The Billy Gillispie era at Kentucky: an oral history

Videos by OutKick

Billy Gillispie’s time at Kentucky was marked by troubled waters.

Joe Robbins Getty Images North America

He sat at the throne of one of college basketball’s elite programs for only two years.

But the stories that came out of Lexington will last a lifetime.

Billy Gillispie’s coaching career came crashing down thanks to self-inflicted wounds and high expectations from Kentucky’s rabid fan base that he would never come close to reaching.

What follows is a look back at the Gillispie era of Kentucky basketball (2007-09), as told by the players, the media and the fans that lived and breathed Blue and White during one of the Wildcats most tumultuous periods.

So sit back, grab a beverage of choice, and find out what happens when people stop being polite and start forcing a player to sit in a bathroom stall while listening to a halftime speech.

Unless otherwise noted, positions listed are those held by the interview subjects when Billy Gillispie was head coach at Kentucky.

Part I — Change at the Top

Tubby Smith was the head coach at Kentucky for 10 years (1997-2007). During his tenure the Wildcats made it to the NCAA tournament each season. They won 76 percent of their games, five SEC regular-season titles and five SEC tournament titles and were undefeated in SEC play in 2002-03 and captured the national championship in 1998, Tubby’s first season.  Still, the natives grew restless, and in 2007, following a ninth straight season without a Final Four appearance, Smith resigned under pressure to take the head coaching job at Minnesota.

Steve Moss — Executive Sports Producer/Sports Videographer at WKYT-TV in Lexington

Tubby was a great man, first and foremost. So when he announced he was resigning, it came as a shock to most. I personally hated seeing the man leave because he was a kind and generous man. As a graduate of UK and as a fan, I was frustrated that Tubby allowed the fans to drive him away. As a member of the media, I was disappointed that he chose to exit. He was easy to work with and was pretty fair in how he handled us.

Gary Parrish — National College Basketball Columnist at CBS Sports.

Under normal circumstances you don’t leave the University of Kentucky to go coach at Minnesota. But these weren’t normal circumstances. It is a quality of life thing. Once your fans have turned on you … once there are YouTube videos of guys putting your face on targets … maybe you want to go someplace where you are more appreciated or accepted.

Matt Veigl — Assistant strength coach at Kentucky (2005-2007).

Times were changing and to be the coach at UK, you needed to be different. We wanted the top players and we wanted excitement. Fans want to be a part of the program, and that just wasn’t Tubby’s style. It doesn’t make it wrong or right, it just wasn’t his style.

Tubby didn’t deserve for the fans to disrespect him the way a lot of them did. However, he was sort of out of touch with the way the world was trending with AAU teams and the Internet making these high school kids rock stars before they are ready. Tubby is an old school coach. This doesn’t make him bad.  In fact, the way the world is now and the way kids act these days, I personally wish guys like Tubby could get through to these kids and knock some sense into a lot of them. Times were changing, and to be the coach at UK you needed to be different. We wanted the top players and we wanted excitement. Fans want to be a part of the program, and that just wasn’t Tubby’s style. It doesn’t make it wrong or right, it just wasn’t his style.

Matt Jones — Founder,

People were ready for a change from Tubby not because they didn’t like him but because he was there 10 years and fans believed it was time for something new.

Robbie O’Bryan — Kentucky fan. Today, Co-Host of “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 The Buzz in Cleveland, Tenn.

I think the biggest thing that the fans didn’t like about Tubby was his unwillingness or inability to recruit the best players in the nation. Kentucky fans believe that the winningest college basketball program in the nation should be able to attract the best players in the nation. Tubby Smith is a good basketball coach, and he coached a lot of his players up and turned average players into good players, like Gerald Fitch and Erik Daniels, but he also lost several games that garnered him the nickname “10-loss Tubby” by fans.

Mary Jo Perino — Sports Anchor at WLEX-TV in Lexington

I think hindsight is 20-20. At that time everyone wanted Tubby out of there. Now? He’s looked back at fondly because it has been a few years. But I think at the time the level of recruiting under Tubby had really slipped.

