LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Impatient for a winner, Kentucky fired
Billy Gillispie as coach Friday after just two years, too many
losses and too little appreciation for all the things that come
with running college basketball's all-time winningest program.
Saying the Wildcats deserve a leader who understands "this is
not just another coaching job," athletic director Mitch Barnhart
and president Lee Todd made the unusual decision to dismiss
Gillispie less than two years after he was hired to replace Tubby
"He's a good basketball coach," Barnhart said. "Sometimes
it's just not the right fit and that's my responsibility."
It's a move Barnhart felt was necessary following a couple of
turbulent seasons in which the Wildcats struggled to improve under
their hard-working but sometimes aloof head coach.
Hired to rejuvenate a program after Smith bolted for Minnesota,
Gillispie struggled to find any consistency on the court or off it.
Gillispie went 40-27 in two seasons with the Wildcats, including
a 22-14 mark this year that tied for the second-most losses in the
program's 106-year history. A stumble down the stretch left the
Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.
Yet Gillispie's problem went beyond wins and losses.
Barnhart said rebuilding years are expected when a new coach is
hired. The trouble were "philosophical differences" between the
university and Gillispie on the role the school's coach plays in
the fabric of a fan base that refers to itself as Big Blue Nation.
"There is a clear difference in how the rules and
responsibilities of overseeing the program are viewed," Barnhart
said. "It is a gap that I do not believe can be solved just by
winning games. It is a philosophical disparity that I do not think
can be repaired when the chemistry is just not right."
Barnhart said the university did not plan to pay Gillispie a $6
million buyout that was to be part of his seven-year deal that was
"Suffice it to say it will be less than that," Barnhart said.
Gillispie agreed to a memorandum of understanding on the day he
was hired in April, 2007. A deal appeared to be a formality, but
neither side could come to terms. In the end, the absence of a
formal contract may have cost Gillispie a substantial buyout.
Barnhart said the school would abide by the memorandum of
understanding, but he considers it to be a year-to-year contract.
Gillispie made $2.3 million annually.
Beyond the money, however, was Gillispie's seeming inability to
ingratiate himself to the fans. He could be gruff with the media
and stubbornly refused to change his coaching strategy even as the
program suffered embarrassing losses to schools like Gardner-Webb
The team continued to hold draining two-hour practices on game
day, a move Gillispie said was designed to toughen the players up
but sometimes left them spent at the end of close contests.
What happened on the court, however, wasn't the only problem
"This is a complete job that requires a lot more than just
coaching and recruiting," Todd said.
And it seems it won't be Florida coach Billy Donovan who
"In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in
other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible," he
said in a statement. "I am committed to the University of Florida
and look forward to continuing to build our program here."
Gillispie's job appeared to be in jeopardy after the Wildcats
stumbled down the stretch, losing eight of their final 11 regular
season games to squander a perfect 5-0 start in Southeastern
Conference play. A quarterfinal loss to LSU in the SEC tournament
followed, relegating Kentucky to the National Invitation
Barnhart said the problem wasn't Gillispie's won-loss record but
his seeming refusal to do the other things associated with being
the head coach at the state's flagship institution.
"(Gillispie) spoke to things that were not in his job
description, just about winning and losing and improving,"
Barnhart said. "This program is bigger than that. There's much
more to it than that."
Gillispie met with players Friday afternoon but did not address
reporters as he walked to a vehicle outside the player dormitories.
Gillispie appeared to sense a change could be forthcoming. When
asked if he expected to be back following at season-ending loss to
Notre Dame on Wednesday, Gillispie said the decision wasn't up to
"You're asking the wrong guy," he said. "All I know is to go
to work, recruit, coach and that's what I did, that's what I've
done and that's what I'll continue to do."
Gillispie arrived at Kentucky with great fanfare to replace
Smith two years ago. Hundreds of supporters crowded the floor of
Memorial Coliseum during a pep rally - one with a sign that read
"Billy G: Our Savior" - following a whirlwind negotiation that
was sealed in the middle of the night at Barnhart's house.
The coach who engineered turnarounds at UTEP and Texas A&M was
heralded by one of college basketball's most ardent fan bases, who
were won over by Gillispie's notorious work ethic and homespun
Gillispie said at the time he knew what he was getting into. How
could he not? The practice floor at the Joe Craft Center where he
held his introductory press conference was lined with banners
highlighting Kentucky's seven national titles.
"I like expectations," he said that day. "My most favorite
year (at Texas A&M) was (2007) when we had pressure. And that
expectation, it either drives you or it diminishes your ability,
and my ability isn't diminished by expectations."
The honeymoon, however, was seemingly over before it began.
Kentucky recovered from the loss to Gardner-Webb to make the
NCAAs last year. That streak ended this year after the Wildcats
imploded down the stretch despite having two of the SEC's best
players in Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson.
The losses and Gillispie's somewhat sarcastic demeanor prevented
him from connecting with some of the 20,000-plus assistant coaches
who packed Rupp Arena every fall, some of whom waited anxiously
next to a radio table following home games hoping to get a glimpse,
a handshake or an autograph from the state's highest paid and
mostly highly visible employee.
A sometimes prickly relationship with the media didn't help
matters. A couple of run-ins with a female TV reporter during brief
halftime interviews this year struck some as inappropriate, and
Gillispie could be contentious at times.
He claimed he wasn't hired to be a celebrity, but to win games.
He struggled at both, at least by Kentucky standards.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)