A Contrarian Viewpoint: Back Off Gillispie Until He Gives His Side of the StoryPosted by dnspewak on September 7th, 2012
Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite staffer and an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.
Billy Gillispie, the gruff, divisive dictator in charge of Texas Tech’s basketball program, suddenly finds himself as helpless and powerless as ever. Stuck in a hospital in Lubbock, current and former Red Raider players have turned on him publicly, telling CBS Sports he violated NCAA rules, punished them in practice and made their lives a living hell for an entire season. They’re saying nasty things — things that could all but end Gillispie’s coaching career, which already needed saving on one occasion after that messy divorce with Kentucky. They’re saying he forced a player with a stress fracture to practice despite needing serious medical attention, and they’re saying he routinely held practices for hours and hours at a time during the season, much longer than the 20 hours per week allotted by the NCAA. After Jeff Goodman’s investigative work blew the door off the situation, CBS colleague Gary Parrish then penned his own piece.
If the allegations against Gillispie are true — and there’s no reason to believe they aren’t — then he’s a man who didn’t learn from his downfall at Kentucky and probably shouldn’t be coaching college basketball anyway.
Goodman and Parrish cite several sources, one of which confirmed a tale of Kader Tapsoba running stairs with a stress fracture as he sobbed from the pain. We’re hearing about Bear Bryant kind of shenanigans, outdated tactics used by tyrants in the 1952, not 2012. Put it all together, and Parrish, quite matter-of-factly, says the following: “Gillispie must go.” ESPN’s Andy Katz and Jason King spoke to several unnamed current players, and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal managed to actually speak to Gillispie and get a no comment: “There will be an appropriate time to talk about that,” Gillispie told reporter Nick Kosmider. “Right now I’m trying to get better.”
Problem is, his superiors may not wait until his health recovers to make a decision on his employment. With the public now united against him, there’s almost no way Gillispie can overcome this sort of PR hit. It’s a shame we’ve come to this conclusion so early. It’s a shame we’re essentially ending his career before he even gets out of the hospital. Like Parrish alluded to, it’s hard to believe that all of these players would simply fabricate stories about Gillispie out of thin air, but that’s not the point here. The man at the center of this whole fiasco needs to have the opportunity to defend himself. It doesn’t matter how many sources CBS Sports cites or how many times it tries to text him. He’s in the freaking hospital. That’d be like Woodward and Bernstein taking information from Deep Throat and then texting Richard Nixon’s staffers, only to give up and still write the Watergate story for The Washington Post when they did not respond. Ridiculous, right? Billy Gillispie may not be Richard Nixon, and his alleged transgressions may not be a matter of national security, but the consequences are serious nonetheless.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine an explanation Gillispie could offer to make this go away. He’s probably not going to wave a magic wand and suddenly make sense of all the allegations, as if all it’ll take to have an “ah-ha!” moment is to hear Gillispie’s public comment. Still, let’s put on our critical thinking caps and shun the groupthink that’s calling for Gillispie’s head while he’s in the hospital. The Red Raiders finished 8-23 a year ago and tumbled to a 1-17 finish in Big 12 play, good for last place in the league. It was a disastrous season in every way. That’s a good place to start in answering the question as to why he’d lose support from his team. Then, you’ve got to consider the sources here. Some are anonymous, and most others are former players. A few current players made vague unsubstantiated statements about their difficulties playing under Gillispie. Goodman quotes Jaron Nash and Kevin Wagner in his article, and Nash told him he transferred not because of Gillispie but because of a family illness. But what about Wagner, Javarez Willis, DeShon Minnis, Cameron Forte and Terran Petteway? It’s impossible to know the real reason why any of them left Texas Tech, but Gillispie over-signed his 2012 recruiting class. Is it possible he ran a few off to make room for newcomers and made a few enemies in the process? That’s the kind of reasonable doubt (pardon the cliched legal term) that creates alternative possibilities as to why former players would make these sorts of career-changing accusations toward Gillispie. Unlikely, sure, but worth considering, especially since Gillispie has no way of defending himself right now.
It’s troubling that current players met with the AD about Gillispie’s conduct, but we need to hear some on-the-record statements about how Gillispie’s current players feel about him. And somebody needs to call Robert Lewandowski, the lone senior on last year’s roster who brought Gillispie to tears during a late-season interview with a newspaper in Lubbock.
I would hate to think about this year if he hadn’t basically agreed to do just anything we asked him to do. [fighting back tears] He’s just fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like it. We’ll remember Lew for a long time, and we owe him a lot.
That’s another side of Gillispie not shown in the latest media reports. For what it’s worth, I personally attended two Texas Tech practices during the Big 12 Tournament last March. As a disclaimer, I know that means essentially nothing (both were open to the media at the Sprint Center, and he surely would have been on his best behavior). But I bring this up to generate a little more cautious doubt. Gillispie hardly uttered a word in either of them, and both ended on time. It seemed perfectly normal, although that doesn’t mean a closed-doors practice in November or December didn’t run for 10 hours.
ESPN’s Andy Katz handles the story most appropriately from a journalistic standpoint. Instead of damning Gillispie automatically and assuming the reports are true — just because “there’s no reason to believe they aren’t” — Katz mostly refrained from taking a position on Gillispie’s fate and instead wrote about the difficult situation he now faces. His story includes all of the same allegations as CBS Sports, but it was fair to Gillispie. It had a bit of analysis and opinion, but the piece focused more on how Gillispie could overcome the allegations once he has a chance to respond to them. As a source from the National Association of Basketball Coaches told Katz, “the coach needs to have a chance to answer the charges.”
That quote sums it all up, folks. Before we destroy a man’s career, we need that man to explain himself publicly, even if at this point it seems almost impossible he could assemble an explanation plausible enough to disprove everything lobbed at him. We’re better than this — better than texting the man at the center of an investigative story and throwing our hands in the air when he won’t respond because he’s in the hospital. That’s bush league. No matter how much we cry foul, though, the damage has been done. It’s likely too late to save Billy Gillispie.