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.
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.