We are starting to see some commentary by Kentucky basketball program opponents suggesting that Billy Gillispie won't have long to get the UK program back on him before Kentucky fans turn on him. I have been wondering if it were possible to "read the tea leaves", and quantify this theory. So let's try to reason it out.
My thinking is that the loudest Gillispie detractors, assuming that UK doesn't have immediate success on the court, would be mostly the same group of people as the Tubby Smith detractors -- probably to the tune of 90% or so. This group of people would be the loudest and most vitriolic should Kentucky get off to a slower start than we might expect.
I think it is instructive to look at Louisville fans for guidance -- not really most Louisville fans, but the loudest and most impatient among them. Back between November and January of last year, there was a loud hue and cry on the Louisville Rivals board for Pitino's dismissal as coach. The team at that point was mired in a series of games where it looked utterly inept.
About 20 months prior to this uprising, Louisville was celebrating a return to the Final Four and a first-round draft pick in Sergio Garcia. Pitino was being hailed as the program's savior and all was well in the Cardinal world.
I think we can apply this reasoning somewhat to Gillispie's situation. Let's say the Cats have a surprisingly bad year this year and wind up in the NIT. Many of the loudest would still be inclined to blame Tubby Smith for "leaving the cupboard bare" or some such. Gillispie will probably get a complete pass his first year as far as wins and losses are concerned.
Fast forward to 2008. Another NIT year would unquestionably start an uprising, but I think it's safe to assume that barring a personnel catastrophe, 2008 will be a reasonably good year. Patterson and Legion will be sophomores (since we are assuming a bad year for the sake of argument in '07, I think we can assume they will stay in school), and I think our '08 recruiting class will be another good one.
But lets say that the Cats tank in '09 after Patterson and Legion leave early. That's about the point, I figure, where we could first see the signs of grumbling, but no real uprising. I figure that Gillispie, after a two-year honeymoon period, will pretty much get the same deal as Pitino did at Louisville (unless, of course, he wins a National Championship - that buys you at least one extra year).
In other words, after the first two years, two bad seasons back-to-back (i.e. seasons like we had the last two years) and Gillispie will be on the outs with some of our fans. However, I think most fans would agree that the odds against this happening are pretty high, given his known skill as a coach and the way he is lighting up recruiting these days.
One other caveat. If Gillispie doesn't get a team in the Final Four within 5 years, I expect some serious dissatisfaction around the Big Blue Nation.
Bottom line: This is a question that will remain hypothetical for a very long time. Barring an NCAA investigation, Gillispie will be our coach for the next five years no matter how badly he coaches, in my estimation. After that, though, the faithful will begin to get restless.