The Kentucky Wildcats' Situation…

Kurt WirthCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2009

So, just two seasons after fans were clamoring over Gillispie, who had been hired after impressive turnarounds at Texas El-Paso and then Texas A&M, the three-time Big 12 coach of the year and reigning SEC co-coach of the year has been let go.
The Wildcats this year missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 years, after finishing the regular season 19-12 and 8-8 against a weak Southeastern Conference. After jumping out to a 5-0 start to league play, the Wildcats collapsed and lost three-straight.

Inconsistency has been the trademark of Gillispie’s teams at Kentucky, despite sporting two of the nation’s best players at their respective positions in big-man Patrick Patterson and the SEC’s leading scorer Jodie Meeks.

In addition, the Big Blue started one of the nation’s most gifted freshmen in Darius Miller.

So what went wrong, was it fair, and what happens now?

All too often coaches become successful at smaller and lesser-known institutions because of their ability to recruit. Average, or even poor, floor-coaches step into a program and vault it into respectability on their recruiting prowess alone. It seems as if this was the case for Gillispie.

Gillispie looked nothing but out of place and lost every moment he stepped onto the court for Kentucky.

The Wildcats were beyond painful to watch this season for the lack of offense, which would stagnate for over five minutes a game nearly every outing. The program was clearly nosediving, and it was clearly Gillispie’s fault.

Taking the latter into consideration, the move to let Billy G. go seems to me a logical one. This is NOT to say that most UK coaches are treated fairly—they’re not. And I am not ignoring the fact that Kentucky fans place a suffocating amount of pressure on their head coaches—they do.

Such was the case with Tubby Smith, the previous UK coach who has suddenly taken Big Ten cellar-dweller Minnesota into the limelight at the Big Blue have been tanking. HE, my friends, was treated unfairly. Gillispie however, was not.

I admire Kentucky fans. The pressure, the intensity, the passion—it’s all rather intoxicating. The very soul which is Kentucky basketball simply can’t be matched anywhere else in the nation, in any sport.

Kentucky fans will rarely be happy with their head coach, and if they happen to be it won’t be for long. Whether it’s unfair, immoral or damaging is simply irrelevant. This is Kentucky basketball, and this is the experience of Kentucky basketball coaches. You either succeed and deal with it, or you don’t. Gillispie wasn’t able to do either.

As for the future, it is a rather uncertain time for Wildcat fans. Meeks, Liggins, and Patterson have all suggested that their decision on their respective futures will hinge on today’s decision. There is also now a coaching vacancy to fill at one of the nation’s most premier men’s basketball institutions.

Early speculation leans in favor of John Calipari of Memphis. I, however, would quickly compare Calipari to Gillispie.

It’s impossible to lose at Memphis—a ridiculous recruiting base, a very weak conference, guaranteed NCAA Tournament bids with seeds no less than three and the recruits are guaranteed exposure to both the national media and NBA scouts.

The situation has won at Memphis, not Calipari. When his team’s talent and athleticism fails to win the Tigers ballgames, they lose. Calipari’s coaching doesn’t win the team games, and thus Mitch Barnhart—athletic director of Kentucky—would be sorely mistaken to hire him.

A better fit would be Travis Ford of Oklahoma State. This man has built Eastern Kentucky and Massachusetts from nearly the ground up, and has already vastly improved the situation at Oklahoma State in his first season there, taking the team to its first NCAA appearance since 2004-05.

Collegiate basketball fans can only sit back and see if UK will make the right choice.

Though lots of things are in doubt in Lexington, this much can be for sure: the decision to release Gillispie was the right one.