Billy and Rich: Part 1
Billy Gillispie was three years old when Rich Brooks got his first coaching job. Rich Brooks has been a head coach at the Division 1A level for 23 seasons, along with two years as a head coach in the NFL. Billy Gillispie has been a head coach at the Division I level for six seasons. But if Rich Brooks wants any lessons in how to rally a team, even when that team is hemorrhaging players, all he has to do is stroll across campus to the Craft Center, and walk through Gillispie's door.
Knowing Billy as I do ( wink, wink ) my bet is that he would be more than happy to answer any questions Brooks has on dealing with adversity, leaving the past behind, and looking forward. Billy, you see, lived through a season in which nothing, and I mean nothing went UK's way for the longest time; players were transferring, rebelling, getting injured, and being a general pain in the behind ... in other words, right now Billy is telling Rich, "I feel ya brother, I feel ya."
With the loss of three major contributors to UK's football team in a matter of seventy-two hours, it is imperative that the remaining team members rally around one another, not blame, question, and bemoan. Leadership must be displayed, especially by Mike Hartline, and if some reading this aren't schooled on the leadership ladder in college football, just read Dicky Lyon's words:
"I'm going to be somewhat a leader but the leader of a football team is the quarterback, and everyone knows that. I'm going to lead by following Hartline, or whoever the starting quarterback is. Just make sure that everybody knows that he is the guy even though he is young. He is the guy that we have to follow and make sure that everybody knows that we need to look to him to get us out of trouble."
Fair or not, the role of team leader just fell squarely in the lap of Mike Hartline. Hartline has to find it within himself to impose his authority as the leader of the team, even though he has never started a single college game. The sophomore will be tested by his teammates, frequently tested when times are bad. What Hartline has to remember is that confidence is the foundation for solid leadership. The quarterback didn't waste time in dispelling any myths that may be circulating among his teammates about his level of confidence:
"I've got a lot of confidence. I've always had a lot of confidence."
The question UK fans are asking themselves right now is, "OK, but is your confidence justified?" In the huddle, in a tight game, fourth quarter, Papa John's is rockin'; are Hartline's eyes saucers, or are they ablaze with focus? His teammates will know, and the won-loss column will reflect the answer.
Billy and Rich: Part 2
As Rich eases into Billy's Corinthian leather chair, his mind is muddled with meandering players, and developing depth issues. He knows Billy has the answers, but will he be able to effectively convey Gillispie's words of wisdom to his suddenly short-handed troops. "Don't worry hoss," says Billy, "your will to win will win out in the end." After-all, nothing has really changed; seven wins is still the goal, beating UL is still the goal, runnin' it down The Visor's throat is still the goal, beating 'Bama is still the goal, sending Petrino back to Arkansas a loser is still the goal, avenging last years loss to Mississippi St. is still the goal, freakin' finally beating Fat Phil and his orange-clad hooligans is still the goal.
"You've lost some depth, Rich, that's all, last year I went without two of my top five players, every game, you can beat this, your talent level is still high," Billy opines between sips of Dr. Pepper, and bites of peanut butter crackers. He's right, you know. Zipp Duncan and Michael Williams need to train more vigorously, practice more focused, and perform at an elite level in an effort to replace Christian Johnson. David Jones and Shomari Moore need to train more vigorously, practice more focused, and perform at an elite level in an effort to replace Paul Warford.
Depth is a funny thing. When a team has it, they usually excel in the fourth quarter. When they don't, the fourth quarter usually belongs to the opponent. If any fan base in the world knows the perils of lack of depth, it is UK fans. How many games over the last thirty years or so has UK lost in the fourth quarter? Countless. And why, because the good guys are considerably more tired than the bad guys. But, there is a way to circumvent that particular problem, and that is by outworking ones opponents.
Kentucky's players have to believe that the talent still calls Commonwealth Stadium home. Mike Hartline and Rich Brooks have to instill in the players an attitude that the ship can't be sunk because of a few busted rivets. The price the team has to pay for the unfortunate choices of some is to work harder, train harder, and play harder to overcome the losses in personnel. Five years ago if a similar set of circumstances had arisen, then I would have said that UK would be in serious trouble, but not now. Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips have consistently said that one of the biggest reasons for UK's recent success is due to an increased level of depth, well those assertions are about to be put to the test. My wager will be placed squarely on their words proving to be prophetic.
Billy and Rich: The Season Finale
As Billy chews his last cracker, he tells Rich to "demand their best effort, because that's what they deserve. Refuse their impulse to sulk and blame, fill them with a desire to win, in spite of the ghosts."
As Rich rises to leave and Billy knocks back that last taste of Pepper, he says "let me leave you with one thing I know; there are no excuses to be had, only victories to be won."
Coach Brooks must have taken Billy's words to heart:
"We have to line up on the field and put the pieces together. I still feel we are going to be a very good football team."
Thanks Coach, that's what we want to hear.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!