Part II — Goodbye Tubby, Hello Billy Clyde

The coaching search that followed did not go as Kentucky officials and fans had expected. When their top target eventually turned them down, the Wildcats scrambled to make a hire. Kentucky finally chose a coach that already had endeared himself to Big Blue Nation, thanks to a high-profile victory in Lexington the previous month. On April 6, 2007, Texas A&M’s Billy Gillispie was introduced as the new head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Ryan Lemond — Sports Anchor at WLEX-TV. Today, co-host on Kentucky Sports Radio.

They thought they had (Florida coach) Billy Donovan. The legend goes that Donovan agreed in principle to take the job and then the next day changed his mind because he had a change of heart.

Parrish: The plan was always to get Billy Donovan. I think that fan base not only understands their place on totem pole of basketball, they enhance it. They never imagined that Billy Donovan would actually tell them, “No, I’m cool where I am at. Thanks, but no thanks.” I don’t think they had ever gone through that. They hadn’t hired a coach in 10 years. So much had changed in that decade. Once upon a time, if you were Kentucky, UCLA, Indiana or Kansas and you wanted somebody to be your coach, you just took them. It was tradition, facilities, fans, TV… Fast forward to when Tubby was being replaced and everybody is on TV, everybody is rich, and everybody has nice facilities. Billy didn’t have to take the Kentucky job to put him in position to make a lot of money and win national championships. He was already doing it at Florida. Ultimately, they got down further on list than they thought.

Video of Billy Gillispie hiring

O’Bryan: I knew about Billy’s reputation as a bulldog recruiter for Bill Self at Illinois when I was recruiting as a college assistant in the early 2000s. I had admired and respected the job that he did in turning around the UTEP and Texas A&M programs almost overnight. As a former coach myself, I had an appreciation for how hard his teams played.

Perino: Before Tubby even left, UK fans fell in love with Billy Gillispie because he took down (former Kentucky coach) Rick Pitino at Rupp Arena in the 2007 NCAA tournament. (Texas A&M beat Louisville, 72-69.)  That was all they needed to know. And he has that “Aww shucks …” kind of thing when you first meet with him that is charismatic in a way.  Billy G’s name had people pumped, and most fans thought it was a really great hire.

Jeff Goodman — Senior Basketball Writer at Today, College Basketball Insider at ESPN.

My first thought was that was a terrible, terrible hire. It was a bad fit, and I told everybody that. I remember going on Matt Jones’ radio show.  I agreed to do a show with him because he was hammering me because I was hammering the hire of Billy Gillispie. I went on and said it was a terrible hire. I had known enough about Billy Gillispie. I knew people that knew him well and had run across him several times to realize it was the wrong fit. Gillispie could not have been out of his element any more than he was.

Veigl: He was the sexy new girl that is SOOOO awesome at first, but when you date her for three months months you want to kill yourself.

Part III — Warning Signs

Things got off to a shaky start for Billy Gillispie with an 84-68 loss to Gardner-Webb at Rupp Arena in only his second game as Wildcats coach.  But perhaps a bigger issue was his coaching style, which was by no means passive. The results proved that it wasn’t the best way to coach that group of players.

Goodman: I’m all for old-school coaching and being tough on kids and making them better and not handing them anything. But Billy Gillispie took that way, way, way too far.

Billy Liucci — Owner/Senior Writer at

When he arrived at UK, the program was pretty down in terms of talent on campus.  There was only one guy (Jodie Meeks) on the roster that ended up in the NBA.  That’s rare for any Kentucky Wildcat team at any point in the storied history of that program. In his two years there, I believe he added six players to the program who ended up getting drafted. … I think it’s fair to say that his style didn’t mesh with a roster loaded with five-star, McDonald’s All-Americans. For whatever reason, those guys weren’t ready or willing to respond to his incredibly demanding method of coaching the way the less-heralded players at A&M and UTEP did previously. I saw it first-hand and knew plenty of folks on that staff, and based on everything I was told during his two-year tenure, nothing changed as far as Gillispie and how he coached his team. The only thing different were the players, expectation level and the sheer volume of off-court obligations that come with being the most visible and popular figure in the Bluegrass State.

Billy Gillispie gives instructions to Josh Harrellson in 2008.

Andy Lyons Getty Images North America

Josh Harrellson — Kentucky center (2008-11). Today, free-agent professional basketball player.

