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Could Gillispie be tempted away to Stillwater?

Now that Oklahoma State University has forced out Sean Sutton, we have seen lots of speculation around OSU and Kentucky circles about Billy Gillispie being tempted away from Lexington to pick up the reigns in Stillwater.  Of course, #1 on OSU's wish list would surely be Kansas coach and former Gillispie mentor Bill Self, a graduate of Oklahoma State.  Self has tried to stifle any rumors about leaving Kansas, but in reality, any coach in the midst of a Final Four run would do that.  It is remotely possible he may feel differently next Wednesday morning, but my money would be on Self staying put.  In fact, some (and please do consider this source) believe that Gillispie has been the target all along.  But since there is so much conversation in the Big Blue Nation this week about the possibility of Gillispie being tempted away should Self prove immovable, I though I would try to sort out this puzzle. For the sake of this article, I will assume that Self can't be tempted out of Lawrence (not necessarily a good assumption at all, Seth Davis notwithstanding).

Let's look at Gillispie's motivations for leaving.  First, it is said by some (like the Loathsome Troll Jeff Goodman ) that Gillispie does not like the spotlight of a major program like Kentucky.  That reasoning is appears to be based on rumors that Billy Gillispie is a hard-drinking, hard-partying kind of guy and prefers to be at a program where that sort of lifestyle will not be subject to the fishbowl that is the Kentucky sports media and fans.

Rumors aside, it is not impossible that Gillispie does not like the high level of public scrutiny in Lexington.  That is a tough lifestyle to get used to, and coming as Gillispie does from a program that had traditionally treated basketball more as a necessary evil than as an actual revenue sport, the difference in everyday pressure between the two jobs is dramatic.  Gillispie knew this coming in, but it is surely possible that he may have had (and possibly still is having) second thoughts about the Kentucky job.  With that said, it has been obvious during the turnaround this year and beyond that Gillispie has come to terms with being an important public figure, and as he has had some limited success, the constant drumbeat of unfounded rumor and innuendo has ground down from a roar to a barely-audible whisper.  This is to be expected, and are part of the growing pains associated with one of the top jobs in college basketball.  It is also true (fortunately) that the rumors that generated this kind of thinking seem to have no legitimate basis in fact.  There have been no credible reports anywhere of Gillispie living a life reminiscent of my fraternity days, only whispers on the Internet.  So as a motivation for leaving, Goodman's rationale seems to be nothing more than baseless speculation.

Second, the fact that Gillispie has no formal contract with Kentucky is said to be illustrative of his unhappiness.  Gillispie is operating under a 2-page Memorandum of Understanding, and some theorize that the coach has issues with the athletic department's insistence that he be bound contractually not to run amok among the town folk of Lexington, driving recklessly intoxicated at 4:00 AM and ravishing coeds like some kind of 21st century Conan the Barbarian.  While nobody but the principles know why the formal contract has not been signed yet, and I think it's safe to say that there are some parts of the proposed instrument that Gillispie does not want to agree to.  It could be a disagreement over anything from appearance fees to buyout clauses, and it just goes to show the depth of human depravity that the thinnest and most baseless rumors of moral turpitude are automatically assumed to be the reason behind the lack of a formal contract.

But once again, we must not rule out the possibility that the lack of a formal contract may in fact make it easier for Gillispie to be lured away -- in other words, this is a talking point that actually has some substance.  I have said before and will say again that the lack of a formal contract was a problem that would only get worse, and now we see exactly why.  It is much easier to work around an MOU than a contract, and I know this from direct experience.  This is a weakness in Kentucky's strategy to retain Gillispie, and demands attention on the part of the athletic department.

Finally, we have the argument that T. Boone Pickins Pickens ([editor's note, by Truzenzuzex]  Sorry 'bout the typo, Mr. Pickens) OSU alum and multi-mega-gazillionaire, will make Gillispie an offer he can't refuse if Self resists OSU's advances.  The rationale goes like this -- if Gillispie can get more money for a lower-pressure job in his old stomping grounds of the Southwest, why wouldn't he take it, especially at Oklahoma State who has a fairly solid basketball tradition?

This will come as a shock to many Kentucky fans, but this argument is not fatally flawed.  There are certainly charms to the idea of being paid millions to coach in a place close to home with significantly lower pressure on performance and plenty of tough competition to prove yourself against.  If you believe the sometimes (but hardly authoritative) argument that Gillispie is a rebuilder at heart and not really meant for coaching "old money" schools like Kentucky, this argument sounds even more persuasive.

The counter-argument, however, is equally strong.  Kentucky is one of the top 5 coaching jobs in all of college basketball by most estimates, and those jobs don't come open all that often.  This is most likely Gillispie's one and only chance to make a true legacy for himself at one of the great college basketball programs in the nation.  But instead, the argument goes, he is supposed to abandon all this to take the coaching job in Backwater Stillwater, Oklahoma so he can resurrect OSU and somehow change it from a football school into a national basketball contender.  Doesn't sound as likely when you put it that way, does it?

Still, if Tubby Smith's leaving taught us nothing else,  we learned that being happy on the job is a powerful consideration, and if Gillispie is truly unhappy at Kentucky, he will very likely take a job that pays more (or even the same) money at a school closer to his old stomping grounds if such a situation were offered to him.  Make no mistake, just as we really know nothing about how Gillispie lives his life, we have nothing more than his public pronouncements about how he feels about the job here at UK and none of us, I think, would gamble our lives that those statements reflect reality 100%.  Bottom line -- you never know.

Update [2008-4-4 17:38:6 by Truzenzuzex]:  After reading many comments in other fora by OSU fans who read this piece, it seems I got the whole "football school" thing wrong.  Perhaps it would have been more correct to say "football state", as Oklahoma is perceived.  The Cowboy fans apparently see themselves as more of a golf and wrestling school, and I am certainly not in a position to gainsay them.  Apologies to any who were offended by my unfamiliarity with OSU's athletics program.