Former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie says he's retiring, citing urgent health concerns
Gillispie's career was fascinating and controversial; without him, Kentucky doesn't get John Calipari
Billy Gillispie's coaching career was about a lot more than being run out of Kentucky after two melodramatic seasons.
But, unfortunately, his complicated (and at times ugly) basketball legacy will in large part be tied to the fact that he was perceived as the biggest coaching failure in UK basketball history. Ironically, Kentucky wasn't terrible with Billy. He went 40-27 in two seasons, but missing the NCAA Tournament in one of those years and merely earning an 11 seed in the other -- then failing to win a tourney game -- put him on the clock.
Fortunately for Kentucky, Gillispie's flameout allowed the school to land the perfect coach at the perfect time and ignite the most successful and dominant run in UK history. John Calipari's hiring is tied forever to Gillispie's firing, and it's amazing to see how far apart both men's lives have drifted in less than eight years.
Gillispie, who turned 57 in November, quietly announced his retirement on Wednesday. You probably haven't heard too much about him over the past five years. After awkwardly dodging the Lexington and Louisville media on the day of his firing, back in 2009, Gillispie went on to coach just one year at Texas Tech. Complaints of behavioral issues ended his time there pretty quickly and soiled his reputation at the D-I level forever.
After a four-year hiatus from college coaching, Gillispie spent the past year and a half at his alma mater, Ranger College, which is about 120 miles slightly southwest of Dallas. His team is in the middle of a season, but serious health concerns, per Gillispie, have pushed him to step down from the profession altogether.
Gillispie said his retirement is effective immediately.
"No one's ever enjoyed coaching more than I have, I promise, and no one's ever been luckier in the coaching profession than I have," Gillispie said. "What a wonderful career!
"I've been very sick with blood pressure issues since the summer, but I've tried to fight it out. I got a report Monday that told me if I didn't address this blood pressure situation immediately, irreversible, bad things were very likely to happen here relatively soon and my long-term health could be compromised.
"Timing isn't great, but I've decided to do what I was told and try to return to healthy ASAP."
It is scarily appropriate that a blood-pressure issue would force Gilispie's hand. He was infamous for his temper, but also his self-proclaimed workaholic -- and alcoholic -- demeanor. Gillispie climbed college basketball's ladder, landing on the sport's biggest throne, due to relentless work ethic and an X's-and-O's acumen that turned a football school, Texas A&M, into a program that landed a 3 seed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
Gillispie's first season at Ranger College, in 2015-16, ended with a 31-7 record and a run to the National Junior College tournament. He arrived and suddenly, within months, had one of the best juco teams in America. But all of those accomplishments are already officially off the books. Earlier this year it was announced Ranger College had to vacate the entire season due to an ineligible player having previously declared for the NBA Draft.
The school's record books had to change last season's marks from 31-7 to 0-38.
If this is truly the last stop for Gillispie in coaching, he leaves with a 148-146 record overall but a 148-108 mark in Division I. He took UTEP, Texas A&M and Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament.
Criticize him for dozens of reasons, but you could never say Gillispie didn't care. He did. Probably too much.
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