UK Men's Basketball

Too late for UK, coach may change

John Clay
John Clay

Billy Gillispie took the high road Saturday, even when some thought he might not. He's a battler, after all. He's never walked away from a fight. He takes pride in that.

But the now former Kentucky basketball coach who stood before the news media answering questions for 30 minutes was all smiles — or at least that one continuous grin — and saying things that you would think someone trying to impress future employers, and wanting the $6 million owed from his last employer, might say.

Still, it was an unusual sight. You don't normally receive an extended day-after press conference from a coach who's just been shown the door.

For me, there was one part that fell short, the part where Gillispie tried to say that if he rubbed some people the wrong way, well that was just because he was more honest than most.

"I guess if I'm a little different," he said, "I try to always tell the truth."

There's sort of that Jack Nichol son "you-can't-handle-the-truth" component built into that, as if he's the only one who really knows it. But instead of using the snarl Nicholson used in A Few Good Men, Gillispie used that ever-present grin.

And you have to wonder if the truth-teller was really being honest when, asked about his relationship with Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, Gillispie said, "I like Mitch."

When asked for specifics, well, there was a long pause, and then Gillispie really couldn't come up with an answer.

"We'll talk at a later time about details," he said.

He also claimed that UK never really spelled out this "public side" of the job, and that he couldn't remember many meetings — "Maybe none," he said — about his lack of satisfying that requirement.

His recall might be accurate, or that all might be legal maneuvering on his part, but it sort of inflates the concept into this over-arching notion that is somehow difficult to define. It isn't. It's really about being nicer and more respectful to people.

Is that really too much to ask?

Same goes for his dealings with the players. Gillispie said Saturday he loved all his players, but truth to be told there was never much evidence that they loved him back. His methods seemed from the tired ol' Bobby Knight toolbox of mind games, and cleaning out lockers and kicking people off buses.

Maybe those ploys still work. I'd make the case that today's young person is sophisticated enough to take all that for what it's worth, which is not much.

Bottom line: It just never seemed like this Kentucky basketball team had much fun playing for this coach.

This all might read a bit harsher than intended. And not to play Dr. Phil, but I received an e-mail recently, one of the best I've ever received, and in it the author wrote that she felt sorry for Gillispie, that "It seems he is a person with little balance in his life ...."

And when Gillispie was asked Saturday what he's learned from this experience, maybe that's what we should learn. This all-basketball-all-the-time persona might sound just the ticket in this driven, highly competitive world of college athletics, but maybe you need a coach who is a little more grounded than that, one who is able to see beyond that 94-foot court, and act upon that vision.

Maybe that's what Gillispie will learn between now and the next job, that it's not always about just "going to work" and "coaching and recruiting."

It's more about the person we saw Saturday morning, surely disappointed and hurting, trying to make a better impression for his next job.

If we'd seen more of that Billy Gillispie, he might still have his old one.