He was just an old-school, hard coach. He wanted to tear players down and rebuild them into what he thought a good basketball player was. But the only problem was the guys you normally get at Kentucky didn’t need that kind of treatment. We knew how to play basketball. Yes, we needed to develop as players, but he didn’t need to rebuild us from the ground up.

Ramel “Smooth” Bradley — Kentucky guard (2004-08). Today, playing professionally in Turkey.

There was a time when the team had two-a-days for two weeks straight. Not me, though. I had four-a-days! It was hell, LOL. It wasn’t easy! But not much comes easy in life. It is all a learning experience. Now that I look back on it, he wanted to win, and he did what I believe he thought was best to accomplish that.

Moss: While shooting the all-access television show, I saw his game day practices. They would arrive at Rupp Arena around 1 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, practice a couple of hours then come back a few hours later to play an opponent. Those practices weren’t any different from the practices on non-game days. His players would run the stairs at Rupp Arena, which stretched from the floor level to a concourse maybe 20 rows later. Guys were exhausted by the end of those days, after practicing for a couple of hours only to turn around and play a game later that night. Guys who played for him at Kentucky, who now are either in broadcasting or still around Lexington, complain still to this day about how physically demanding Gillispie’s practices were.

Jones: Early on he has an open practice and invites media. You’d think that a coach would be on his best behavior right?  In front of the entire Kentucky media section, Josh Harrellson doesn’t dive to a ball at practice. Gillispie takes Josh to the side and has a manager roll the ball on the ground and makes Josh dive on the ball 75 straight times. It was painful to watch. The entire media group was watching this kid fall on the floor. He was clearly hurting himself time after time after time, right in front of us. It was bizarre.

Moss: One particular drill that I’ll always remember … freshman Darius Miller tried to bounce a pass from the wing inside to one of UK’s post players. The pass short-hopped Matt Pilgrim off his shin. Gillispie stopped practice and demanded a manager bring a rack of basketballs over. He then instructed Miller to post up on the low blocks. As he posted, Gillispie grabbed ball after ball off the rack, firing line drives into Miller’s shins. “Come on, Darius!” “What’s wrong, Darius?” It was a humiliating moment for the rookie. Thankfully, Miller’s teammates reassured him afterward that they had his back.

Jones: They get to SEC tournament (in 2009) … win the first game but don’t play well. After the game is over, the team gets on the bus. One player, Darius Miller, had turned his ankle and Billy thought he was being a wimp and was gonna make him walk to hotel. The rest of players said, well, if he is walking we are walking. They almost had a team mutiny right there.

Perhaps the most legendary of the Gillispie moments occurred during a game at Vanderbilt during the 2008-09 season, when he ordered Harrellson to listen to halftime instructions in a bathroom stall.

Harrellson: I just think he was mad and upset because Pat (sophomore center Patrick Patterson) wasn’t playing because he had a sprained ankle. So he just decided to try to punish me. I don’t think that incident affected either of us because I didn’t even really consider it punishment. I thought it was more of a childish act instead. My teammates, like me, thought the same and thought it was kinda funny. They always told me I should have flushed the toilet or went to the bathroom. Man, I woulda loved to see his face if I did that.

He did enjoy some semblance of privacy (in College Station) and I think that was no longer an option at Kentucky, something he obviously knew going in. Combine that with mounting losses in Year 2 and I think you have your explanation for the coach-fan disconnect in Lexington.

Parrish: One of things that worked for him at Texas A&M was that he was surrounded by people who spoke the same language but understood the ying and yang of running a college basketball program. In other words, he could bury kids at A&M, and then his assistants Buzz Williams, who is now at Virginia Tech, and Steve Forbes, who is now at Wichita State … they were very good at playing the other side. Good cop versus bad cop. Billy can be abrasive and coaches that way. So kids would get beat down, and then Buzz or Forbes would come and tell them to hang in there and it would be fine. At Kentucky, Buzz and Forbes weren’t there. He was surrounded by guys that were fine, but I don’t know if they knew how to be assistants for Billy Gillispie at that time.

Goodman: I didn’t think his staff was strong enough, either. You need a really strong staff at Kentucky because he didn’t have great people skills. And it surprised me because who did he learn from? Bill Self, who is as good at people skills as anyone in the business, and it just did not rub off on Billy Gillispie.

