Billy Gillispie's future at Texas Tech is in question.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The last time I talked with Billy Gillispie, it was a month after he had mismanaged himself out of the job of a lifetime – head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.
I tried to talk basketball or horse racing. Baseball was the primary thing on Gillispie's mind. It was typical Gillispie. I'll explain.
Today Gillispie is reportedly resting in a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, dealing with blood pressure issues. His job as the head coach at Texas Tech, his career as a major-college coach and his life are upside down – again. Media reports percolate about his bizarre behavior and treatment of players and associates, scarily similar to the stories that percolated after he was dismissed by UK after two strange seasons.
Some believe Gillispie is done at Texas Tech. Wednesday night the school announced that the coach has already been reprimanded for exceeding NCAA practice-time limits.
No way he'll be back for a second season with the Red Raiders. If the stories written by Jeff Goodman at CBSSports.com are true, Gillispie should be done.
There are allegations that he forced injured players to practice, something we heard during his time at Kentucky. At UK there were always stories about his ridiculous game-day practices. Goodman said that players told him Gillispie disregarded the NCAA weekly practice limitations and that he played mind games with job offers. Under Gillispie, Texas Tech has lost more players and staff members than games in one season – and the Red Raiders lost 23 games.
Gillispie doesn't need a job coaching college athletes. He needs help. Gillispie should step away and get the coaching that he needs.
Goodman's stories certainly suggest that things are worse for Gillispie now than they were on that spring morning in 2009.
Gillispie was standing outside Rachel Alexandra's barn on the backstretch of Churchill Downs, waiting for the great filly to emerge for her bath. Billy Clyde Gillispie stood away from a knot of media members, by himself, wearing sunglasses, a dark golf polo and his trademark grin.
I wanted to talk horse racing, maybe get his Derby pick and then ask how he was progressing after losing one of the best jobs in sports. Gillispie wanted to talk baseball, perhaps because we'd talked baseball before and he remembered how closely I follow the major-leagues. He loved the give and take.
I asked for his Derby pick. He wouldn't make one. I wasn't surprised. I'd also asked for his Derby picks in 2007 and 2008 -- without success. He'd talk horses. But no Derby picks. Gillispie didn't want to upset any trainers or owners by not picking their horses.
He told me to keep my eyes on his favorite baseball team – the Texas Rangers. He was convinced they were ready to win big. I argued that Texas didn't have the pitching. He started naming the members of the Rangers' starting rotation and explaining why I was wrong.
We shook hands. I walked toward the barn of a Derby horse. Gillispie moved in the opposite direction. He took about a dozen steps, turned and called in my direction.
"Rick," Gillispie said, "you're wrong about the Rangers. They have enough pitching. Believe me, they do."
That was it. That was Billy Gillispie, a guy who was sometimes eager to connect, but who often operated on a different frequency, trying to engage in a conversation about baseball while refusing to talk about horse racing or basketball.
For nearly the last 3-1/2 years, I've followed Gillispie through his friends and media reports. I wondered if he'd be able to turn around his career – and, at times, his life. He's struggled. One report had him in a substance abuse program. Another said that a friend who worked in investments had blown every bit of the nearly $3 million settlement Gillispie received from UK. He was out of the game that he loves for two seasons.
Kansas coach Bill Self, one of Gillispie's mentors, tried to help him. So did Doc Sadler, the former head coach at Nebraska. They cared about Gillispie, believed in him as a coach and friend. They wanted him to succeed. They swore Billy Clyde was going to get everything right.
When Gillispie got the job at Texas Tech, it seemed as if he'd been given the second chance that never comes for many people.
He'd won at UTEP, a difficult job that swallowed other careers. He'd won at Texas A&M, another job that was no gimme.
The marriage of Gillispie and Kentucky was a mess, a mistake, a job that with more demands and personal connections than Gillispie could manage.
Going back to Texas was the right call. Texas was his comfort zone. Gillispie knew the league, the recruiting turf, the culture. He had a chance to fix his career – and his life.
Now Billy Gillispie is resting in a hospital in Lubbock, Texas. You wonder what went wrong – and if he will ever get it right.
Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
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