This week, Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie was hospitalized for high blood pressure. As far as I can tell, this is a gift of circumstance: It’s the only thing standing between Billy Clyde and the unemployment line.
I would never make light of someone’s health issues, no matter how serious, and I’m the last person to jump on a “fire this guy!” bandwagon -- whether professionally or recreationally, in college hoops or anything else. (OK, OK: Vinny Del Negro.) To be absolutely clear: No one should be rooting for Gillispie to lose his job. That's not cool.
It’s just that, well, what else can Texas Tech do? Now that Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt has heard what he’s heard -- a mass mutiny and ongoing defections by current players, a piling on by former players about his abusive coaching style and, worst of all, a habit of extending practice times long past their NCAA-required maximums that Hocutt has already reprimanded Gillispie for once before.
Throw in all the things we’ve long known about Gillispie -- his background of alcohol issues, his difficulties getting along with players and support staff, his seeming inability to enjoy the game of basketball rather than shove its importance down his players’ throats -- and it’s very difficult to see exactly how Gillispie can talk himself into keeping his job this time. I just don’t see the way forward. Do you?
That’s why Andy Katz asked a handful of coaches and staffing reps this exact question: What does Gillispie have to do to keep himself employed by the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The answers came with a lot of ifs and buts and “well, he has to air out some differences,” and various other communication sessions -- with players, with the administration -- that would require Gillispie to give a full-throated argument for what he did was wrong, and why he plans to change it in the future.
But as Andy wrote:
When Gillispie committed a secondary violation concerning practice time this past winter, he was “issued a reprimand that there would be no tolerance for further disregard for rules,” Hocutt said.
That seems pretty cut and dry, right? But once Gillispie is out of the hospital and can give his side of the story, can he possibly save his job?
“That’s a hard question to answer,” said Eddie Fogler, a former head coach at South Carolina and Vanderbilt, who now heads search firms for schools looking for head coaches.
As Fogler pointed out, Gillispie has had similar problems in his past, so it will be hard to create a defense. The recurring theme hurts him.
But if he does get a second chance in Lubbock, then Gillispie “will have to change how you go about your business if you can, if you want to,” Fogler said. “But that change doesn’t come easy for a coach who’s been around as long as Billy’s been doing it.”
If Texas Tech wants to bring Gillispie back, it will have to convince itself that this is -- all of a sudden, after a litany of warnings that went ignored -- a changed man. I just don’t see how they could come to that conclusion. And if they don’t, they have to fire him. It really is just that simple.