Part IV — Billy Clyde in the Public Eye

The anonymous existence Gillispie apparently wanted to have simply wasn’t possible in Lexington. The demands of the job off the court were not welcomed by him. He enjoyed the night life. But it was his reported treatment of fans and the media that sullied his reputation.

Liucci: Despite being a rock star in College Station, however, he was definitely given his space at what had been and still is primarily a football school. He’s the only basketball coach in A&M history that (temporarily) changed that and was wildly popular as a result. He sparred with the media in College Station but always did it with a smile on his face. He wouldn’t give an inch and loved to disagree with questions that he felt were off-base or misguided, but in the same way you would argue passionately with your buddies sitting around talking sports. He was tough on everyone, but the media from College Station and the surrounding areas genuinely enjoyed the back-and-forth …  As far as what made it difficult for him with media moving forward, I think it had more to do with the fact that he won a ton of games at A&M and took the program to unprecedented heights and things didn’t go nearly as smoothly on the court at UK. His Aggie teams exceeded all expectations, and he did not come close to meeting them (however unrealistic at the time) at Kentucky. Because of that, I watched from afar as the questions got tougher, more negative and more pointed. BCG seemed to grow increasingly frustrated and, in a sense, all of the fun was taken out of his dealings with the local and national media. On both sides, mind you. He did enjoy some semblance of privacy (in College Station), and I think that was no longer an option at Kentucky, something he obviously knew going in. Combine that with mounting losses in Year 2 and I think you have your explanation for the coach-fan disconnect in Lexington.

Jones: There’s a story about how when he first got hired a booster wanted to fly him to Augusta National to play golf there. And he just didn’t show up. They had a plane ready, and everyone was waiting at the airport and he just didn’t come, and he didn’t tell anybody he wasn’t coming. Stuff like that? You can’t do that here. He was a strange guy. He could be charming, but he could be a real jerk, sometimes in the same day. He was like that with players, too. They would love him or hate him depending on the minute because he was like that with them. He was just strange like that.

Harrellson: Being a coach at Kentucky definitely isn’t for everyone. You have to have a special personality and be a great talker and motivator to coach there. You have to know how to win the fans as well the players’ commitment to play for Kentucky and not for themselves. Coach G knew he was over his head at the press conference to announce him as new coach.

Goodman: I remember going to Midnight Madness that first year with Gillispie, and they had four big curtains around him, and they all dropped off when they introduced him, and you could see his face … he just looked so uncomfortable when he saw this huge crowd because he had been used to doing whatever he wanted at UTEP and Texas A&M, whether it was going out and not being bothered or being himself. In Lexington, he could not do that.

Lemond: The Lexington Rotary Club … for years the coach always came in before the season started to talk about upcoming season. Tubby did it, (Rick) Pitino did it, Joe B (Hall) did it, (Adolph) Rupp did it … but Gillispie said he wasn’t going to do it, and he didn’t. That was another flag.  Maybe we should have known right then. Maybe he’s not ready to sit in that chair. It’s more than X’s and O’s when you are the basketball coach at Kentucky.

Moss: Billy never wanted that part of the job. He just wanted to coach his team. Being an ambassador to the people of Kentucky didn’t interest him. When you’re the coach at Kentucky, you’re more popular than the Governor. Billy couldn’t care less. He wasn’t interested. He didn’t like doing all the speaking engagements. He didn’t like being around people, so how could he possibly handle all those responsibilities of tending to the fans, border to border? Ultimately, it cost him the job.

Veigl: A group of friends and I were out having drinks after dinner, and Billy was at a table with several folks, guys and gals, one of which I used to date. Our relationship didn’t end in an overly spectacular fashion, so I didn’t say hello but we did make eye contact. About 20 minutes after we sat down I got a text from a number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it at first, and then got another and another. Finally I looked at it and it was that girl and she was begging me to come save her from her dinner. I was sort of flattered, thought that she missed ole’ Matt. So I went over and said hello and talked to everyone for a minute and she excused herself with me when I left the group. As we walked away I was all suave and was like, “So how are ya. I thought about you the other day…” and all sorts of smooth things guys say and she stopped me and said, “Stop, I just used you to get out of that situation. It was terrible, and Billy G is a creep and saying all sorts of really disgusting stuff, and I had to get out of there.” He was telling her stuff like, “I have some things I want to show you at my house … Have you ever been with a millionaire before? Have you ever fantasied about being with UK’s basketball coach before? … I own this town. … I can do anything I want. ” He was offering courtside seats, etc.

