UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Michigan is where Kentucky was

The fans at the sport's winningest program were tired of the head coach.

The head coach won games, but not enough games, not the important games. The joy of his national championship was becoming a distant memory. Recruiting waned. The program grew stale. It was time for the head coach to go.

So the head coach went, and the school hired the hot coach-of-the-moment with his welcome passion and cutting-edge ways to breathe some life into the traditional powerhouse.

A short time later, the new coach was asked to leave.

Michigan and Rich Rodriguez?

Or Kentucky and Billy Gillispie?

Turns out the winningest programs in the history of college football and the history of college basketball have a lot in common.

Lloyd Carr was the head football coach at Michigan. He won a national championship in 1997. But the longer his Michigan tenure went, the more frustrated the program's fans became.

Recruiting waned. Ohio State surged. The program grew stale. It was time for the Michigan man to go.

So Carr went, retiring under pressure, and the Wolverines hired hot-shot Rich Rodriguez, who resurrected West Virginia's football program, to get the Big House rocking again.

Wednesday, after three years and a 15-22 record, Rodriguez was asked to vacate the Michigan house.

Remind you of a situation close to home by any chance?

Tubby Smith was the head basketball coach at Kentucky. He won a national championship in 1998. But the longer his tenure went, the more frustrated the program's fans became. Recruiting waned. Florida surged. The program grew stale. It was time for Tubby to go.

So, in 2007, Smith went, taking a parachute to Minnesota, and Kentucky hired hot-shot Billy Gillispie, who resurrected Texas A&M's basketball program, to get Rupp Arena rocking again.

Two years later, Kentucky told Gillispie to hit the road.

Rodriguez was a native of Grant Town, W.Va., who had found career success in his home state.

Gillispie was a native of Graford, Texas, who had found career success in his home state.

Rodriguez lifted a struggling Mountaineers program to national prominence. But it wasn't enough. When college football's winningest program came calling, Rich Rod couldn't say no.

But the grass wasn't greener in Ann Arbor. It was maize and blue.

Gillispie first lifted UTEP and then Texas A&M to national prominence. But it wasn't enough. When college basketball's winningest program came calling, Billy G. couldn't say no.

But the grass wasn't greener in Lexington. It was blue and white.

Rodriguez invited controversy for ignoring the NCAA's 20-hour rule. Gillispie invited controversy for the treatment of his players. Rodriguez lost to Toledo his first season and to Mississippi State 52-14 in a bowl his last. Gillispie lost to Gardner-Webb his first season, VMI his second and at home to Georgia on Senior Day his last.

"Rodriguez was wrong from the start," wrote Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press the day of the firing.

We all said the same about Gillispie the day he was fired.

There are at least two differences in the situations, however.

Rich Rod got one more season than did Billy G.

And Michigan can't go out and hire John Calipari.

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