- Jason King
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Kansas coach Bill Self chose to remain silent about the controversy surrounding friend and former assistant Billy Gillispie at Texas Tech.
Self contacted me after reading an ESPN.com article published Saturday afternoon in which a handful of Gillispie's former players came to his defense. Included among Gillispie's supporters were NBA All-Star Deron Williams, Texas A&M All-American Acie Law and former Texas Tech forward Robert Lewandowski, who played for Gillispie last season.
Gillispie's job is in jeopardy following allegations that he mistreated his Texas Tech players and committed NCAA secondary violations involving excessive practice time. He was recently released from the hospital after spending six days there, reportedly dealing with high blood pressure.
Self said he's tried unsuccessfully to contact his friend, but "from what I understand, not many people have talked to him," he added.
"I considered him to be one of my closest friends for a long time. But I haven't spoken to Billy in about a month. We still stay in contact, but not like we used to. It used to be a three or four times a week thing. He's backed off a little bit, but that's only because we play in the same league now.
Here is what Self had to say about the situation:
"The articles keep coming out, and I can't comment on things that have happened during his tenure as a coach, because I'm not in Lubbock. I will say this: To have players who have only been in a program for a year or two and be such experts on what it takes to win and how to be treated is a little bit hard to grasp.
"I do know that Billy is tough. I know that he only knows one way to do it, and that's to be tougher, harder and more prepared than his opponent, period. That's the only way he knows to do it, and, to be honest with you, it's a pretty successful method that a lot of coaches use. Billy's different. He has his own motivating tactics.
"I'm sure he's done some things as a coach that he looked back on and said, 'Whoa ... I got up against the line today. I toed the line a little bit.' But you know what? We've all done that at some point in time when we're trying to get our teams prepared to play at a high level. Ask any coach in America, and he'll tell you there was a time when he said something when he was under stress or something he did under the gun where he went back and said, 'Ooohhh, I wish I would've handled that differently.'
"With Billy, you're talking about a guy that's gone from six wins to 24 wins [at UTEP]. You've got a guy that has gone from zero conference wins [at Texas A&M] to the Sweet 16 in a short amount of time. He does have some experience doing it his way -- and doing it big. His way works. No one can deny that. His way works. It's going to take time. If you're a player or someone in his program, you've got to go through some things.
"I'm not defending him. He's a good friend, but that's not why I'm talking. I would defend any coach in a situation where he's trying to do things a certain way to get his program to the point where he thinks it deserves to be. Mistreatment of players should never occur, but there are also two sides to every story. That certainly appears to be the case here, because after hearing from his enemies early, now we've heard from guys who say, 'Oh man, he was so hard on me, but I'm a better man for it.' Including players in his current program.
"They went 1-17 [in the Big 12] last year. There's usually not great harmony on teams that go 1-17. Harmony occurs when you win. It's hard to have fun when you don't win. Two-hour practices feel like four-hour practices when you don't win. When you're winning and you're getting on the line to run sprints at practice, you think, 'Coach is just trying to keep us in good shape so we don't slip up.' When you've been losing, you think, 'Coach is mad, and he's throwing it in our face. He's punishing us.'
"I just hate what's happened. I hate it because he's a friend and hate it because he's a colleague. I still just don't see how so many things can become public from such a short amount of time from sources that are supposedly inside the department. Basketball teams are supposed to be a family. There may be problems, you may have to work through them and there may be harsh realities. But to put all these things out in the streets when there is another side to the story seems very difficult and unfair -- especially when you're dealing with an individual who maybe can't comment right now because of health-related issues. It appears to people that, since he's not defending himself, the stories must be true.
"Here's something to think about: How many young kids -- freshmen, newcomers or junior college transfers who come into a college program -- have an easy time during their first few months with their new coach? How many are ecstatic about the way things are going? Hardly any. They're being told to do things that they've never been told to do, things they don't want to do. Most times they're being told to do those things to better prepare themselves for the future and to give themselves the best chance to compete at a high level. You've got to buy in. It's not easy. It shouldn't be easy. If it was easy, everyone could do it.
