Rumor around these parts is that it’s a done deal. Billy Clyde Gillispie is hittin’ the bricks. That’s what nearly every journalist, blogger, and fan with an opinion seems to be saying. We’ll find out tomorrow, when the University has their press conference, what the final decision on Coach G’s future with the University of Kentucky will come down to. For tonight he’s still our coach, and I want to say a few things about that.
Two years ago Kentucky was relieved of a good coach. Tubby Smith said goodbye to the Bluegrass and went far, far North. Most media outlets will say he was run out of town, pitchforks blazing. That may or may not be true. To me, the man looked tired and ready to move on. I was one of the ones championing his departure. Partly because I felt he had grown very Fulmer-esque in his approach to the game. He could still win 20 but he wasn’t going to win another championship.
Be that as it may, the Big Blue went out on the wire and tried to hire their Prince-in-Waiting. Billy Donavon. The courtship wasn’t quite enough for a coach coming off two national championships so we “settled” for a coach that was the most basketball oriented mind we could find.
That’s how Billy Gillispie was presented to us. No one in the state knew much about the Texan at the time. All everyone knew was that he lived, slept, and sweated basketball from the time he awoke every morning until the time his exhausted head hit the pillow every night.
The honeymoon wasn’t the classic story of romance. Conduct rumors swirled before the first game was played and an early tenure loss to Garner Webb sealed Billy’s fate in many UK fan’s mind. I still hear the argument from fans that “we shouldn’t be losing to the VMIs of the world.”
He prevailed though, in the 2008 season, by getting senior guards to get on board with his dogged work ethic and bruising style of play. Any fan that doesn’t think the man can make adjustments should take a long look back at last season. In particular, fans should take note of how he learned to take the handcuffs off Bradley and Crawford and let them reign free at times.
We all know that’s not his style and we saw some of that again this season. Miller, Liggins, Galloway, and a whole host of other players looked scared to commit to moves this season. A lot of that has to do with coaching, but a lot of that has to do with young men realizing that they have played this game a long time and they have to trust in their abilities.
In the end I will defend the man we call coach (if only for another 10-15 hours). Kentucky fans got what they wanted in a hard working coach. Someone who would bring in some talent (Orton, Hood, and others would potentially be on board for next year), and someone who would work as hard as they possibly could to win games for this University.
Could he have made more adjustments, handled his personnel differently, ended up with a few more W’s on that record? Of course he could have. Any coach could. Ask any coach worth a damned how they could have won any game and they’ll begin with “we could have done x, y, and z better.” Billy Gillispie certainly does that, and anyone who doesn’t think he doesn’t lose sleep over losses to Louisville, South Carolina, and LSU this year is crazy.
When the dust settles, if he’s gone, no one will be able to say Gillispie didn’t give everything he had for this team. He may not be the most polished, the most prone to change, or the most lovable man to ever walk the sidelines, but he gave everything he had to this team the past two years. Isn’t that all we ask from our players at any level (professional included)? Why should the coach be any different?