Gillispie, coaches and the media

Here’s the thing to remember about all of Billy Gillispie’s recent run-ins with the media. If he were 7-3 in his last 10 games instead of 3-7, nobody would be saying anything about it.

But the situation is what it is. And when Billy is rude to Jeaninne Edwards, or seems brusque or impatient with questions by UK radio voice Tom Leach, or closes the door on ESPN’s All-Access after a loss, it becomes news.

Now this should be said: I think you have to accept as a reporter — and in my case, especially, as a columnist — that sometimes coaches are going to react that way.

Some are just more artful at it than others. Let’s take former UK coach and current U of L head man Rick Pitino. He can be just as evasive as football coach Steve Kragthorpe, who is taking a world of criticism for his less than detailed answers, and as pointed as Gillispie, who is taking his own heat. The difference is that while Kragthorpe may talk around a question with generalities, Pitino will launch into an entertaining story that, more often than not, becomes the next sound bite on the news.

If Pitino really wants to correct a reporter, and I’ve heard him do this, he’ll say, “You’re really too good of a reporter to ask that question.” And if he doesn’t want to answer a question, sometimes he’ll ignore it entirely and say whatever he wants.

Bob Valvano, who does color commentary for U of L radio broadcasts, has the definitive quotes: “He gives you fantastic answers to questions you did not ask.”

That’s what Gillispie should have done when Leach asked about Jodie Meeks sitting at South Carolina. Instead, he tried to give Leach a lecture.

Now, Leach didn’t mind. Because Leach is a professional, and he understands what we all do. When you’re interviewing a coach, especially after a loss, sometimes they’re going to be curt, short, rude. If you ask a tough question, you might get a tough answer.

The bigger issue for Gillispie is that the message seems, at times, to be controlling him, instead of him controlling the message.

I don’t like to quote myself, but I’m going to.

From Feb. 16, 2007: UK has been at its best with coaches who were iconic, who had the presence and mystique to match the program’s. It has had two of those: Rupp and Pitino.

I wonder if UK fans will ever be satisfied outside of that kind of magnitude. The fact is, for those who’d like to see Smith move along just more than one year removed from a 41-week run in the top10, there are plenty of coaches out there who could come in and win. But I don’t see anyone who could escape the question of being “big enough” for the job.

By being “big enough,” I mean, big enough to take the focus of this circus onto himself and project out of it and thrive in that spotlight rather than resent it.

Pitino, of course, is one of the best at this. And Rupp, it must be remembered, was a nationally sought-after speaker and master storyteller.

Think Rupp didn’t ruffle the media? One of my favorite stories Billy Reed tells about him is coming up to ask for an interview outside his office, and hearing the secretary go in and tell Rupp that Billy Reed wanted to talk to him, and Rupp saying: “What does that little turd want now?”

But Rupp knew how to handle all of it. Once he told the press that Johnny Cox hadn’t been practicing so well in preseason practices and he wasn’t sure if he’d be starting in the season opener. Maybe he was trying to send a message to Cox or his team, I don’t know.

But there was an outcry. The next day or so, Rupp updated the status. He said he’d gotten a flurry of mail from the mountains, including one letter that said that if Johnny Cox wasn’t in the starting lineup in the opening game, there was going to be a hanging, and he didn’t mean in effigy.

Rupp then said this: “Damned if Cox didn’t start practicing better that very day.”

It’s easier when you’re winning. But at Kentucky, make no mistake, it doesn’t hurt to have that extra dose of charisma.

Gillispie, I do believe, has the kind of personality that would grow on Kentucky fans. He’s just run into a tough situation to show it. And he has made some missteps.


18 thoughts on “Gillispie, coaches and the media

  1. Eric, I really think you’re getting to something here. After listening and watching Gillispie for two years now, both on and off the court, I’ve come to one conclusion: he’s stupid. Now, he may still have what it takes to be a good basketball coach, but the man can’t piece together a coherent paragraph, or for that matter a coherent sentence, to save his life. I understand coaches don’t have to be Rhodes Scholars to be successful, but just listen to Pitino and Gillispie for five minutes and the differences are astounding. Gillispie’s interviews are the worst I’ve ever seen or heard in major college basketball. It appears this substantial mental disconnect is spilling over to the basketball court.

  2. Gillispie has the perfect personality for those people. He’s arrogant, abrasive, doesn’t apologize for anything, ignorant of anything outside his own universe: absolutely perfect.The problem of course is that he’s not winning.

  3. Salvador, you just described Bobby Petrino. He didn’t have personality, but if you can coach, that’s what matters. With UK basketball, though, I think it takes a little extra. Just an opinion. UK fans loved Joe B., but not like they did Rupp. He didn’t win with the personality that Rupp had. Few do.

  4. Eric, you hit the nail on the head.Part of Billy G's problem he hasn'tone a significant game at UK. He's 0-2 against UofL & UNC. He is 1-1 vs. IU, but there is no way UK could have lost to IU this year. Wait a minute, oh heck we can give them credit on that. In post seasontourneys Gillispie is 0-2, falling to Georgia, sound familiar, in theSEC Tourney & losing to Marquette in the NCAA.Of course, part of the problem is if you don't schedule big games, you can't win big games. Games withKansas, Michigan St., UCLA & NotreDame have been replaced with VMI,Longwood, Stony Brook, Texas Southern, Gardner Webb & San Diego& the Cats are not exactly lightingup those foes. If you play some biggames pre-conference you probablydon't see the breakdowns we've allseen the last 3 weeks.With his team in retreat, maybe Gillispie can rally them for a nicestreak in the NIT; provided UK has a place to play their opener, whichwould be during the Sweet 16 @ RuppMaybe if WKU doesn't win the Sun Belt maybe they could play the Catsat Diddle.

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