Moss: Gillispie embarrassed Kentucky fans when he scolded ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards for asking “a bad question” during a game at Mississippi.

Here is video of Billy’s halftime interview with Jeannine Edwards

Parrish: There were lots of strange moments, the most public being run-ins with Jeannine Edwards. That’s when it became undeniable that the whole thing was getting to him because even if that is his way of speaking to women, which of course it shouldn’t be, you do that on national television? Being so dismissive and abrasive with her? It was PR suicide. Then he comes back and embarrasses her again a week or two weeks later. I was told that the Kentucky athletic department tried to make him understand that he didn’t have any idea how that looked. That he looked like the biggest a**hole in the whole world talking to a woman that way and that he had to do something about it. So he sent her flowers randomly. She was really put off by that. Like, he talked down to her, but this will make it OK.  She was offended by that. Gillispie just didn’t grasp that stuff.

Goodman: So we got out to the Peach Jam AAU tournament at Augusta in July. We ended up at same restaurant. It was me, a buddy of mine, Kansas coach Bill Self, Gillispie and a woman from the NCAA were there. And to watch the way (Gillispie) treated the woman from the NCAA, without any respect … it was incredible. The lack of respect that he showed towards her, just the way he talked to her, I just couldn’t believe it.

Perino: He was here two years. As far as I can remember, aside from media relations staff, I was the only female in any of those press conferences. I was the only woman working in Lexington in that capacity. After he had gotten fired, I saw him at Keeneland (horse racing facility in Lexington). He offered to buy me a drink, and I politely declined.

He had no idea who I was.

I saw him at dinner at a restaurant later that night. He again came up to my table and stood there and said, “Did you know I’ve been married twice. Both my wives are dead.” I said, “Coach, I thought you were divorced just once.” He said, “No, both my wives are dead. Do you want to know how they died?” I said sure. He said, “The first one died from eating poisonous mushrooms. And the second one died from a blow to the back of the head when she wouldn’t eat the poisonous mushrooms.”

Gillispie and future NBA player Jodie Meeks in 2007.

Bob Levey Getty Images North America

I remember I looked at my girlfriend and said, “That guy just cashed a $3 million check from Kentucky to leave.” (Gillispie and UK would agree to settle a contract dispute, with Gillispie receiving $2.98 million from the University.) And he had no idea who I was. I don’t say that boastfully like, “Gosh, everyone knows who I am.” But I was the only one in there! I was the only woman that ever asked him any questions in any of those press conferences, and we’re talking about how many times, 80 to 100 times, over course of a season? I just don’t think he paid any attention to building any sort of relationship with people because he didn’t want to deal with the media at all.

Parrish: So I was working on something. I was at home and knew he was heading to his post-game press conference. I texted him and said I was working on a column and asked him to call me on his drive home. He texted back and said he’d call me later. I thought he’d call me after meeting with the media around 10:30 p.m. I feel asleep around 12:30 a.m. Then my phone rings at 3:45 a.m. Central, meaning it was 4:45 a.m. in Lexington. It was a calm message, “GP, this is Billy, just calling you on my way home like I told you I would.” He was on his way home at 4:45 a.m. I don’t know what he was doing, but we could probably guess. It didn’t occur to him that calling at 4:45 in the morning was a bit weird. I thought it was funny that a guy with a reputation for staying out late thought it was completely normal to call at 4:45 a.m.

Jones: Stories about seeing Billy out were legendary. Some were exaggerated, but some of them weren’t. Lexington is not that big, and the basketball coach at Kentucky is the most famous person in state. That was a constant issue. People would see him out and he’d be in a bad mood and be a jerk to people.

Part V –“That was the most bizarre day of all time …”

Following a 2008-09 season in which the Wildcats lost 14 games, failed to make the NCAA tournament and lost in the NIT quarterfinals, Gillispie’s future as Kentucky’s coach was in serious doubt. On March 27, 2009, the decision was made to fire him. That is, if they could find him.

