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May 28, 2009

Kentucky Really Needs to Start Doing the Opposite

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 2:25 pm

I dissent from those who say that Billy Gillispie was “a terrible hire” at Kentucky. Nothing about the year that Texas A&M had in 2006-07 spelled impending disaster for the coach. I think it rather more likely that his incredibly rapid ascent up the coaching ladder–going from UTEP to UK in just 1100 days–simply unmoored him, rendering him a worse coach than he’d been before. So, no, I don’t think the Wildcats were necessarily “wrong” to hire Gillispie.

But I will grant you this. Since the moment Kentucky decided that Gillispie was their man in early April of 2007, every significant decision and/or action that the University has made with regard to its basketball program has been 180 degrees wrong:

1. On April 6, 2007, Kentucky signed Gillispie to a Memorandum of Understanding that included a buyout pegged at $1.5 million per year for every season remaining on his contract in the event of his firing. Even in the heady pre-Great Recession days of 2007, a $1.5 million-per-season buyout wasn’t chicken feed. More to the point, it was wildly inflated and unnecessary for Gillispie in particular, a legendarily single-minded coach who plainly would have taken a vow of celibacy if it meant he’d get the job at Kentucky. 

2. During their coach’s two-season tenure, UK failed to sign Gillispie to a contract that would supersede the MOU. The university blames their ex-coach for refusing to sign. That may indeed have been the case, but failure to close the deal could harm only Kentucky. The failure is thus theirs alone. 

3. On March 27, 2009, Kentucky fired Gillispie in a hurry, saying goodbye to their coach without coming to terms on a buyout. Now UK will repent at leisure. Yesterday in Dallas Gillispie filed suit in federal court to recoup $6 million, a development that, incredibly, seems to have caught UK by surprise. I am surprised they are surprised. After all, every ex-coach in Gillispie’s situation has an ex-coach star to steer by: former Ohio State coach Jim O’Brien.

4. On April 1, 2009, Kentucky hired Memphis coach John Calipari knowing full well, they now tell us, that Calipari’s program was being investigated by the NCAA. True, it could well be that Calipari knew nothing of shady doings related to Derrick Rose and an SAT whose results may or may not have been fraudulent. But if you’re Kentucky and you have knowledge of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, do you really go ahead and pull the trigger on the Calipari hire?

Indiana raised some eyebrows in 2006 by hiring Kelvin Sampson at a time when he was under NCAA investigation at Oklahoma. Say this for the Hoosiers, though: at least Sampson’s status was public knowledge. By contrast Kentucky gives the appearance of having hustled Calipari into town furtively before the news could gum up their plans. (Nor has the administration at the University of Memphis exactly been a model of transparency.) Moreover, the fact that the UK president, Lee T. Todd, Jr., and athletic director, Mitch Barnhart, knew of the NCAA allegations but apparently did not brief the university’s trustees makes the whole hiring decision look unseemly.

Todd and Barnhart are now captives to whatever Calipari’s future and closet may hold in store. The two Kentucky officials may want to ask former Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan how the same kind of captivity treated him. 

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