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Is hiring Billy Gillispie worth the risk for Iowa State?

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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He struck out with UTEP and Oregon, but Billy Gillispie hasn't given up on returning to coaching next season.

Less than a year removed from his third DUI and a stint in rehab, the former Kentucky coach placed a call to prominent Iowa State donor Gary Thompson to express his interest in the Cyclones' suddenly vacant head coaching job.

"I had a call from Billy right away," Thompson told the Des Moines Register. "He's interested. I had a call from two others who are interested, too."

The fact that Thompson revealed Gillispie's name and insisted on keeping the other two quiet might suggest that Gillispie isn't a serious threat to land the Iowa State gig, but that hasn't stopped Cyclones fans from debating the merits of his candidacy. A Cyclonefanatic.com message board thread about Gillispie goes 12 pages deep, with a surprising number of success-starved Iowa State supporters suggesting that he's the best man for the job.

Although Gillispie's ugly two-year tenure at Kentucky was a spectacular failure, there's reason to believe he could succeed at Iowa State.

He crashed and burned in Lexington because he couldn't win with Tubby Smith's leftovers, and his standoffish, prickly demeanor with the media, boosters and even his superiors didn't help to generate any patience. The self-professed workaholic previously succeeded in two less high-pressure rebuilding situations more similar to Iowa State, engineering an 18-game turnaround in his second season at UTEP and then building Texas A&M into an upper-tier Big 12 program.

The great risk in hiring Gillispie is two-fold: 1. Is nine months enough time to be sure that his alcoholism is under control? 2. Would parents send their son to a coach whose track record includes three DUIs in the previous 11 years and whose players looked absolutely miserable at Kentucky?

Iowa State is in a tough spot in this search because it's getting started late in the game, there's pressure to make a hire quickly to avoid falling behind in recruiting and many of the obvious candidates might be too similar to Greg McDermott to hire. Normally, Northern Iowa's Ben Jacobson, Wichita State's Gregg Marshall or Missouri State's Cuonzo Martin might be strong candidates, but can the Cyclones really go back to a Missouri Valley coach after McDermott struggled so badly making the same jump?

In spite of that, though, any of those names would be a wiser choice than Gillispie at this point. Maybe in a few years, Gillispie will prove he deserves another chance, but right now, he's too great a risk.

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