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|On ESPN radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," Pat Forde talks about Kentucky's decision to go after Billy Gillispie, who didn't sign his extension with Texas A&M for this reason. Listen|
"Coach Gillispie is one of the top coaches in the country, and we certainly do not want to lose him," Byrne said in a statement released by the school Thursday night. "At the same time, I don't want to stand in the way of anyone in the department who wants to explore another option if he or she feels it's in his best interest."Gillispie was supposed to be en route Friday to Los Angeles for the John Wooden Award celebration Saturday. The Aggies' Acie Law IV is one of five finalists.
Billy Gillispie took Texas A&M to the NCAA Tournament's third round this year and was 70-26 (.729) in three seasons as Aggies coach. From the get-go in Lexington, he'll be expected to do better than the Sweet 16. A look at the Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith eras at Kentucky:
|W-L||219-50 (.814)||263-83 (.760)|
Gillispie recently agreed to a lucrative contract extension with A&M after being wooed by Arkansas, but he did not sign the deal. It would have paid him $1.75 million a year.His name had been on the "B" list of candidates from the beginning at Kentucky after Smith unexpectedly resigned March 22 to take the job at Minnesota.
Kentucky's clear first choice was Donovan, who would not consider the job until after his Florida Gators won the national title Monday night. Thursday morning, Donovan met with Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley, and the school announced around noon that Donovan would remain in Gainesville.
Later Thursday afternoon, speculation moved to Barnes as Kentucky's top choice. But by early evening he had withdrawn his name, saying he would stay at Texas. Sources have given conflicting information about whether Barnes decided he was not interested on his own, or if he learned that he was not at the top of Kentucky's list.
Gillispie has worked a swift makeover at Texas A&M, going 70-26 in three seasons at a school that had little history of success. The 2006-07 Aggies went 27-7, earning a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16. It was the school's first Sweet 16 birth since 1980.
Prior to that, Gillispie was the head coach at UTEP for two years, and he previously worked as the lead assistant to Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois.
Other names believed to be on the Kentucky list were Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Marquette's Tom Crean.
Barnhart and Byrne have a long history together. Barnhart worked under Byrne at Oregon in 1983 and considers him something of a mentor. Byrne's son, Greg, worked under Barnhart at Kentucky for a couple of years, and Bill Byrne helped facilitate the hiring of former Oregon coach Rich Brooks as the UK football coach in 2002, after Barnhart had struck out on several other candidates.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com. ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.