Posted by MATT JONES
One of college basketball’s biggest recent mysteries has been the status of Billy Gillispie. The former Kentucky coach has been missing in action for two years since his dismissal in Lexington and his name has bizarrely never been seriously linked to any other job in the country in the interim. Even though we have seen coaching retreads churned out at a number of schools and the man they call Billy Clyde has publicly stated he wants to get back into the coaching game, no University has given him a call. And unfortunately for Gillispie, it seems that few have even truly given him much consideration.
But all of that may be about to change. As after every season, a number of coaching vacancies will occur this year, and this particular group seems to be particularly compatible with Gillispie. The first actual opening took place this week when Wyoming dismissed Heath Schroyer and immediately a set of Wyoming fans went to Facebook to begin suggesting Gillispie as their future coach. His name has also been associated with what is likely to be an opening at Texas Tech, a school with a history of dealing with controversial coaches.
Gillispie is often seen as an attractive candidate at schools such as Wyoming and Texas Tech because they share a common environment to his previous successful stops. Like the schools where Gillispie made his coaching name, UTEP and Texas A&M, they have a Western sensibility and are primarily football schools with a quiet, low-pressure environment where the media spotlight is far from bright.
Contrast that with the basketball-crazed culture where Gillispie’s career took a stumble at Kentucky. The Wildcats job is not for everyone and with it comes likely the brightest local spotlight of any college coaching gig in America. The UK media glare is stronger than with many NBA franchises and Gillispie’s weaknesses, which include media interaction and the public figure role of a college coaching job, were highlighted to an extreme degree in such an environment. Combine those problems with a public perception that he was consistently aloof and could not interact well with fans and players, and UK-Gillispie were destined to be a failed public marriage.
The question then remains whether Gillispie’s problems at Kentucky were simply due to a bad fit or have greater resonance beyond the Big Blue Nation. Former Kentucky basketball player Mark Krebs recently did a long interview on his time playing for Gillispie at Kentucky and highlighted all the struggles the coach had in Lexington. He expressed surprise that the coach had not been hired yet for a new position but acknowledged that there were many troubling moments while at UK that would give him pause if he were an Athletic Director. However, he did say that in the end he would let a certain type of son (one that was not a stary player and was mentally tough)of his play for Gillispie despite all of his difficulties.
After his two-year flameout in Lexington, where Gillispie was fired not so much for his inability on the court but the problems off, it is easy to forget how successful he was at his previous stops. Billy Gillispie resurrected the UTEP basketball program from nothing and began a turnaround at Texas A&M that led the university not only to the Sweet 16, but to a relevancy nationally that it still enjoys today.
However that success has been forgotten by most of college basketball, who instead remember his captaincy of the only Kentucky team not to make the NCAA Tournament since 1991 and the embarrassing way in which he departed Lexington. For two years, Gillispie has been unable to bounce back and find a way to re-enter the college basketball game at a University for which he is a better fit. This summer may change that as programs such as Wyoming and Texas Tech re-examine a program with Gillispie at the helm. If not, one has to wonder when he will ever find a way back into big-time college basketball or if that ship has unfortunately permanently sailed.