By Josh Kramer
On April 6, 2007, Billy Gillispie was on top of the world. He had just been hired as the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, one of the elite coaching jobs in sports (just ask John Calipari). After leading Texas A&M to three-straight 20-win seasons and two consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, Gillispie was a hot commodity. Many figured that Coach Gillispie would lead Kentucky back to the promised land and help one of the most tradition-filled basketball programs in the nation secure number eight (that feat of course happened in April).
Little did anyone know, April 6, 2007 would be the beginning of the end of Billy Gillespie’s career. Ever since, the wheels have been coming off slowly but surely.
Following Gillispie’s hiring in Lexington, there was major resentment in College Station (Texas A&M). The frustrations were not necessarily due to Gillispie’s departure, but the manner in which he left. Coach Gillispie alerted his former players of his resignation and new job via text message on his way to Lexington. Talk about professional. The man couldn’t even look his own players in the eye and tell them that he was leaving. Karma struck in a big way though as Gillispie took over in Big Blue Nation.
Gillispie replaced Tubby Smith as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. Tubby won a national championship in his first year as head coach, and posted a very impressive 263-83 record over ten seasons in Lexington. Two straight seasons with double-digit losses though caused Tubby to flee for greener pastures (University of Minnesota).
The “Gillispie Era” got off to a rocky start as Kentucky was shocked by 16 points at Rupp Arena by little-known Gardner-Webb in the second game of the season. This loss caused Kentucky to fall out of the top 25 for the remainder of the season, as UK posted a mediocre 18-13 record and lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Not exactly good enough for Big Blue Nation. Year two didn’t start much better as Kentucky was defeated 111 to 103 by VMI to begin the 2008-2009 campaign. This was just foreshadowing of things to come, as UK failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years, and participated in the NIT (for the first time since 1979). After falling to Notre Dame in the NIT quarterfinals, Gillispie was fired on March 27, 2009 officially ending the “Gillispie Era” in Lexington. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven between Gillispie and Big Blue Nation. This was just the beginning of Gillispie’s downfall.
Gillispie then in May, 2009, proceeded to sue the University of Kentucky Athletic Association for a contract breach. Litigation continued until October when a settlement was reached. Before the settlement, Gillispie managed to get arrested for his third DUI since 1999. Following the settlement, Coach Gillispie fell off the face of the earth (at least basketball wise) for a good two years.
On March 20, 2011, Gillispie was given another chance. This time, by Texas Tech University. Not exactly the best coaching job in the NCAA (they had gone 16-42 in Big 12 conference play in the previous three seasons), but an opportunity for Gillispie to start over. A new “Gillispie Era” was under way. It was a rocky first season at best, as Texas Tech limped their way to an 8 and 23 record with only one victory in conference play. Yesterday, things continued to get worse though, as reports came out that mutiny was occurring at Texas Tech University. Players were calling for Gillispie’s removal from his position. Administration and fans calling for a coaches dismissal is one thing, but when the actual players want a coach out, that is bad news bears.
I am not sure what exactly happened to Coach Gillispie on that fateful day of April 6, 2007, but it wasn’t good. Things for Gillispie have gone from good, to bad, to downright ugly in a matter of five years. It appears the “Gillispie Era” at Texas Tech is nearing the end.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.