Right on Cue, Gillispie’s Defenders Tell The Other Side of the StoryPosted by dnspewak on September 10th, 2012
Danny Spewak is a Big 12 microsite staffer and an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.
Three days ago, the loss of Billy Gillispie‘s employment at Texas Tech seemed like a formality. On the heels of a series of articles from a local Lubbock newspaper, ESPN.com and CBS Sports — in which former and current players said he violated NCAA practice regulations and forced a player with a stress fracture to run stairs — it seemed he’d probably never coach college basketball again, especially in light of his “second chance” following the whole Kentucky fiasco. On Friday, I defended Gillispie’s right to tell his side of the story, arguing media reports had smeared him as he sat in a hospital without any way of responding to the accusations. No reporter had even attempted to write a balanced story, and Gary Parrish of CBS called for the school to fire Gillispie because “there’s no reason to believe” the allegations against him aren’t true. Since then, Deadspin has already reported the school will dismiss Gillispie, though no other outlet has confirmed that claim at this time. It’s bad, folks. Real bad.
So thank goodness for Jason King.
ESPN.com’s senior writer used his connections over the weekend to write a brilliant piece on the Gillispie situation, offering an entirely different side of the tale from the coach’s supporters. On Friday, I asked somebody to call Robert Lewandowski. Apparently, King already had: By Saturday, he appeared in King’s lead, and he stood behind Gillispie by describing him as a tough-love leader, not a madman. Former Texas A&M star Acie Law and forward Joseph Jones said the same thing about their former coach, as did Josh Harrellson (Kentucky) and Deron Williams, who signed at Illinois during Gillispie’s time as an assistant in Champaign. King also garnered a response from Bill Self, a former coaching partner of Gillispie’s, along with Texas Tech color commentator Andy Ellis, who serves as perhaps King’s strongest and most outspoken source. “Somebody needs to tell the other side of the story,” Ellis said.
That’s all we’re asking for, and Jason King does a heck of a job doing just that. To be clear, he does not exactly exonerate Billy Gillispie. Ellis points out that former players would of course have a vendetta against Gillispie after transferring, but current players still met with the athletic director about their coach’s conduct and the situation is far from resolved. Lewandowski partly disputed the troubling tale of Kader Tapsboa crying as he ran stairs with a stress fracture, but he offered a fairly vague statement in an effort not to undermine his teammates. Gillispie still may have violated NCAA rules, but after King’s story, at least he’ll get a fair shake. The piece even led to a follow-up from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, shedding even more doubt on the matter.
The following excerpt from the King story illustrates the importance of his reporting, and it should also serve as an example to media outlets who jumped all over Gillispie (this site included) without talking to all the right people. After CBS Sports used an anonymous source to report Gillispie had humiliated coaches and team officials during practices, Ellis and Lewandowski’s comments directly conflicted those claims:
According to CBSSports.com, Gillispie instructed assistant coaches, team managers, trainers, broadcasters and anyone else at practice the night before a game to join the Red Raiders in a layup line. Anyone who missed a shot, fumbled the ball or shot it with the wrong hand was ordered to run the steps of the arena.
“It was demeaning to us as grown men,” the source told the website.
Lewandowski and Ellis described the situation differently.
“This was Coach’s way of starting off practice with some fun,” Lewandowski said. “If you missed your layup, you had to run one section of the stairs. Nothing overly strenuous, and most people didn’t bother to do it half the time. My memories only include laughing and smiling.”
Ellis said: “It’s not like he was making us sprint. You could walk up the stairs if you wanted. People were laughing. I never saw anyone get mad.”
Billy Gillispie might be guilty of what he’s accused of. He might get fired, as Deadspin has reported, and he might never coach Division I basketball again. If Texas Tech investigates the matter and comes to that conclusion, it’s the school’s prerogative to make that decision. After Jason King’s report, though, we’ll all be able to sleep a little better knowing the coach didn’t succumb to a smear job in an attempt to sensationalize the story and create public outrage among the college basketball community. That’s a victory for real journalism, people.