LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky's restless two weeks are over. Billy Gillispie is the Wildcats' new coach, and he insists the winningest school in college basketball history is on solid ground despite an early ouster from the NCAA Tournament.
The former Texas A&M coach succeeds Tubby Smith and agreed to a seven-year contract that will pay him $2.3 million a year in base salary, athletic department spokesman Scott Stricklin said. Gillispie could earn performance incentives up to $750,000 a year and academic incentives of up to $100,000.
The architect of remarkable turnarounds at UTEP and Texas A&M, Gillispie doesn't think there's much work to be done with the Wildcats. Kentucky went 22-12 this season, losing to Kansas in the second round of the tournament.
"This program got turned around like 2,000 years ago and it's been turned around ever since," Gillispie said just before a campus rally. "Since they started putting those nets up there and used a round ball, they never needed a turnaround."
Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart hired Gillispie after another Billy -- Florida's Billy Donovan -- decided Thursday to stay with the Gators after winning a second straight NCAA title. Texas' Rick Barnes also indicated he wasn't interested, but the job was never formally offered to anyone other than Gillispie. Kentucky's athletics board unanimously approved the hire by a voice vote.
Gillispie becomes Kentucky's sixth coach in the last 76 years after leading the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament's Round of 16 this year for the first time since 1980. Barnhart told a rally at Memorial Coliseum that the Wildcats hired a coach who matches the fans' passion for basketball.
"He understands the mantle that he's been given here at Kentucky," Barnhart said.
Smith spent a decade in the glare of the sport's brightest spotlight before bolting to Minnesota two weeks ago. He left the Wildcats after 10 seasons with four years left on his contract.
|Billy Gillispie becomes just the sixth Kentucky coach in 76 years. (Getty Images)|
His success made him a hot commodity. He was approached by Arkansas after Stan Heath was fired, but he decided to stay with the Aggies, agreeing to a $1.75 million contract.
The 47-year-old coach, however, never signed, and he didn't hesitate when Kentucky came calling. A&M athletic director Bill Byrne gave Barnhart permission to speak to Gillispie on Thursday night. By Friday morning the job was his.
Gillispie was an assistant under Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois before coaching UTEP in 2002. He coached the Miners for two seasons, surviving a 6-24 season in 2002-03, then producing a 24-8 record the next year.
Texas A&M lured him in 2004, and Gillispie didn't waste time turning around a program that went winless in Big 12 play the year before his arrival. The Aggies made it to the NIT his first season and the NCAA Tournament the next two.