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Billy Gillispie: A SWOT Analysis

Marc Maggard at Kentucky Ink [free registration required] recently posted an insightful article looking at the fact that Gillispie hasn't landed any big men for UK yet.  I propose to take that a bit further and do what we call a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis in business (and elsewhere).  If you have ever done, or are thinking about doing a business plan, a SWOT analysis is generally considered to be an important part.

This analysis will be performed with regard only to his merits as a basketball coach with emphasis on recruiting, not as a human being.  So let's SWOT young William, shall we?


  • Tireless recruiter -- Gillispie has a reputation as a recruiter since his days as a Bill Self assistant.  He has successfully recruited players to Illinois and TAMU.

  • Unrelenting worker -- Gillispie famously wound up in a divorce because of a "lack of work-life balance".

  • Success at every level below professional -- Gillispie has been successful at every level of basketball, other than the pros, where he has never coached.  Gillispie has proven that he knows what it takes to succeed.

  • In his dream job -- Many of his peers are happy to be where they are, but have one eye open for better opportunities.  Not Gillispie, at least not yet.  He is apparently exactly where he wants to be, and is very glad to be here.  That will positively impact the zeal with which he attacks the job.

  • Relative youth -- Gillispie is younger than most, and as a rising coach has yet to reach the pinnacle of his profession.  He is therefore hungry for more success

  • Powerful program -- To use a automotive metaphor, Gillispie has just traded in a Mustang for a Maserati.  Placing such power in the hands of a relentless, determined man is a strong positive.


  • Out of his depth -- Taking the automotive metaphor further, he has the keys to a Maserati, but can he keep it between the yellow lines without getting a ticket?  He has never coached a legendary program like Kentucky, and TAMU is a very large step down in terms of basketball programs.  Is it too large a step?

  • No Association experience -- this is a big negative in today's college ranks.  Blue chip recruits see only one thing at the end of their rainbow -- a first-round draft pick.  The coach they believe can get them there the soonest will have an advantage, and Gillispie has no discernible track record of doing so.

  • New coach, new school -- Recruits will be less comfortable with him until he is a proven commodity in the big-time coaching ranks.  He also has done almost no relationship-building as UK coach due to his short time on the job.  This is only a temporary weakness.

  • Personality and presentation -- Gillispie isn't as polished as some of his peers.  That won't hurt him much with the recruits themselves, but the families will often be more impressed with smooth talkers like Pitino, Donovan and Calipari.  Sometimes Gillispie's plain-spoken country-boy style will be an advantage, particularly in the South and Southwest.  Not so much everywhere else.

  • Organizational Skills -- The fact that he has not yet filled out his coaching staff calls Gillispie's organizational skills into question with me.  It may be that he doesn't consider it critical, but if so, I think we can make an argument that he is mistaken.

  • Zeal -- Alacrity and diligence would seem to be more of an advantage than a disadvantage, but until he settles into the job, it is going to be questioned as desperation as much as passion.  This is only temporary, however.  After a year or two, this will move over to the strength section.


  • National presence -- TAMU is more of a regional presence than a national one.  Illinois would be considered a national presence, but Gillispie was only an assistant there.  With Kentucky, his reach is truly national, but he still tends to recruit regionally.  The opportunity for a broader reach exists.

  • Contrast with past staff -- Gillispie is truly as different from Tubby Smith as it is possible to be in terms of style, personality and focus.  Other schools will be forced to adapt to his methods, placing them at a disadvantage compared to previous.  This is a temporary opportunity.

  • New facilities -- The fact of our just-constructed Craft center gives Gillispie the opportunity to use it as an advantage to lure recruits, but other schools will soon follow suit.  This opportunity is only short to medium term.

  • Powerful fan base -- Recruiting opportunities such as Big Blue Madness can become even more extraordinary with the fan support he will enjoy as the new UK coach.  This support needs constant success to feed it, so he must take early advantage of this opportunity to keep it available in succeeding years.

  • Technology -- Gillispie has proven, through the use of text messages, to be willing to utilize technology in a way Smith never was.  The texting has been taken away by the NCAA, so he must find other ways to leverage technology in recruiting.

  • Lack of distractions -- Whatever the merits of family life, Gillispie has none.  Therefore, he has fewer familial distractions than almost any other coach of an elite basketball program.  Logically, that cannot be assumed to last forever, so Gillispie must exploit the opportunity early, before it gets subsumed into life.

  • Strong athletic department support -- Right now, Gillispie has the total, unqualified support of the AD and the department.  The tendency will be for that to change negatively over time, as unqualified support is a rare and transitory thing.  He must leverage that to his advantage while it lasts.


  • Outside distractions -- A UK coach has many demands on his time from inside and outside the program.  Managing these distractions will be critical.

  • Burnout -- Gillispie is known to be tireless, but no human being can keep up that kind of pace without paying a price, either in mental or physical health.  Gillispie must manage his passion for success and find a better life balance, or the frailties of the human condition will impair his success.

  • Other coaches -- Peers are feeling the pressure of Gillispie's relentless effort, and they will respond.  That response will unquestionably be an attack through the SEC and NCAA as well as dissimulation by coaching staffs to recruits and others.  His lack of player NBA success will be lampooned to  recruits.  Every action will be scrutinized by peers for NCAA compliance.  His "style" will be attacked as plodding or slow, the opposite of the NBA run-and-shoot, selfish style that is all the rage among todays young prospects.

  • The NCAA -- Kentucky has long been known as a serial NCAA violator.  The fact that we have kept our noses clean during the Tubby Smith era is a wonderful thing, but the NCAA, as it must with every new coach at a high-profile school, will be carefully scrutinizing Gillispie.  Gillispie must stay clean.

  • The Kentucky fans -- Kentucky fans demand success, sometimes to the point of detriment to their own program.  Gillispie must be aware of fan passion, and take an active role in managing it.  If the fans turn on him, his odds of success decrease dramatically.  Fan criticism at UK is a force of nature, and can destroy a coach's ability to manage the perception of his program.

  • The media -- The sports media have fawned over Gillispie since the reality of Smith's departure subsided, but this is temporary.  They will turn on him again as soon as they have a reason.  He must manage the media better than his predecessor, or face a difficult and stormy relationship with them that will distract him from his job.

So there you have it -- my stab at a SWOT analysis of Billy Gillispie at UK.  This will obviously change as time goes on, but it will be interesting to look back later and see how it worked out.