On October 12, 2007, the curtains dropped and Billy Gillispie was unveiled as the new head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats to a chorus of 24,000 adoring fans chanting his name. Nearly five years later, he is still the talk of the sport, but for very different reasons.
Since Jeff Goodman's article exposing Gillispie's mistreatment of players and staff hit the web last night, it has become CBSSports' most popular piece on Twitter. Everyone, from national writers to fans to my very own mother, has an opinion on Billy, who currently sits in a hospital room in Lubbock, Texas, recovering from high-blood pressure issues. While I'm positive Billy Gillispie has health problems, both physical and mental, it's clear he's not only there for the red jello. He's also hiding from his problems, much like he did after things went downhill in Lexington over three years ago.
Only three years and a National Championship later can we laugh at the irony of this situation. It's easy to look back at Billy's bizarre last days in Lexington from high atop the mountain of college basketball. Let's just say that in Billy's case, "deja vu" is more than just a hangout on a Saturday night.
The similarities between what happened then and what is happening now are striking. Both times, when serious allegations came out about Billy's mistreatment of players and both times, he retreated into hiding, refusing to return calls or deal with the consequences. Three years ago, he overworked his players to the point of injury, made them cry, locked them into bathroom stalls, and forced them to eat Pop Tarts to gain weight. This time around, he overworked his players to the point of injury, made them cry, drove off high profile recruits and staff, and bullied radio play-by-play announcers into shooting layups and running stairs. Three years ago, he had to run away from Alan Cutler; this time, he admitted himself into the hospital. Three years ago, he lost his job. What now?
Texas Tech officials say they will address Billy's job situation once he is released from the hospital. After what has transpired, it's pretty obvious they will fire him. Even if the allegations aren't true (and, come on, who actually believes that?), the damage to Texas Tech's image is catastrophic. Who would ever allow their kid to play for him again? What school would ever hire him? Who in their right mind could ever trust him?
After breaking the story on Twitter, Jeff Goodman says he has received over 300 calls, texts and tweets about it, and only one was in defense of Gillispie. Billy has burned a lot of bridges in the sport, despite being given more than a second chance. Looking back, the reason we're talking about this with such interest is because we lived through it ourselves. The players have the scars; the staff has the stories, Alan Cutler has the worn out running shoes. Perry Stevenson? He's got the jokes:
Perry can laugh now, and in time, so will the players at Texas Tech. They will move on, hopefully to better schools where they can further their basketball careers. We'll shrug off this story in a few days as we prepare to defend our National Championship. Know who really needs to move on? Billy Gillispie. Unfortunately, unless he truly commits himself to getting help, the only thing he'll ever be is a bully with no future. Even then, it's a toss up.