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Profile of a Possible Savior: Billy Clyde Gillispie

 

Am I going here?  Oh yes, yes I am.

 

For the record, this is not going to happen, in my opinion.  But let’s play what if:



 

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

No.  In seven seasons as a head coach at three different schools, BCG made the NCAAs four times and reached the Sweet 16 once.  That team, his last edition at Texas A&M, finished in the top 10 in the AP and Coaches’ polls, the highest in school history.  But the track record is not long enough to meet this criteria.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Yes, twice.  UTEP was his first stop, and he took over a team that had gone 9-21 the prior year, went 6-24 his first year, but then won the regular season conference title with a 24-8 record after being picked 9th preseason.

The turnaround at Texas A&M was even more dramatic.  TAMU was 0-16 in the Big 12 the year before Gillispie took over from former UNC-C head man Melvin Watkins.  (Note:  The TAMU Men’s Basketball Wikipedia page describes the period from 1990 until Gillispie under the heading, “The Dark Ages.”  Someone needs to do that for our wikipedia page, stat.)  He promptly won 21 games, 8-8 in conference, in his first year, went to the NCAAs in his second year for the first time in about 20 years (despite losing a top player to the draft), and as noted finished in the top 10 in his last year before moving to Kentucky.  Mark Turgeon has basically maintained Gillispie’s success at TAMU since then.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

Well, he’s not at a program now.  We’ve discussed UTEP and TAMU, so let’s talk Kentucky.  

As touched on in Akula’s profile of Tubby Smith, the Kentucky roster was relatively destitute when Gillispie took over.  UK made the NCAAs in year one and had a 12-4 SEC record, but were only 18-13 overall.  It speaks volumes about the dearth of talent inherited by BCG that this performance earned him Co-SEC COY honors.

In year two, they slid back to 8-8 and an NIT bid.  After the season Gillispie was more or less fired.  The reasons why are murky and were in fact the subject of litigation, which was settled with Gillispie getting almost $3 million.  Somewhat bizarrely, he signed a “memorandum of understanding” after being hired but never signed a formal contract, and Kentucky tried to not pay his buyout.  

It’s clear that his results the first two years were not up to UK standards, however, it seems that his firing had as much or more to do with off-court problems as those on the court.  Specifically, he clearly had an awful working relationship with his AD, and he also had problems dealing with the media.  If you look at the Kentucky blog linked in Akula’s post on Tubby at the entries from that time period, you’ll see that opinions were very divided on Gillispie as the time but a sizeable faction thought he deserved more time and that the AD/Admin botched the situation badly.  Of course, all was well when they hired Calipari.  You know, like what would have happened here if Fowler had closed the deal.  Aww dammit.

Also, and I’m not sure where to put this, but his very detailed Wikipedia page was either written by BCG himself or his biggest fan.  It’s positively glowing, glosses over the bad stuff, and includes the following bizarre rationalization:  “Although Gillispie continued to take the blame for Kentucky's woes, he was also a victim of some of his youthful and inexperienced recruits' underperformance and the lack of consistent play at the point guard position. Gillispie continued to publicly encourage his players and praise their work ethic despite the team's inconsistent play during the 2008–09 season. Such encouragement manifested itself in Gillispie's public statements criticizing his players after close losses.”  Um, WTF?

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

Succeeded twice, failed once.  No long term (i.e., more than a few years) success anywhere.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

Of course, and prior to becoming a head coach he was an assistant at Illinois under Bill Self and also an assistant at Baylor.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

N/A.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

Yes.  His two Kentucky teams, for all their problems, were 44th and 34th in Ken Pom’s defense numbers.  Strong FG% defense, particularly 2 point FG% defense, was the calling card.  For what it’s worth, offensive numbers were respectable but not as good, and in particular ghastly turnover numbers, which may have had something to do with lacking a functional PG.

Defense at TAMU was stellar:  Top 10 his last two seasons, top 70 his first year.  They were 240th in Melvin Watkins’ last year.  Strong FG% defense was again the hallmark but they also forced turnovers.

On a down note, his teams generally don’t seem to be great at rebounding.

8. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that Gillispie can recruit. Wikipedia, take it away:

“Gillispie is known as an excellent recruiter who has managed to put together four straight top-25 recruiting classes.”

“Gillispie moved to Division I college basketball as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Baylor University under head coach Harry Miller. Miller and Gillispie had coached against each other in the same high school district as late as two years earlier, with Miller at Temple High. The school's 1996 recruiting class was ranked as high as number 6 in the nation.”

