All Gillispie wants to change is UK's record
The Kentucky players had left the locker room after yesterday's 71-58 win over Mississippi in the first game of the SEC Tournament.
The lone remaining Wildcat was coach Billy Gillispie, who was surrounded by a small group of reporters. He held a plastic cup of soft drink and never stopped fidgeting with it as talk turned to his future at UK.
Here's the main thing you need to know about Gillispie's approach when it comes to the recent speculation concerning his job.
"I didn't come here to be a celebrity," Gillispie said. "I came here to coach basketball."
You might or might not like Gillispie, the job he has done as coach, his demeanor with the public and the media or his sometimes maddening stubbornness in matters ranging from substitutions to strategy. But yesterday Gillispie made one thing clear: Like him or not, you're not going to change him.
Last week, UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart told ESPN.com that he would sit down with the coach at the end of the season. He talked about the need for "adjustments," and spoke about the public role of the UK basketball coach.
Asked to respond, Gillispie said, "You need to talk to Mitch, I guess. I don't know. I don't have any response to anything. It doesn't matter to me. You're talking to the wrong guy."
This is who Gillispie is. He wants to coach. He wants to recruit. He doesn't want to entertain you. And here's the problem, if Barnhart is dissatisfied with this. It's who Gillispie always has been. It's who he was at Texas A&M. It's who he was last season.
When Gillispie arrived, he was viewed as a breath of small-town Texas fresh air. He was no-nonsense and serious about winning. He had no life outside of basketball. Nothing Gillispie has done here, with the exception of going 8-8 in the Southeastern Conference, has been different from the coach who was advertised. This is who Barnhart chose. And this is who he got.
The problem -- and Gillispie said this yesterday -- isn't his public persona. It's his win-loss record. If Gillispie were winning the SEC, he could bring Jeannine Edwards flowers and call her honey, and his fan base would smile and wink.
But you mess with their string of NCAA Tournaments, and the charm wears off faster than the dew on a Texas summer morning. Gillispie insisted yesterday that the public requirements of the UK job are just like any other coaching job.
When pressed with the notion that UK's coach has more of a public role than most, Gillispie quipped, "Well, that wasn't on the job description. … You can be as public as you want to be and not win enough games and it makes no difference. We have to win games."
"I think, like I've said many times before, our No. 1 thing is to coach the team and our No. 2 thing is to recruit, and those are very, very, very close," he said moments before. "And those are the main things that we need to do to get this program back where it needs to be. Celebrity, whatever, makes me no difference."
As he spoke, Gillispie glanced over at an SEC official who was counting down until the mandatory interview period would be ended. "Two minutes," he shouted out at one point.
UK basketball, I've said in this space before, has enjoyed its greatest heights with coaches who were iconic. Adolph Rupp. Rick Pitino. Men who commanded attention and were masters with the media. Barnhart is no more going to move Gillispie in that direction than he is going to get him to try a zone defense. In fact, Barnhart might have more luck on the zone thing.
Gillispie is wrong if he thinks the public role of the UK coach isn't greater than that of most coaches. But on this he is right: Winning is the ultimate personality enhancer.