Stories about seeing Billy out were legendary. Some were exaggerated, but some of them weren’t. Lexington is not that big and the basketball coach at Kentucky is the most famous person in state. That was a constant issue. People would see him out and he’d be in a bad mood and be a jerk to people.

Jones: That was the most bizarre day of all time. I was practicing law still and got a heads up at 6 a.m. that he was gonna be let go.  So I got up and went to Lexington, and all the media starts to assemble. There were rumors not only was he gonna be let go, but that Billy Donovan was gonna be named coach that same day, so everyone was camped out. Everyone was waiting for this moment. Most believed Donovan was gonna be introduced as coach, so everyone was there not to get (Gillispie) really, but thinking that both things were going to happen at once. But when they decided to let him go, and I’ve been told this many times, they couldn’t find him. He wouldn’t answer his phone. He wasn’t at his house. They couldn’t get in touch with him. The president and athletic director were literally driving around town looking for him because they could not find him to fire him.

Lemond: Gillispie allegedly kept driving around New Circle Road (in Lexington) to keep from having to meet with (Kentucky athletic director) Mitch Barnhart.  He knew it was coming. Everyone knew it was coming. It was a circus. Media camped out in front of Memorial Coliseum. It was an absolute circus.

Mark Hebert — Political/Investigative reporter for WHAS-TV (Frankfort bureau). Today, Director of Media Relations at University of Louisville.

The way it broke was strange. I was sitting in the live truck in the circle outside Memorial Coliseum and there hadn’t been any word on anything on whether Gillispie had met with the athletic director or what was going on. I was sitting there getting ready to edit a story and I look out the door, and there goes Billy Gillispie walking by all the live trucks and I’m going, “What the hell is going on? Are you kidding me!”

Alan Cutler — Sports Anchor at WLEX-TV in Lexington.

The day was a zoo. I was trying to get an answer from a coach that didn’t want to talk. He fakes being on the phone and had done the same thing about an hour or so before, when we saw him leaving the Wildcat Lodge.

Here is the video of Billy Gillispie running from reporters.

Jones: You see that video. The media had been standing there for four or five hours waiting for something to happen, and then here comes Billy and everyone starts going crazy, and then Billy starts running and then we had that bizarre scene.

Lemond: Cutler chased him down the hall. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. When John Calipari was hired, in middle of his news conference, he pointed at Alan and said, “Did you really chase that guy down the hallway?”

Perino: The following Monday, Rich Brooks, who was Kentucky’s football coach at the time, had his weekly press conference and began reading over injury reports. He listed all the injuries and then at the end said that Alan Cutler is out this week with a hamstring, which was hilarious. I thought it also showed that the entire Kentucky athletic department wanted that guy out of there so badly that they couldn’t stand it. Even the football coach was making fun of his firing a couple of days later.

Hebert: Basketball … is a big part of the culture of Kentucky. So any time you have a big, high-profile program like UK’s and something is happening to the coach or there is controversy, it is gonna get an awful lot of coverage, be it good, bad or indifferent. So that’s what led up to that day and why you had an awful lot of coverage. It wasn’t like Billy Gillispie was leaving a Division III school. He was leaving the University of Kentucky, which has that storied basketball program, which made it not just a sports event, but a news event and a cultural event for the state of Kentucky.

Part VI “When Coach Cal came everything changed …”

The Billy Gillispie era did not go as planned, and Kentucky couldn’t afford to swing and miss again.  In response, Kentucky would make a call that they had been unwilling to make just two years prior.

Parrish: When Kentucky hired Tubby’s replacement… they were very much of the opinion that, “We are not going to hire somebody like John Calipari. We don’t have to hire somebody like John Calipari.”  We all know what that means. He had a vacated Final Four (UMass) and had lots of smoke around him on the way to having another vacated Final Four (Memphis). We can argue semantics all you want, but the truth is John had a reputation and they didn’t think they needed to hire somebody with that reputation. They were Kentucky; they didn’t have to stoop to that level, and they weren’t going to.

