhart spoke of the need for "self-examination" and "self-awareness" and "adjustments."

After Kentucky beat Ole Miss, Barnhart said he was not referring to Gillispie alone, but to all those connected to UK basketball from himself on down.

Barnhart declined to say what adjustments he might ask Gillispie to make. "That's a conversation for me and Billy at the end of the season."

The focus, he said, should be on Kentucky's attempt to win the SEC Tournament and gain a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Gillispie, a self-described stubborn coach, declined to say how much — or if — he could adjust his approach.

"I have no idea," he said.

Barnhart saw such a question better posed to Gillispie. But he saw "self-examination" and "adjustments" as beneficial for anyone.

"Life is a learning process," Barnhart said. "We all learn as we go. I don't think there's one person immune to that."

Gillispie shrugged off the speculation about his job status. But he seemed to hint at the unfairness of inheriting a program in need of a talent boost, then being judged after two seasons of a seven-year contract.

"I don't make excuses," he said. "There are some obvious things. But you can choose to look at those or you can choose not to look at those. ...

"All we're going to try to do is we're going to try to prepare. We're going to try to win our next game, and then when the season's over, we're going to try to recruit the best we can, and we're going to try to get the program back where it needs to be."

  Comments