Will Billy Gillispie Be Gone?

Wes MillerCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 12:  Head coach Billy Gillispie of the Kentucky Wildcats reacts to a call during the game against the Ole Miss Rebels during the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 12, 2009 at The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Through hard work, an excellent basketball mind and even more hard work, Gillispie worked his magic at UTEP, at Texas A&M and earned the spot at perhaps the nation's premeire and certainly the nation's most rabid basketball program, the University of Kentucky.

Friday, though, after just two years in the hotbed that is Kentucky basketball, Gillispie might just take the first tumble of his brilliant career. ESPN is reporting that he will be fired. The Lexington Herald-Leader is reporting that no decision will be made until Friday.

In any case, University of Kentucky president Lee T. Dodd Jr. and athletic director Mitch Barnhart are expected to make a decision on Gillispie's future before the weekend.

Whether he is fired or whether he is retained, Gillispie has established himself as one of the top basketball coaches in the country.

He has made the journey from ahigh school coach earning thousands of dollars to a multimillion-dollar contract at Kentucky. Gillispie left UTEP making $175,000 a year for Texas A&M and a contract worth $800,000 a year.

He received a raise there before his first year was over, after his Aggies beat the University of Texas. Gillispie was making more than a million dollars a year at A&M—and now much more than that at Kentucky.

The Lexington Herald-Leader is currently asking the question on-line: Is it fair to fire Billy Gillispie after two years?

El Pasoan Clement Marcus has been to Lexington, seen the scene.

"I was at a mall and I met a woman who said she prayed for Kentucky basketball every night," he said. "She said their expectations were to win the national championship every year. I asked her if that wasn't unrealistic and she said no."

El Pasoan Maynard Haddad said, "I know a guy who was a good friend with Tubby Smith when he was the head coach there. I mean they traveled and they were close friends. He said to me that Tubby had to go because he wasn't recruiting well. That was his friend talking. That's the mentality there."

Rick Pitino, who served a stint as Kentucky basketball coach, once called the program "the Roman Empire of college basketball."

Stull said, "Kentucky is one of the highest profile, if not the most high profile, jobs in college basketball. The scrutiny, the attention, everything about it is at a higher level, is so much more intense."

Gillispie has made a legendary run through the college ranks. His first team at UTEP went 6-24 and his second went 24-8, tying for the best single season turnaround in the history of college basketball.

Texas A&M went 0-16 in Big 12 play the year before Gillispie arrived. His Aggie teams went 21-10, 22-9 and 27-7, going to the NIT the first year and the NCAA Tournament the next two. Aggie students, who had ignored basketball games previously, had to go to a lottery system just to get in the arena.

Now Gillispie has gone 18-13 and 22-14 at Kentucky. He was the Western Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2004, the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2005 and 2007 and the Southeastern Conference co-Coach of the Year in 2008.

But now he is awaiting his fate.

Regardless of that fate Friday, El Pasoans believe in Billy Gillispie.

"I really liked Billy when he was here," said long time Miner fan Amen Ayoub. "I was sorry to see him go.

"But I understood. What he is going through now at Kentucky is a crime. Two years is not long enough to turn a program around. It is criminal. But Billy is a survivor. He will land with both feet on the ground."

Marcus said, "Billy got my daughter to go to school at Kentucky. He recruited her and she is working in his office. He is a dear friend. But, in spite of that, the man has been coach of the year three of the last five years.

"He has recruited one of the top centers in the country for next year. He has a great redshirt sitting out. He has (Patrick) Patterson and Jodie Meeks. Billy took us from the gutter and turned our program around. He is a great human being and a great coach."

Haddad said, "Billy Clyde Gillispie is my friend and he will always be my friend. When he went to A&M I told him, Billy, that is the worst basketball job in the country. It's a horrible program. He goes down there and woke them up. He stepped into another hot box at Kentucky.

"I said that within two or three years he will be in the national championship game. If they leave him alone, he will. If they let him go, they are making a big mistake. But I will stay with Billy Clyde his whole life. He's that kind of guy."