Posted on Fri, Apr. 06, 2007
Kentucky to name Gillispie basketball coach
By Jerry Tipton
Kentucky might have found a coach who loves basketball as passionately as its fans do.
In his meteoric rise through the coaching ranks, Billy Clyde Gillispie has gained a reputation as someone who lives, eats and breathes the sport.
A recent profile of the coach in The New York Times said the cliché about being married to a job fit Gillispie. Divorced with no children, he’s got the time to devote all his energies to the job.
Gillispie, who sports a won-loss record of 100-58 in five seasons, has revived basketball programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M in his short but spectacular coaching career. At each stop, he manufactured the biggest one-season improvement in college basketball.
His first UTEP team had a 6-24 record. His second went 24-8 and won the Western Athletic Conference.
His reward was another reclamation project, this time at Texas A&M. Gillispie inherited a team that went 7-21 the season before he arrived. His first A&M team went 21-10, making Gillispie the first coach in Division I history to have the country’s most-improved record in back-to-back seasons.
Texas A&M had a school record 27-7 record this past season, which included a top-10 ranking and advancement to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
In describing Gillispie’s single-minded devotion to the job, The New York Times noted that he drinks Dr. Pepper for breakfast, isn’t sure about his sister’s last name and “is so tough on his players that his mother swears she would not play for him.”
Gillispie, 47, noted his “unbalanced” life in an interview with Times sportswriter Pete Thamel. Gillispie grew up in Graford, Texas, a central Texas town too small (population 578) to let football capture the people’s imagination. Basketball, which requires fewer players and less equipment, became the town’s sport.
His father, Clyde, drove a cattle truck. His mother, Wimpy, still works as a checkout clerk at Morrow Grocery. His sister, Jerry Hoffman, coaches girls basketball at an east Texas high school.
A high school point guard, Gillispie attended Ranger College, a junior college in Texas. He began his coaching career as a team manager at Sam Houston State.
Gillispie, who has made 10 job changes in the past 19 years, got his big break when Bill Self hired him from Baylor to be an assistant at Tulsa. He followed Self to Illinois, where he was credited with recruiting the core players on the Illini’s 2005 Final Four team.
St. John’s Coach Norm Roberts, who worked on the same Illinois staff, has recalled how Gillispie had 50 or 60 hand-written recruiting letters stacked behind his desk each day. “And they were all different,” Roberts told The New York Times.