A month ago, Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin was the butt of all jokes around the SEC.
Columnists like Paul Finebaum were calling for his head simply because he’d said some cocky (and incorrect) things.
But the conference-wide beating had more to do with piling on than with what the young coach had said.
As someone who works in the media, I can tell you that there is an “oh, you’re going to be arrogant…then see how you like this” mentality among some writers.
Those folks are now turning their poison pens toward Kentucky’s Billy Gillispie.
Has he been a jerk to ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards? Yes.
Are his substitution patterns hard to decipher? Yes. (Though tell me a coach whose fanbase doesn’t ask, “why isn’t he playing so-and-so?”)
Are there rumors about his social life? His oddball personality?
Yes, yes, yes, a thousand times, yes.
So, it’s now become fashionable to let Gillispie have it. He’s now wearing the “kick me” sign that Kiffin wore in February.
And maybe he deserves it.
But here are the issues I have with this feeding frenzy.
Tennessee fans have been upset with Bruce Pearl this season—a man who built the program in the snap of his fingers. Florida fans have been upset with Billy Donovan this season—a man who has won two national titles in the last four years.
Fanbases are fickle. All of them. Everywhere. They’re spoiled, fickle bunches that expect greatness and won’t suffer disappointments. So, the fact that UK fans are giving up on a guy less than two full seasons into his tenure doesn’t surprise me. But that doesn’t make it right.
I also seem to recall the Wildcat faithful praising the hire when it was made. As is the case with every fanbase, give it a month, and the newly hired coach is “the best man for the job” (see: Gene Chizik at Auburn and Kiffin at Tennessee). That all goes to hell with the first game a coach actually loses.
Now, the man who was praised as the perfect fit is a complete idiot. I find it hard to believe that either extreme is true.
Gillispie "Has a Clue"
When a former player like Mike Casey says that Gillispie “has no clue as to what’s going on in the game,” it makes Casey sound like a bitter, old ballplayer.
Gillispie’s record in the four seasons prior to arriving in Lexington was 94-34 with three NCAA Tournament bids at UTEP and Texas A&M.
So, I think he might really “have a clue” as to how to coach basketball.
Is Gillispie really tearing down the Kentucky program? There’s a lot of talk about double-digit losses this season, but in actuality, Kentucky has lost double-digit games in seven of the last 10 seasons.
They’ve lost 12 or more in the last three seasons...and only one of those seasons came under Gillispie’s watch.
So, is Gillispie really the problem? Or are Kentucky fans, who’d gone the entire decade of the '90s without a double-digit loss season, just lashing out, angry that they’re now a basketball mortal like everyone else?
Let me make one thing clear: I’m no Gillispie apologist. I simply believe he deserves a four-year window to see what he can do. If things get worse next year, which is possible, then okay, maybe it’s a three-year window.
But the idea that he deserves to be run out of town less than two seasons into his job is ridiculous. And people suggesting that he doesn’t know anything about basketball sound like foolish over-reactionaries.
Things can change if given time. Mike Krzyzewski was 62-57 after his first four seasons at Duke. Not that Gillispie will turn into Krzyzewski, but Coach K wouldn’t have become Coach K if he’d been blown up after his second season.