clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Billy Gillispie: Piloting the Juggernaut

Btn_ball_medium Btn_book_medium

John Clay had this fascinating piece today about Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie today.  The upshot is that Gillispie appears to have finally gotten his arms around the head coaching position here at UK, and seems to be enjoying the experience after a rough first year.

You know, we have talked a lot about the basketball team's news and players lately, and we have harped on media double standards as they seem to apply to the Kentucky coach.  But what we really haven't done is sit back and take a look at how our coach has done a little over one year into the process.   So I'm going to give him my honest evaluation (not "brutally honest," just honest).


  • Straight talk -- everybody loves a straight shooter, and Gillispie has, as far as I know, delivered in spades.  He has not gilded the lilly much, especially when it comes to the team's prospects.
  • Hard work -- This guy works hard, but we knew that coming in, it was a big selling point.  But the reality of his effort is even more prodigious than the rumor.  He seems to be everywhere, all the time.
  • Recruiting -- Boy, was this ever an issue.  Gillispie came to Kentucky with the reputation as a recruiter extraordinaire, and as a developer of downtrodden programs.  Kentucky didn't need the latter, but many people believe that it desperately needed the former.

    So how has he done?  Well, in my judgment he has done fine.  He isn't exactly ready to compare classes with Ol' Roy, but he has landed a couple of outstanding prospects in 2008 and one or two more for years down the road, and 2009 is shaping up very nicely.  The outcome of those won't be known for awhile, but I think the signs are encouraging.

    But the most important thing he has done is put a "buzz" back in Kentucky basketball on the recruiting side.  Tubby Smith had his own way of recruiting, which was much more dependent upon personal relationships.  It worked, but it was opaque to the Big Blue Nation and caused much consternation among the slavish recruiting followers.  Gillispie's style is much more transparent and fanatic-friendly.  I pass no judgment on which is more effective, but I think Gillispie's style is a better fit for a high-profile program like  Kentucky.
  • Comfort with the media -- This is going to sound strange, but I think that Gillispie has, on balance, been more comfortable around the media in Kentucky than his predecessor despite some apparent hostility from some of the beat reporters around the state.  John Clay uses an interesting metaphor comparing Gillispie with Smith, saying that Smith would rather be "tied to a tree in a lightning storm" than put on a summer press conference about basketball.
  • Passion for the game -- This may be Gillispie's most endearing quality.  They guy has an incredible passion for the game and is quite possibly the most overtly competitive person on the entire team.  That is a drastic change, at least in public perception, from the previous administration.  I'm not suggesting that Smith didn't have these exact same qualities, what I'm saying is that they weren't as obvious.


  • The past -- Gillispie's past indiscretions continue to haunt him today, and they will be there for a long time to come.  Every time something happens that can be remotely tied to the DUI arrests, they will be.  Fair or not, this is a fact of life, and Kentucky fans must deal with Louisville and other rival schools posting pictures of the now-famous Fox screen shot in their jibes for the foreseeable future.
  • Strange coaching decisions -- We saw some really bizarre stuff out of Gillispie from the bench last year, and his explanation is pretty much always the same -- "I just thought that was what was best."  Gillispie is willing to talk about everything, but not his coaching decisions, ever.  That does not sit particularly well with the Big Blue Nation, who was used to getting that data from Tubby Smith.
  • Media savvy -- Despite Gillispie's obviously improving relationship with the Kentucky media, he is not glib or fluent a la Rick Pitino or Billy Donovan.  This is not really a change from the previous regime, but Tubby Smith famously disliked dealing with the media.  Gillispie has no such reputation.

    He also allowed his relationship with the beat reporters to reach a surprisingly low level, although to his credit he has begun to rebuild those relationships this summer.  Smith never allowed his relationships to deteriorate, and always managed to keep his connection with the local media solidly intact, if arms-length.
  • Stupefyingly slow contract negotiations -- I can't think of an excuse for this.  I know he isn't the only one, but c'mon, man, this just can't be that difficult.  And it is important.

Overall, I think Gillispie has done a solid job so far.  He hasn't set the world on fire unless you are talking about the recruiting world, and in that case, he has definitely announced his presence with a roar that has every coach in America taking notice.  What I hope to see now is for him to make an impact on the coaching side, and he has already begun that process by turning last year's team around mid-season from one of the worst in recent UK history to a middle of the road squad that still managed to reach the tournament. 

If Gillispie can carry that momentum over into next year despite the loss of his two senior leaders, there are some very good things in store for Wildcat fans.  A lot of national pundits are writing off Kentucky this year due to our back-court losses, but 'Cat fans in the know realize that, while we won't have a dynamic duo like Crawford and Bradley next year, we won't really need them with the new dynamic duo of Patterson and Stevenson, as well as some solid wing players and significantly improved front-court depth.  If everyone reports to the first practice eligible, Kentucky will likely remind everyone in the nation and particularly in the SEC that the recent Wildcat doldrums have passed.