If what we’re hearing from sources in Lexington is true (and apparently, Jeff Goodman is hearing the same things), Anthony Grant may want to tell Alabama that he kindly appreciates their offer but he’ll need a couple more days to think about things. As always, the coaching carousel is getting into swing (with Dave Leitao at Virginia merely the first major casualty), but this year’s avalanche stands to once again begin at the very top of college hoops royalty known as Kentucky. Should the Cats lose their quarterfinal NIT game tonight against Notre Dame, will that be the end of the BCG Era at UK? Many people in Lexington think so.
It’s no secret that the loyal followers of Big Blue are not exactly pleased with the way things have gone on the basketball court under the Gillispie regime. Head-scratching substitution patterns, players refusing to enter games and/or leaving the team only to return later, the first NCAA whiff in an eligible year in twenty seasons… but it’s been off-court issues that have also plagued Gillispie since his arrival in the Bluegrass that have amplified what goodwill he might otherwise have been afforded.
His first year was filled with rumors of bar scenes where an inebriated Gillispie would make a fool of himself, getting to the point where UK was alleged to have hired a driver to keep him off the roads (even if unsubstantiated, the public perception was already enabled). This led to speculation as to why Gillispie wouldn’t sign his contract with UK – instead working under a two-page Memorandum of Understanding – and subsequent allegations that his do-nothingness belied a motivation to avoid inclusion of a “morality clause” into the document. Then there were the mystifyingly chilly interviews with ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards during the middle of this season, where “Billy Clyde” came off as a condescending putz unable to maintain decorum (with a lady, no less) in a public setting. Sadly for Kentucky fans, a traditional bunch, these acts of show-your-arse by Gillispie fit the already-established narrative that their coach was a tough guy to deal with.
As we all know, there are two parts to any job – the outcomes side and the political side. If you’re really good at outcomes and miserable at politicking, you can still skate by for a good while before the pitchforks catch up to you. However, if you’re patently unexceptional when it comes to outcomes and still miserable at the political side, good luck finding people who will support you when the barbarians are ultimately at the gate. And at a program like Kentucky, the barbarians are never too far from the gate. That’s where Gillispie is right now. Had he come in two years ago and lit a fire under the UK program to the point where the Cats were still playing in the NCAAs, much of his general surliness and extracurricular activities, whatever they are, would be brushed aside. But there’s a pervading sense around UK that the much-maligned previous coach, Tubby Smith, could have taken a team with two all-americans to a (severely diluted) SEC title and/or the first round of the NCAAs. Gillispie couldn’t even do that.
So for Gillispie the equation looks like this – outcomes: mediocre + politics: miserable = join the rest of us in the unemployment line.
The question will now become… who? where? when? One would think Billy Donovan (yes, him again), Travis Ford, Darrin Horn and even John Pelphrey would be on the short list of hopefuls. Even John Calipari is purportedly intrigued. It should definitely make for an interesting next couple of weeks as the shakedowns begin in earnest.