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Gillispie's Demise as UK Basketball Coach: My First Take

As I write this, I am listening to Mitch Barnhart and Lee Todd talk about the firing of Billy Gillispie and have reached the conclusion that this parting not only wasn't amicable, this relationship has been badly dysfunctional for some time.  This was an ugly scene worthy of a soap-opera.

Based on the unfortunate nature of some of Barnhart's and Dr. Todd's answers, I am not encouraged that the administration handled this with the kind of professionalism that it required.  But I am not going to draw that conclusion just yet.  I have not gathered enough facts, at the moment, to make any kind of really rational judgment except that it is perfectly clear to me that this a) does not even have the appearance of a "mutual agreement," and b) is the most unpleasant firing I have seen at a Division I school since Ron Zook from Florida, and this may even surpass that one.

I understand that Gillispie will have something to say at some point about his dismissal, and I will be interested to hear his comments.  As I write this, I am having to force myself not to draw conclusions, not to make accusations and not to race off into an angry screed that I will either wind up regretting or having to explain.

Unfortunately, the entire news conference was not covered here in Louisville, so I could not gather up every single fact that was presented there.  I am disappointed to hear that the University intends to attempt to keep some of the money they clearly owe Gillispie.  I doubt Gillispie will take them to the mat for that, but a big part of me would love to see him do it.  A settlement and avoidance of court is likely best for both parties, but if Gillispie doesn't get at least 3 million dollars, in my view he will have been robbed.

It is my considered opinion, subject to later revision and extension when more facts come to light, that Gillispie lived up to the terms of his agreement with the University in every particular, and the University just didn't like the way he did his job.  A coaching contract is not a suicide pact, though, so it is not unreasonable for the University administration to decide that the way he was doing his job was not the way they wanted it done, and to terminate that agreement.  What I am saying here is that the University has a defensible argument that this action is in the best interests of the University of Kentucky and its basketball program.

With that said, it is perfectly clear that the University of Kentucky in general and Mitch Barnhart in particular did very little to help Gillispie succeed.  It looks to me like the AD and many in the athletic department as well as in the local media decided early on, perhaps as early as last December, that they had little use for this bumpkin from Texas, and were perfectly happy to leave him to his own devices and even encourage his demise.  Of course, the blame doesn't belong squarely on them -- clearly, Gillispie had difficulty finding commonality with the Bluegrass elites in Lexington, although it is also clear that he was able to establish a bond with most of the common folk of the Commonwealth. The urbane national sports media will laugh uproariously at the notion that people from Kentucky found themselves looking down on someone else as a bumpkin, but in my estimation, that is precisely what happened among the Lexington gentry, academics and media members who have Dr. Todd's and Mitch Barnhart's ear.  Gillispie came in as one of us common folk, and has essentially been expelled because he was too much like us common folk.  Bitterly ironic, I know, but there it is.

In the end, I suppose this relationship was always doomed to failure.  The plain-spoken and honest-to-a-fault don't really belong at the head of legendary college programs -- they will always be seen as too small, too petite bourgeoisie for such an important position.  You would think that Barnhart would have recognized that being the suave, genteel, pezzonovante that he is, but apparently he just isn't quite as savvy as most of us have given him credit for. 

Barnhart is going to get beaten up over this, and deservedly so.  Perhaps even Dr. Lee Todd will not escape significant recriminations.  The bush-league way this was handled will fit nicely into what has become the national narrative about Kentucky basketball -- a formerly great program running coaches out of town in a vain hope to recapture faded glory, a program whose brilliance has been bedimmed by moneyed zealots driving bad decisions and unwashed masses of closet racists riotously clamoring for the return of Rick Pitino, who laughs at them up his french-cuffed Armani sleeve in Louisville.

What a great way to start a weekend.