The Audacity of Arrogance: Why Fans Get the Coaches They Deserve
Two days before Easter, 2007, Billy Gillispie was announced as the 20th head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
Thousands of fans and students poured in to Memorial Coliseum to see the new coach and one student showed up with a sign reading:
A savior with only five years of head coaching experience?
A savior whose greatest coaching accomplishment was beating Louisville in a second round NCAA Tournament game?
A savior with rumored personal problems centering around excessive drinking and two DUI arrests?
However, he was a savior nonetheless.
Ten years under the leadership of Tubby Smith had become two years too many for Kentucky fans, and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart agreed.
Tubby Smith's sin wasn't that the program descended into a trainwreck like North Carolina did under Matt Doherty.
His sin was that he didn't give Kentucky fans what they felt they were entitled to.
There is a common belief among Kentucky basketball fans that "the name on the front of the jersey wins games," that the tradition and history of the program is what makes it elite, and that somehow Tubby Smith threw it all away because he was lazy and stubborn.
In Smith's last two seasons, Kentucky finished 44-25 and won 63.8 percent of their games with schedules ranked 12th and first in the nation, respectively.
The sky was falling.
In the state of Nebraska, football is just as important as college basketball is in Kentucky.
Nebraska is a football state with no pro teams and the entire state literally stops on Saturday afternoons in the fall. The same is true with Kentucky and their love for the Wildcats on the hardwood.
For 24 years, Dr. Tom Osborne could do no wrong and was easily the most popular man in the state of Nebraska.
With a record of 255-49-3, a .836 winning percentage, and three National Championships, Osborne was a man impossible to replace.
Frank Solich, Osborne's successor, was a man with an impossible job. He was a very good coach who was hampered with one major problem.
He wasn't Tom Osborne.
In six seasons at Nebraska, Solich went 81-45, winning 75 percent of his games, yet he was a victim of Tom Osborne's success and fan entitlement.
Like Kentucky basketball fans, Nebraska fans wondered how Frank Solich could screw things up so badly, and there was no doubt he had to go.
Solich was an incompetent coach who had allowed the program to slip, and any coach would be better than what they had.
During his 10 years at Kentucky, Tubby Smith had a 263-83 record, a National Championship, and a .760 winning percentage, ranking him second among all Kentucky coaches with more than one year of tenure.
However, in retrospect, Tubby Smith was a man with an impossible job. He was a very good coach who was hampered with one major problem.
He wasn't Rick Pitino.
However, at some point he became an incompetent coach who had allowed the program to slip, and any coach would be better than what they had.
Enter the Bills.
Bill Callahan and Billy Gillispie took over programs where they were going to become the saviors. After all, they couldn't do any worse than the two jokes who came before them.
Solich and Tubby were the men who killed the golden goose, and the Bills were going to be the saviors who would take their programs back to where fans felt they deserved to be.
However, things didn't work out that way.
Callahan came into Lincoln with a stubborn determination that he was going to run a high octane offense at a school with players suited to run the option. The result was a four-year tenure with a 27-22 record.
Gillispie came into Lexington with a stubborn determination that he was going to play only man-to-man defense and center his offense around guards that would shoot 20 times a game. The result has been a two-year tenure of 37-23 and a team at risk of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 17 years.
As bad as Nebraska fans felt Solich was, he was nowhere near as bad as Callahan, and as bad as Kentucky fans felt Tubby Smith was, he was nowhere near as bad as Gillispie has proven to be.
Solich never had a losing record, he never had home losses to schools like Southern Miss, and he never was an utter embarrassment to his fan base.
Tubby Smith was never in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, he never had home losses to schools like Gardner-Webb, San Diego, and VMI, and he was never an utter embarrassment to his fan base.
The root cause of these problems rests not in the Bills who were both clearly in over their heads at their respective schools, but rather with the fans.
Fans who became too spoiled and too arrogant with their past success.
Fans who felt entitled to wins and had an overinflated view of their respective programs, and fans who never recognized the realities of college athletics.
The fact is that elite programs become elite not because of the size of their fan base or because of their name value.
Programs don't make coaches elite, elite coaches make programs elite.
Coaches like Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, Adolph Rupp, and Rick Pitino made their respective programs, and to use a cliche, they don't grow on trees.
There are only a handful of these types of elite coaches and the fact is that most Mike Krzyzewskis and Pete Carrolls aren't going anywhere, so at some point programs might have to be content with just being pretty good.
However, "pretty good" wasn't good enough for Nebraska football and Kentucky basketball fans, so they rolled the dice and got what they deserved.
Bill Callahan and Billy Gillispie.
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