Jones: I think fans and the athletic director realized that it has got to be a slam dunk, so they were gonna interview three people this time. Billy Donovan, (Michigan State coach) Tom Izzo and (Memphis coach) John Calipari. Donovan canceled the interview right before. Izzo upset Louisville in Elite Eight, and UK decided we can’t wait for him to get past the Final Four, so we’re gonna hire Cal. Cal has been perfect for UK, but if Louisville won? Kentucky might have ended up with Izzo.

Lemond: I remember they called me in early when we learned Cal accepted the job. Of course, we went live four hours in a row just taking calls. Our state, our psyche, depends on how our basketball team does. We don’t have much else to hang our hat on in the state of Kentucky, but we can hang our hat and puff our chest at basketball. Anything with UK hoops, it is headline news. We were flooded with calls all day, no dead periods at all.

Harrellson: When Coach Cal came, everything changed. I knew it was going to be tough to get playing time or even practice time. He brought in the best of the best, and in one year changed the program around completely.

Parrish: He was the safest bet in terms of hiring somebody that will return you to top of college basketball, so whatever reservations they had about John before I don’t think they had been alleviated.  He still had some reputation, still had the vacated Final Four, but they had to put that to the side to get the guy that could get them back to where they thought they had to be, and do it quickly. Only one guy that could do that, and it was John.

Part VII — What Might Have Been

Since hiring John Calipari in 2009, Kentucky has won two SEC regular-season titles and two SEC conference titles and has advanced to Final Four three times and won the national championship in 2012. Gillispie was hired as head coach at Texas Tech in 2011 but resigned prior to the 2012-13 season, citing health concerns. He has yet to return to coaching and has a career record of 148-108.

Billy Gillispie’s run at Kentucky was exasperating at times.

Wesley Hitt Getty Images North America

Cutler: It’s simple. If Billy Gillispie won games he would still be here. Life is that simple.Yes, he was tough on players, and that all came out later. But get to the Final Four? Fans would have looked past that nonsense. But he didn’t win. That’s it.

Harrellson: As far as X’s and O’s, Coach G was one of the best. He knew basketball. He knew how to play. He just wasn’t good at teaching people how to play. There aren’t many stories about Coach G that people don’t know, but I am thankful I had him for one reason. He made me mentally tough. Without him, I wouldn’t have done what I did my senior year, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without his help Yes, we don’t see eye to eye, and I would never play for him again, but I am glad I found my way there when I did.

Goodman: There’s a good chance if Billy was better to people he might still be the head coach at Kentucky right now. They might have given him another year or two instead of running him out after two years. I think it was a combination of not winning enough and treating people the way he did that got him forced out in two years.

Perino: I still don’t think Cal would have gotten the job if it hadn’t gone as poorly as it had with Gillispie. I don’t think Barnhart had any choice but to hire Cal. Not to make a home run hire but to hire John Calipari specifically. I think Kentucky fans should be equally thankful Billy Gillispie came. Because without him, there would not have been Cal. And I really believe that.

Liucci: I’ve always found the Billy Gillispie debate fascinating because you really have the same coach and the same person who could not be viewed more differently by the folks in College Station and Lexington. To this day, if you find yourself chatting with any of Billy Clyde’s former A&M players, they’re guaranteed to tell you their favorite ‘Coach G’ stories and will be laughing while doing so. Guys like NBA players Acie Law, Antoine Wright and Donald Sloan to All-Big 12 guys like Joe Jones, Bryan Davis and Josh Carter, to the very last guys on the bench would still run through a wall for the man today (or, as is routinely the case, invite him to their weddings). Not one of those guys would ever say he wasn’t tough to play for and hard on them while they were at A&M, but every one of them would also tell you that they never played for a coach who cared about them as players and young men as much as Gillispie. These are things you’ll probably never hear from the head coach either because I don’t believe he’s the type who would ever go out of his way to defend himself in the media, no matter how much it might have helped sway public perception.

Do you think Billy Gillispie will return to coaching?

Absolutely.  No doubt in my mind.  Sooner rather than later, too.  It’s his true passion, and I get the feeling he’s ready to get back.

Moss: Billy is very charming but is uncomfortable with being in the spotlight. At UK, as you can imagine, the glare of the spotlight is bright and very hot. Billy ultimately melted under the pressure of coaching in a fishbowl.

Billy Gillispie did not respond to an interview request for this article.



Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.