So there it was -- the much anticipated and much feared Herald-Leader article about Billy Gillispie's first year in Lexington. As I went to click my mouse on the link, a weird thrill went through me. I had heard so much in the run-up to this article. "Tipton is planning to say horrible things," said the rumors. Things that just can't be true, but that people would believe. Things that will surely end the career of Gillispie, Barnhart and possibly even Dr. Lee Todd.
And here it was, right in front of me. The byline, contrary to rumor, was not Beelzebub Incarnate, A.K.A. Jerry Tipton, but Mark Story. Should I fear? Has Story become Darth Tipton's apprentice on the Dark Side of Lexington journalism? Had the budding Evil Empire of the Herald-Leader finally called forth from their putrid imaginations a Death Star of an article that would cut coach Gillispie's newborn career at Kentucky from the womb and smite its ruin on the side of Rupp Arena?
Well, as Death Stars go, this article is about as threatening as Teddy Ruxpin. In fact, I think some will consider it little more than a puff piece, particularly the, "Get Gillispie" conspirators to whom it implicitly refers. But it is full of interesting revelations, even though at the end of the day, it leaves you very angry and bitter at the Lexington establishment, and how poorly they have treated our new basketball coach. It is, in fact, a not-so-subtle indictment of the UK "connected," and suggests that the genesis of the ubiquitous rumors was among some of the program's most ardent supporters.
Many things about this article struck me as interesting, but the discussion of the rumors and their disposal was extremely so, particularly this quote by a professor, Nicholas DiFonzo, an expert in rumors:
Nicholas DiFonzo, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a rumor expert, says Gillispie's two prior alcohol-related arrests "likely served as a 'plausibility threshold' that helped these rumors spread, in the same way that the fact that Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein made the [false] rumors that he is a Muslim plausible."
Well. So the dark chapters in Gillispie's past made the rumors seem plausible on the macro level. But what about the micro level? Suppose someone told you they had heard a rumor about Gillispie. Your initial response is, "How do you know this is true?" If the rumormonger tells you they heard it from, "a friend they trust," you are probably not going to believe it. But if they tell you they heard it from, "A person who knows someone who works at UK," your level of confidence goes up. It goes up even further with, "someone who works in the athletic department," and still further with, "someone who works on the basketball staff."
Given their pervasiveness, we have to conclude that much of this gossip was started by people who claim to know someone in or close to the program. That's really the only way they could be spread -- the, "plausibility threshold," would not be met otherwise. DiFonzo suggested that some of the rumors could have been started by a faction that opposes Gillispie, or people who were angry at him for some perceived slight, which I find highly likely. There is a small but not insignificant group of people, some of them known to me, who don't like Gillispie and may think that this is the way to get rid of him. But after this article, I think their job may have gotten significantly harder, because, "They say" turned out to be a liar again.
Gillispie claimed in the article that he didn't take the hearsay of last year personally. With all due respect and without meaning to insult the man, he would have to be more than human for that assertion to be true, and human he is. But surely we can forgive him that, because it does appear that in spite of the pain of it all, he has managed to put it in the past. Considering the personal and hurtful nature of the whispers, that in itself is truly an impressive feat.
Moving on from the rumormongering, I found Story's discussion of Gillispie's lack of preparation for the crucible of Lexington to be utterly fascinating, how easy it is to step on the wrong toes by simply not knowing they are the wrong toes. It also explains why Rick Pitino had such little difficulty managing the transition to Lexington, having come from a high-profile media maelstrom himself. It's truly a wonder to me that Gillispie managed to survive given the series of booby-traps laid before him and fusillade of whispers hurled at him. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be an "old country boy." This would seem to be one of those times.
How Gillispie managed to cope with all this madness, I really don't know. I can assure you that no salary would be sufficient to entice me to go through what he apparently went through last year. God knows, it just can't be good for your heath, physical or mental. But it appears as though his singular, almost obsessive focus on basketball coaching and the realization that he is coaching in Kentucky, famously dubbed the, "Roman Empire of college basketball" by Traitor Rick, helped pull him through.
Put that one in your pipe and smoke it, Big Blue Nation. That smoke is sweet, indeed.