The video is out there, and we'll see it someday. It'll show Billy Gillispie, months removed from leading the famous Kentucky basketball program, in an orange jumpsuit -- the kind worn by the prisoners picking up garbage on the highway. The video will show Gillispie in that jumpsuit, being arraigned last week on charges of driving while intoxicated.
Already the mug shot is out there, and it's startling enough. It shows Gillispie with puffy, heavy eyes. He looks 10 years older. He looks 20 pounds heavier. He looks drunk.
|Billy Gillispie's mug shot from his most recent drunken driving arrest. (AP)|
If he was going to get arrested for DUI -- and this being Gillispie, he was going to get arrested for DUI eventually -- last week was the best week possible. It came shortly after two enormous basketball stories had already broken in that state. Just one week earlier, the NCAA had taken away the 2008 Final Four banner from Memphis and the former Memphis coach who replaced Gillispie at Kentucky, John Calipari. And that came after the revelation that current Louisville (and former Kentucky) coach Rick Pitino had a one-dinner stand with a woman who accused him of raping her, impregnating her, marrying her off to his personal assistant and then paying for the abortion.
That's a lot of basketball headlines for a basketball state. By the time Gillispie landed himself in jail, there weren't many headlines left. He got a handful, but that's all. A handful.
For the most part, the college basketball world has already moved onward, meaning backward. Gillispie's DUI is the latest news, but it's not the biggest news. Not in Kentucky. The new Kentucky coach loses his second Final Four banner? The Louisville coach has an abortion scandal? Those are stories with staying power, and they've stayed around. Relatively speaking, Gillispie's DUI arrest was nothing.
Except for this fact:
It was everything.
It was the most recent straw -- I fear it's not the "final" straw -- in the unraveling of Billy Gillispie, the former coaching savant who won huge at UTEP and Texas A&M and then won bigger still in 2007 by landing the job at Kentucky. He was already a living legend. All he had to do was stay out of his own way, and Billy Gillispie was going to be a god.
Instead he tripped over his own shoes. He alienated the Kentucky administration. He wore down the players. He treated one of the most supportive fan bases in basketball like an annoyance. He had two of the worst seasons in school history, and then he was fired.
And then he was arrested. And spent the night in jail. In an orange jumpsuit.
No, Billy Gillispie isn't a god. He's a schmuck. And before he can even consider working at another school -- and before any school can even consider hiring him -- he probably needs to utter a very precise handful of words:
Hi. My name is Billy, and I have a drinking problem.
And listen to me. I don't write this with malice or mockery. Alcoholism is not a joking matter -- it's deadly serious -- and I'm convinced Gillispie has a deadly serious problem. If he's found guilty of DUI this would be his first alcohol-related conviction, but that's a technicality. This was his third such incident. He was arrested in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., on charges of DWI, but those charges were dismissed after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving. In 2003 he was arrested in El Paso, Texas, on suspicion of drunken driving, but those charges were dropped for lack of evidence. Some of the evidence: When officers asked Gillispie in 2003 for identification, he gave them a credit card instead of his driver's license.
That's what Gillispie does when he gets pulled over on suspicion of DUI: He ceases to think like an adult. In this latest incident, Gillispie was borderline pathetic. According to the arrest report, he was unable to find proof of insurance for his car. He searched unsuccessfully in his golf bag, of all places, but only after being uncertain how to open the trunk of his own car. First he was befuddled by his car's passenger-side door lock, and then by the door to his glove box, which required several tries by Gillispie to open.
He also drove, spoke, looked and smelled like he was drunk, according to the police report. Gillispie might get out of this one, like he got out of his first two DUI arrests, but enough is enough. As if three DUI arrests in a decade weren't enough circumstantial evidence of a drinking problem, there were the two years Gillispie spent at Kentucky -- where he was infamous for enjoying the nightlife. The next school that thinks about hiring Gillispie will need to speak to administrators at Kentucky who heard story after story after story about their basketball coach. Those stories made their way to fans, and the media. Maybe you've heard them. I've heard at least 10. Do I believe them? I didn't at the time. But now? Yes. I believe some of them. Not sure which ones. Not sure it matters which ones.
You think Gillispie was fired at Kentucky simply for winning "only" 40 games in two years and for being prickly with fans? Think again. There were plenty of reasons, and if Gillispie continues his ill-conceived lawsuit against Kentucky -- which he says owes him a $6 million buyout for firing him with five years left on his deal -- those reasons will come out.
Gillispie doesn't need that, just like he didn't need his third arrest in 10 years on DUI charges. As it was, Gillispie was going to have a hard time finding a decent job in college basketball. What he did at UTEP and Texas A&M was terrific, but being run out of Lexington after just two years stained his résumé.
It's impossible to gauge where Gillispie will go next because there has never been a situation like this, but the closest two comparisons that come to mind -- for various reasons -- are Matt Doherty and Larry Eustachy.
After being chased out of North Carolina in 2003 after three years, Doherty had a comparable résumé to the one Gillispie has now -- Gillispie had more experience as a head coach, but Doherty had been a high-profile player at North Carolina and assistant at Kansas -- and Doherty had to start over at Florida Atlantic University. After one successful season there, he made the jump all the way to ... SMU.
After his painfully public drinking problem at Iowa State in 2003, Eustachy had to start over at the bottom of Conference USA. Maybe you think Gillispie has a better coaching reputation than Eustachy. Maybe you forget that Eustachy has made it to the Elite Eight, whereas Gillispie has not. Eustachy took Iowa State there in 2000, and still he had to swallow his pride in 2004 and take the job at Southern Mississippi.
Gillispie will have to swallow all sorts of pride to get his next job, because he's a combination of Doherty and Eustachy. He failed at a job where failure is almost impossible and he has a public history of alcohol abuse.
It has been a staggering fall for a man who was one of the hottest coaches in college basketball in 2007, but that's where Gillispie is. He's not a rising star anymore. He's the drunk in the orange jumpsuit. He's the guy who couldn't open his own glove box. He's the grouchy coach who gave Kentucky almost no choice but to fire him after two years, and who then sued the school for doing just that.
If it weren't for the recent troubles of Calipari and Pitino, we would be talking a lot more about Gillispie. And we would be saying something like this:
Along with Dave Bliss, Jim Harrick and Nolan Richardson, Billy Gillispie is the least hirable coach in college basketball.