Billy Gillispie resigns at Texas Tech, likely ending his head coaching career
In the two years between his abrupt firing at Kentucky and his celebrated arrival at Texas Tech, Billy Gillispie was always one of the most intriguing coaches on the market.
A DUI and a high-profile flameout in Lexington certainly had damaged his stock, yet fan bases clamored for their schools to hire him as a result of the remarkable turnarounds he'd previously engineered at long-struggling UTEP and Texas A&M.
Unemployment won't be nearly as kind to Gillispie this time because the way he wasted his second chance.
Gillispie officially "resigned" Thursday evening citing "medical reasons," a hollow face-saving gesture that does little to obscure the real truth. Yes, the high blood pressure and stress-related ailments Gillispie has battled the past few weeks are scary, but the reality is he was almost certainly going to be fired even if he had been healthy enough to coach.
What ended Gillispie's tenure at Texas Tech — and maybe his career as a Division I head coach — were allegations he forced injured players to practice, bullied players and staffers and generally created an unhealthy climate inside the program.
First, current players expressed concerns during a meeting with athletic director Kirby Hocutt. Then came reports that Gillispie's behavior had led 15 players to transfer during his 18-month Texas Tech tenure and numerous other basketball staffers to leave as well. And finally, his best returning player, Jordan Tolbert, told ESPN.com last week that he too would leave the program if Gillispie were invited back.
Viewed through a narrow prism, these incidents might not prevent a risk-taking athletic director intent on making a splash from giving a contrite Gillispie another chance someday. Combine his disastrous Texas Tech tenure with his other transgressions, however, and it's pretty clear that a guy who five years ago was the most coveted coach on the market is now completely unemployable.
The players Gillispie recruited at Kentucky often turned out to be nowhere close to good enough for the SEC. Worse yet, stories of Gillispie's abrasive personality and borderline-abusive tactics are rampant from his abrupt two-year tenure in Lexington.
Gillispie once got so angry at Josh Harrellson he forced the center to spend halftime of a game at Vanderbilt in a bathroom stall and then had him ride more than 200 miles home in the back of the equipment van. He also allegedly kicked star Jodie Meeks off the team at halftime of a 2009 NIT game against Notre Dame. And most seriously, he allegedly pressured Derrick Jasper into returning too soon from microfracture surgery, an injury from which the talented guard never fully recovered.
Texas Tech took a chance on Gillispie in spite of those stories because school officials believed he'd learned from his mistakes and he would be a better fit in football-crazed Lubbock than a basketball fish bowl like Lexington. Instead his tenure with the Red Raiders lasted a mere one season during which Gillispie won just one Big 12 game in part because the players he inherited from previous coach Pat Knight weren't good enough to be competitive.
Associate head coach Chris Walker will take control of the Texas Tech program on an interim basis, giving the Red Raiders a year to find the appropriate candidate to lift them out of this mess. Meanwhile, Gillispie will have plenty of free time to get healthy and to ponder his murky future.
Five years ago, he was a coach on the rise ready to ascend to the peak of his profession. Two years ago, he was a risky but intriguing option for a program seeking to rebuild. And now, between fighting personal problems and crashing and burning at his last two jobs, he's virtually untouchable and unlikely to resurface as a Division I head coach again.