"So many things have been said about his long practice times. That very well may have happened. But when did it happen? Did it happen over Thanksgiving break? Or did it happen when class was in session? If it happened over a break, then there's absolutely no issue, because it's totally legal.
"I do know that my players here think we practice a lot longer than we actually do. All players do. It's just the way it is. It's the way it's always been. You could have a practice plan out there that says '96 minutes' and the players think, 'Oh God, we're going two-and-a-half hours today.' Sometimes you stay on schedule, sometimes you don't. But in their minds, everyone practices too long.
"As far as making guys practice and play when they're hurt, it's unfathomable to me that the guy that I know would put anyone out there in harm's way intentionally. I have a hard time believing he would do that. Robert Archibald, one of my favorite players at Illinois, got so mad after one game that he went into the locker room, punched the door and broke his hand. He didn't miss a practice. I made him tape it and play left-handed. They just made sure to tape it in a way where he wouldn't hurt it worse. I said, 'Your teammates aren't going to be punished because of what you did in frustration.' I didn't do it out of meanness. But I wasn't going to bail him out and hold him out of practice. If anything, I wanted to make him feel bad about it so he would never do something like that again. He went on and became an NBA player.
"The bottom line is this: It takes some energy and a strong commitment to go into a league that is as competitive as the Big 12 and try to build a program. When I was at Oral Roberts and trying to get that program started, some of the things that took place there ... wow. The first year we started with 15 scholarship players and finished with seven. The second year we started with 15 scholarship players and ended with eight. We had 15 scholarship players quit in two years, and it wasn't because I was running them off.
"We didn't have the same kind of media attention Texas Tech has, but it's amazing how the situations and tactics are probably eerily similar. Billy's aspirations aren't to finish sixth in the league. His aspirations are, 'Hey, I've gotta put our university in a position to win it.' It doesn't happen overnight, but the foundation has to be built where people understand, 'Hey, this is how we do things every day. And when we do things every day over a period of time, that will translate to success.' He's not trying to have a great team this year. He's trying to develop the foundation for a great program, and he wants everyone associated with the program -- not just the players and assistants, but everyone -- to work just as hard as him in whatever role they may have.
"I'll tell you one thing. Billy can upset you. He can piss you off. He's pissed me off. But who that is competitive hasn't done that? Who can't understand that? I got mad at him sometimes when we worked together and he got mad at me. Coaching against him, some of our postgame handshakes have been the quickest handshakes of all time. It didn't have one thing to do with what I thought of him as a person. It was just a heat-of-the-moment deal.
"Still, you hear all these things and wonder, 'Is this stuff really [true]?' Then today you go read this stuff from players who played for him and loved him -- even guys who were with him last year -- and it's like, 'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! How could it be so different from one team to the next? How could it be so different?'
"It's gotten to the point where it has to be investigated. I love Billy, but it has to be investigated. It has to be looked into. What I hope happens is that, after looking into it, the situations that have occurred -- if they've indeed occurred -- are situations that are correctable. I'm not going to sit here and say the blame is all on one side, because I don't know. My guess is that the blame is probably somewhere in the middle, where both parties could probably improve on some things.
"I'm not an administrator. Administrators may think differently. They've got to do what is best for the athletic department and the university. But from my vantage point, Billy is what's best. I hope he has a chance to continue as long as it's within the guidelines of what is placed in front of him. I think it'd be very fair. If things need to be corrected, I hope he's given an opportunity to correct them. And the only way that could occur is if this whole thing is investigated. If it's investigated and certain things have transpired where he's 100 percent wrong ... well, people do what they do. It's part of business. But in this particular case, I find most of these [accusations] hard to imagine, because I know him, and what's been reported isn't the Billy I know."
6dAndy Katz and David Purdum
6dESPN The Magazine