Billy Gillispie: SEC Coach of the Year?

Tim PollockSenior Writer IMarch 15, 2008

For the record, I think Billy Gillispie is a great basketball coach. 

There is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to make improvements at Kentucky.  While he clearly has work ahead of him, I see the Wildcats becoming a force again in the near future.

That said, the recent naming of Gillispie as SEC Co-Coach of the Year this season (along with Bruce Pearl) is a travesty.

Before you Kentucky fans get bent out of shape, how were you feeling about Gillispie after the Gardner-Webb debacle?

How about after the four-game losing streak that ended with UAB and Houston—and left your overall record at 4-5?  How did you feel January 19th, after your seventh loss in a row to Florida brought your record to 7-9?

I don’t recall many "Billy Gillispie for Coach of the Year" signs floating around Rupp Arena then. If anything, ‘Cats fans were calling for Gillispie’s head. 

“Ten-loss Tubby”?  Gillispie had 10 losses by January.

Speaking of Tubby Smith, Kentucky was 22-12 last year, including an easy first round tournament upset over Villanova and a second round loss to top-seeded Kansas. 

The only significant player lost from last year was Randolph Morris, who averaged 16.1 ppg and 7.8 rebounds per game.  Patrick Patterson, one of the best freshmen in the nation, put up almost identical numbers at 16.4 and 7.7 this season.  So Morris’s loss is a wash. 

The myth that Gillispie inherited a bare cupboard couldn’t be more untrue. 

In addition to the freshman phenom Patterson, Gillispie also benefited from the return of Kentucky’s dynamic backcourt—Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, who averaged 13.4 ppg and 14.0 ppg, respectively, last season. 

This season, both players upped their point production.  Bradley not only averaged 16.0 ppg, but he was also named to the SEC defensive team.  Joe Crawford led the team in scoring with 17.1 ppg.

Bradley was named to the first team All-SEC while Crawford and Patterson were named to the second team.  Kentucky is the only team other than Tennessee to have three players represented on those teams.

Plenty of coaches would love to deal with the problem of having three all-conference players. 

Yet Gillispie somehow gets credit for “getting so much out of so little.”

From there, it’s almost creepy how similar last year’s stats are to this year’s stats for the rest of the team. 

Overall, it’s essentially the same team, even down to Jodie Meeks’ inability to play up to his potential.  And save the “he was injured!” argument.  Injuries are a part of the game.  We’re talking about a kid who averaged eight ppg last season.

So Tubby gets run out of town after going 22-12, but Gillispie gets an award for an 18-11 record?  Am I the only one confused by this logic?


Gillispie had success this year from January 22nd to March 9th—or roughly 37 days of a 121-day regular season—when Kentucky ripped off wins in 11 of their last 13 games. 

Of those 13 games, only three were against ranked opponents (two against Tennessee and one against Vanderbilt), and Kentucky went 1-2 in those games.  The win over the Vols was huge, but the 41-point embarrassment at Vanderbilt is inexcusable.


A 41-point loss to a 10-6 conference foe in the midst of a big win-streak?  Let’s start handing out trophies to Mark Gottfried and Jeff Lebo while we’re at it.

The other 10 teams the Wildcats beat had a combined conference record of 48-72.  In other words, Kentucky was feasting on bottom-feeders of the mediocre SEC.   

Billy Donovan is a humble guy, and he certainly wouldn’t voice his displeasure to the media, but the man has to be irritated—and perhaps his recent negative comments about his own team are indicative of this. 

After all of his accomplishments, Donovan has never been named SEC Coach of the Year, which continues to be one of the biggest jokes in SEC basketball history. 

Donovan has a career winning percentage of .717 at Florida.  He owns four SEC East titles and three overall SEC titles. Before this season, Donovan’s teams had won 18 straight postseason victories, including nine in a row in the SEC tournament. 

Most importantly, Donovan has taken Florida to three Final Fours and three National Championships.  Last year’s team was the first to win back-to-back National Championships since the Dukies did it in the early 90s. 

Yet Gillispie, the guy who was Plan B for Kentucky (to Donovan, of course), wins the award in his first SEC season, in a year when the SEC is arguably at its lowest point in some time.

Gillispie isn’t leaving Lexington anytime soon.  To me, it seems premature to give him Coach of the Year now, when there was already a clear-cut winner in Bruce Pearl. One could even argue that Mississippi State’s Rick Stansbury had more claim to the award than Gillispie. 

Why not wait to see if and when Gillispie can actually put together a year that all Kentucky fans are waiting for?