Having engineered remarkable turnarounds at long-struggling UTEP and Texas A&M, Billy Gillispie entered the 2007 offseason as the most coveted college hoops coach on the market.
Only five years later, Gillispie's abrasive personality and abusive coaching tactics have made him so radioactive that it's unlikely even a low-level Division I program would give him another chance if Texas Tech cuts him loose.
Gillispie's sputtering career teeters on the verge of flatlining this week due to allegations that have surfaced at the same time as he rests in a Lubbock hospital due to what he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal felt like a mild stroke or heart attack.
Last week, current players reportedly expressed concerns during a meeting with athletic director Kirby Hocutt this week about the way Gillispie has treated them. Then Tuesday night, CBSSports.com shed light on how Gillispie has allegedly mistreated numerous members of his program in his 18 months at Texas Tech, leading 15 players to transfer during that time and numerous other basketball staffers to leave as well.
Among the most serious accusations against Gillispie in the CBSSports.com story:
• Former players said Gillispie ignored NCAA rules limiting practice time to up to four hours per day and no more than 20 hours a week "all the time." Texas Tech even had one marathon eight-hour practice in a single day last season.
• Gillispie allegedly bullied players into practicing while they were injured, most notably African native Kader Tapsoba, who missed last season due to multiple stress fractures. "He was literally crying at practice," an unnamed ex-Red Raider told CBSSports.com "He couldn't even run and Gillispie had him running up and down the steps at the arena."
• Gillispie refused to tell Ty Nurse and Dejan Kravic if he was renewing their scholarships this summer and threatened both would be off the team if they returned home to Canada after summer school ended. As a result, both players had to absorb the cost of the plane tickets they already purchased out of fear of losing their roster spot.
• Coaches were allegedly misled into thinking they had an opportunity to become one of Gillispie's assistants at Texas Tech only to have the offer pulled or altered to a different, lower-paying gig. In several cases, this came after the coaches had already quit their prior jobs, leaving them and their families in limbo.
Viewed through a narrow prism, some of these incidents could perhaps be written off as misunderstandings or the words of bitter former players with an axe to grind. Altogether, however, these are unforgivable offenses, especially in light of Gillispie's past history.
Stories of him humiliating players at Kentucky or treating them poorly are rampant during his abrupt two-year tenure at the school.
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 had to know these stories if they did even cursory research on Gillispie last spring, yet they took a chance on him anyway. They gambled that his alcohol problems were behind him, that his mediocrity at Kentucky was a result of being a poor fit for the public demands of that job and that he could do for the Red Raiders program what he did for UTEP and Texas A&M.
Not even two years later, it's time for Texas Tech officials to admit the experiment has failed and put a stop to it.
They have a losing team. They have unhappy players. And they have a bully of a coach whose star hasn't just faded the past five years. It has burned out altogether.