“With Gillispie's assistance, Illinois landed a top 10 recruiting class in 2002.”[

“In his first season as a head coach, the UTEP Miners finished a dismal 6–24. Despite the poor showing, Gillispie put his recruiting expertise to work so that his first recruiting class ranked in the top 25 in the country and included Filiberto Rivera, the 2003 National Junior College Player of the Year, and Omar Thomas, the all-time leading scorer in junior college basketball.[

“Between April 29 and May 7, 2008, Billy Gillispie made recruiting waves by snagging commitments from five players spread over five different classes, most notably the commitment on May 1 of Thousand Oaks, California 8th-grader Michael Avery. Avery, a member of the class of 2012, gave the University of Kentucky its earliest basketball commitment in the history of the program. The commitment also earned national scrutiny for Coach Gillispie and the university, but no there were no violations of the NCAA recruiting rules.[22] During his tenure at Kentucky, Gillispie snagged numerous high profile recruits. These included three 5* recruits according to Scout.com (Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton & Dominique Ferguson) and five 4* recruits (Alex Legion, DeAndre Liggins, Darius Miller, Kevin Galloway and Jon Hood).”

Etc.

9. Does he run the Princeton offense?

Does not look like it.  Tempo-wise his teams have varied but tended towards a moderately slow pace (but that may have as much to do with their stifling defense as anything – tempo is two-faceted of course).  They generally did not take many threes.  Here’s a post from the UK blog on what to expect from BCG based on his TAMU stint; I don’t know if this is how it played out at Kentucky.

http://www.aseaofblue.com/2007/6/19/91052/5535

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

No.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

Well, gee.  There’s the very ugly flame-out at UK, where BCG seems to have not been totally, or even primarily, at fault, but it’s still a very ugly thing to have happen at his last job.

More disturbing is the fact that he’s been arrested three times for drunk driving (though his Wikipedia page reminds us that the charge was dismissed once and on another occasion he pled it down to a lesser offense).  It was reported that after his last arrest in the fall of 09 (after he was fired at UK) he entered rehab.

There’s the somewhat infamous story about his work habits from his time at Texas A&M:  Marriage disintegrated because he worked constantly, stayed at the office until 2-3 AM regularly watching tape, fridge sat empty for 6 months because he had no time to go grocery shopping, etc.

At UK, he apparently did not play nice with the media or have much use for schmoozing with boosters.

And you have to wonder if his recruiting prowess is totally on the up and up.  That said, he’s never been accused of anything as best I can tell.

Summary:

Would he be better than Sid?

Assuming that he didn’t get fired for drunk driving or something like that, yes.

Would he be better than Herb?

Same comments as to Sid.

Would he take the job if offered?

Not only would he take it, but per a series of recent twitters by Sports by Brooks, he is actively looking at jobs, ours included, and has been scouting the high school ranks for two years and “will bring players with him.”  Shades of Butch Davis recruiting for UNC before he was officially hired.

How would I feel if he were hired?

You may remember that two years ago in the April time frame rumors were swirling that (1) Jed Fowler was out, and (2) Sid was too.  At the time, and this was right after BCG’s firing, there were credible-sounding rumors from both the UK and NCSU sides online about some connection between Gillispie and State.  That Gillispie would get hired if Sid left and would bring mega-recruit Daniel Orton along.

My gut reaction was, “**** it.  Let’s do it.” 

That was one DUI arrest and two more crappy seasons ago.  In general, I don’t think my opinion has changed much.

You’d have to vet him carefully.  Has he gotten the drinking problem under control?  Has he mellowed out a bit (but not too much)?  Has he learned from what went wrong at UK?

It did not work out at UK, but that’s a massive pressure cooker and it clearly was not the right fit on either side.  NC State may not be the right fit, either.  And he’s damaged goods now.  But if you look at what he did prior to UK and compared it to anyone on the rational list outside of guys who we probably have no chance of getting (Barnes, Dixon, etc.)…and there’s no comparison.  Even at Kentucky, it wasn’t disastrous on court and you could (and many did) make a reasonable argument that he was in the process of fixing up Tubby’s poor roster and turning things around.

So if our choice is BCG or someone like Keno Davis or Chris Mooney…bring on Billy Clyde, I say.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

Insert picture of “Battle of Armageddon” here.  It would make HerbKampf look like a reasoned, calm, polite debate.

And if you think the media hates us now…

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