Commentary

No winners in Gillispie saga -- not yet

Originally Published: September 20, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

There is no joy in Lubbock.

Or at least there shouldn't be.

The Texas Tech saga reached its inevitable and, frankly, only conclusion with Thursday's announcement that Billy Gillispie had resigned to concentrate on his health.

But this isn't a win by any means for anyone.

Certainly not for Texas Tech, which is about to have a different coach for a third straight season and has to reconfigure its program a month shy of practice -- with all of eight wins to build on from last season.

Not for Gillispie, whose reputation is in tatters after he burned coaching bridges in Lubbock and Lexington, Ky., in a mere three combined seasons.

[+] EnlargeBilly Gillispie
Shane Keyser/Getty ImagesAmid health issues, Billy Gillispie resigned Thursday after an 8-23 season and allegations that he mistreated his players.

And not even for the players, whose in-house insurrection against their coach sparked all of this. They are left with an interim head coach and the stigma of this entire sordid affair.

No, this is not a day to celebrate or even breathe a sigh of relief in Lubbock. Instead, it's a day when everyone ought to be staring hard into the mirror, wondering how this whole mess got this far in the first place.

Athletic director Kirby Hocutt has to ask himself the hard questions about whether he truly and thoroughly vetted Gillispie as a head-coaching candidate. The players' dissatisfaction shouldn't have been entirely unexpected, not after Gillispie's rather public flameout at Kentucky. Should Hocutt have known better?

The assistants -- Chris Walker, Jeremy Cox and Bubba Jennings -- have to question whether they did enough to prevent a brushfire from turning into a raging inferno.

Head coaches aren't always nice. In fact, they can be downright cutting and cruel. It is part of the take-no-prisoners/suffer-no-fool hard-wiring necessary to be successful in such a cutthroat business. Usually the assistant serves as a buffer (think good cop/bad cop) who placates players or at least brings the big problems to the head coach's door before they reach the athletic director. Did these assistants do that adequately?

Even the players, whose complaints and concerns certainly seem legitimate, should wonder whether they could have somehow kept everything, as programs love to say, in the family. Players have gripes -- real ones -- all the time. I spoke with a few athletic directors since this all went public, and everyone said this happens more than we know.

But that's just it. We don't know. It's handled privately. That the Gillispie complaints went public -- or more accurately, viral -- is what ultimately set the wheels in motion here. Were the players right to air their dirty laundry? Was it the last resort or merely the easiest tactic?

Finally, and most importantly, Gillispie is the person who really needs to take a good, long stare at the man in the mirror. He needs to recognize both his own failings and culpability.

He can coach -- no one will argue the man's ability to X and O. But if college basketball were just about designing good inbounds plays, it would be a pretty easy profession.

It's not.

It's about being a university ambassador and a solid citizen, about being someone who can be entrusted with a multimillion-dollar business.

And most important, it's about relationships -- with donors, alumni, boosters, fans, superiors and, above all else, the players.

You can lose fans. You can even lose games.

But when you lose your players, it's all over.

Billy Gillispie
AP Photo/Paul ZoellerIn happier times, Gillispie was a wildly successful and popular coach at UTEP and Texas A&M.

Gillispie has two bitter school divorces to prove it.

He needs to recognize that his personality -- standoffish at best, cold at worst -- needs to be softened. That doesn't mean he needs to be soft; he just needs to be human.

What happened at Texas Tech is over now. The program will regroup and move on. Eventually he'll be another footnote to the Red Raiders' history.

Still -- and not without a touch of irony -- Gillispie is the one who can benefit the most from the mess he created.

If he does as Hocutt said in the university news release and focuses on his health, that's ultimately what really matters. No 52-year-old man should be in and out of the hospital multiple times for high blood pressure, stress and anxiety. That's a body screaming SOS.

That Gillispie is listening in the here and now is critical and laudable.

It's what he does going forward that will matter most. The "just show me the final result" world of sports is strangely the epicenter of do-overs. Sinners are forgiven their transgressions, penitents given a shot at redemption.

Anyone who thinks Billy Gillispie won't be given a chance to coach again hasn't been paying attention to our history.

He'll get another chance, but the question is, who will he be then?

If the man who re-emerges from what should be a life-changing crash-and-burn is unapologetic and unchanged, this entire debacle was really for nothing.

But if Gillispie can recalibrate both his life and his health -- if he can actually partner some serious soul-searching introspection with his coaching acumen -- maybe there will be a winner in all of this after all.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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