Deciphering the Firing of Billy Gillispie: On, Off-Court Issues Discussed

Jonathan LintnerSenior Analyst IMarch 28, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 28: Billy Gillispie the Head Coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to his team during the SEC game against the LSU Tigers at Rupp Arena on February 28, 2009 in Lexington, Kentucky. LSU won 73-70. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

There are two sides to the Billy Gillispie coaching situation at Kentucky.


One contingent of fans will argue that Gillispie was fired due to his antics and personality, not potential coaching ability. Others will tell you the second-year coach, one with a history of winning, wasn’t finding the same success at Kentucky as he did at other universities.


B/R writers Jimmy Smith and Jonathan Lintner debate why Gillispie was fired—because he’s certainly not about to tell us.



Jonathan: Billy Gillispie was fired for one reason, and that’s lack of production.


It was always known he had weird tendencies and behaviors, but all that was shoved under the rug when Kentucky opened conference play 5-0 and reentered the polls in January.


Then the season started to fall apart. The Wildcats dropped eight of their final 11 games in SEC play and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991.


When the going got tough, fans blamed the coach. Gillispie would be firmly planted as Kentucky’s head coach if his team had taken the floor in the Sweet 16 rather than take a 10-point loss to Notre Dame in the NIT.


For the same reasons Tubby Smith was forced out three years ago, Gillispie hits the road unemployed. He was good, but not good enough.


I look at Gillispie as the opposite of Bob Knight. Knight, the longtime coach of Indiana and Texas Tech known for having a poor relationship to the media. It didn’t help that he brought a very “in-your-face” type of attitude to the locker room.


Despite all his issues, Knight won, and his shortcomings as a person were outweighed by the ability to do what he was hired to do.


Gillispie, meanwhile, seemed distant a Kentucky. After losing to Georgia at home late in the season, he reportedly failed to address his team, only announcing the next day’s practice time.


It didn’t work out for Gillispie at Kentucky, but turn 22-14 into a sub ten-loss season with the current talent and firing is the farthest thing from athletic director Mitch Barnhart’s mind.


They might have given him a contract too.



Jimmy: Billy Gillispie’s downfall was not caused by his on the court successes, but his off-the-court mishaps.


Understanding the culture of Kentucky basketball will only help someone succeed as coach at Kentucky. The obsessed fanbase, the touchy media, and the high expectations can make any coach feel uncomfortable, but overcoming those three objections is what it takes to succeed at Kentucky.


Billy Gillispie in his two monotonous seasons at the University of Kentucky had a roller coaster of emotions circulate through his program. It began with a sweltering loss to the infamous Gardner-Webb Bulldogs, and then led to back-to-back home victories over top 15-ranked Vanderbilt and Tennessee.


His demise began with a loss to the lowly Virginia Military Institute Keydets, which cultivated into heart-breaking losses to Louisville and LSU this season. However, Gillispie’s undoing wasn’t due to his record, or lack thereof.


No, Gillispie could not handle the cult that is Kentucky basketball. Along with the job that is the Head Coach at the most prestigious program in College Basketball, there comes a duty to become the icon that represents what the program and its fans strive for. That entails speaking openly to the media, interacting with the fan base, and making the Kentucky program stick out in a friendly and good manner.


Being the coach means understanding the culture of Kentucky and its love for the game.

As much coaching and recruiting ability that Gillispie has, he seriously lacks all things it takes to represent Kentucky.


His stubborn attitude, his quirky inflection, and his overall awkward nature make things very uncomfortable when it comes to dealing with the media and interacting with the overzealous fanbase.


Being a jerk to a lady reporter on the biggest sports conglomerate and being short with the lead radio broadcaster for your school is no way to help your somewhat tarnished image. Despite what people outside the fan base may think about Gillispie being fired, it was time for a change.


As unfortunate as that may sound, there is no other for Gillispie to understand that he was not just a coach, but an icon, that is the culture of Kentucky basketball.