- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Remember when Billy Gillispie was hired at Texas Tech? Remember when he seemed likely to make Texas Tech a perennially solid program and Big 12 competitor? This was a place where, with the possible exception of the Bob Knight years, basketball has usually been an afterthought. The UTEP and A&M native was perfect for the gig. Things didn't work out at Kentucky, but Kentucky wasn't his style. Back in his comfort zone, Gillispie was sure to thrive.
Believe it or not, all of that optimism began just last spring. Now? Texas Tech is an utter disaster, a crater where a basketball program used to be. No one knows where it goes from here.
Our own Dana O'Neil, in a perfect epigraph to this sordid no-win situation, says that's true of Gillispie personally, whose future could go one of two directions. Either he'll see this opportunity as his personal bottom and realize his lifestyle, his interactions, his everything-else-that-got-him-here needs to change for the better, and needs to change now. Or the downward spiral, which seems to have begun before the infamous Kentucky firing, will continue. For the sake of a man who seems to have a lot of issues, physical and mental, let's hope he gets it figured out. Like him or not, the way this thing ended for Gillispie was sad. Or, if you prefer, pathetic. Probably both.
The massive uncertainty in outcome is just as true of Texas Tech basketball. Andy Katz covered that angle on his blog today, calling athletic director Kirby Hocutt's coming decision "the most important of his career." No pressure, Kirby:
"This isn't UCLA or Indiana or Arizona, where you can bounce right back," said a coach with Texas ties who didn't want to use his name. "It's going to be extremely tough to do at a place like Texas Tech that is now at the bottom of the Big 12." ...
... "You've got to know the people," said one coach with West Texas ties. "You've got to be creative. You've got to have a niche recruiting wise. The people in West Texas have to feel you. They want to know you.
"Who's going to go there and play if you can't really sell it over the next seven months. If you can't, then it will set them back years."
A few names pop up throughout Katz's piece, including North Texas coach Tony Benford, North Texas assistant Rob Evans, former New Mexico State coach (and constant UNLV/West Coast bridesmaid) Reggie Theus, and, last but not least, former Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler.
First, Texas Tech has to hire an interim coach. It's difficult to imagine any actual head coach coming to Lubbock right now, just a month away from the start of practice, with so much turmoil and turnover inside Red Raiders program.
Even the best long-term recommendation is to stay away. I say that especially for Sadler. After years trying to build a nonexistent program at Nebraska -- frustrating, wheel-spinning years -- Sadler was let go just in time for the Cornhuskers to actually, you know, invest in the program. His farewell news conference was highly emotional; you could see how much winning at Nebraska meant to the guy, how much he wanted his labor to pay off. After that turmoil, the Sadler finally caught a break, landing a cherished spot on Bill Self's staff at Kansas. Now, Sadler -- a stand-up guy by all accounts -- gets to enjoy being on the other side of Kansas' near-decade-long run of Big 12 title dominance.
Sadler may crave the chance to build something of his own from scratch. Nearly every coach does. But most of the candidates who would consider the Tech job now or in the long-term don't have the benefit of their current position in the gilded fortress of Allen Fieldhouse. Texas Tech is so far gone right now -- and doesn't exactly have a strong hoops history anyway -- that Sadler's move would only seem destined to make him miserable once more. It'd be like "Breaking Bad," hoops edition.
Anyway, this is not about Sadler. It's about Texas Tech's basketball future. It's about whether this program can recover from such an unmitigated mutinous disaster, how long that will take, and whether any semi-established coach will be able to do it. Or, for that matter, willing.
Remember when Billy Gillispie was hired at Texas Tech? Remember when he seemed likely to make Texas Tech a perennially solid program and Big 12 competitor?