R.C. Buford always called Billy Gillispie by his middle name, Clyde. That was partly out of convenience.
The two would get together with one of Buford’s college buddies, Bill Self, and there were too many “Bills” in the room.
They would become close, and Buford always admired Gillispie’s ability to judge talent. Buford wanted Gillispie to come work with him in the Spurs’ front office, but Gillispie was never built that way. He needed to coach, and he needed to coach his way.
So don’t be surprised if Gillispie ends up in San Antonio, because that might be his only option soon.
Clyde is on sick leave now, and so is his career.
Gillispie said he’d changed after he didn’t win enough games or friends at Kentucky. He was a mess then, alienating those he should have aligned with, and his third DWI arrest took him to another depth.
Gillispie found help from John Lucas, and he seemed to have also found another way to live. He told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2010:
“I’ve been on the fast track for a long time professionally. I never had a chance to take a deep breath. I’ve forced myself to become educated in a lot of different areas because of some of the mistakes I’ve made, and I think I’ve used my time wisely. I think I’ve enriched myself as a person and helped myself as a coach. I don’t know that this is not one of the best things that has ever happened in my life.”
This is what people say when they’ve re-examined themselves. This is also what people say when they want another high-paying job.
But no matter how much Gillispie did or didn’t change, he was always going to coach the same way. He is driven and aggressive and demanding, and not everyone likes this.
Acie Law famously didn’t at Texas AM. Only in time, when he understood Gillispie, did he come to appreciate his coach.
“I love him to death, and I am so glad I was able to be around him,” Law would tell reporters later. “He is the reason I am where I am today.”
So it’s likely Gillispie didn’t coach differently in Lubbock than he had in College Station. Rebuttals to stories coming from those at Texas Tech also suggest there is another side, and what Self told ESPN on Monday is true.
“To have players who have only been in a program for a year or two, and be such experts on what it takes to win and how to be treated,” the Kansas coach said, “is a little bit hard to grasp.”
But if Gillispie’s coaching style never changed, circumstances did. His past and his 8-23 record last season made him vulnerable; his players protested because they felt free to.
That this is happening again at Tech would make Mike Leach shake his head. Gillispie’s only edge: Craig James’ kid doesn’t play hoops.
With another coach, at another time, the athletic director might stick with his coach. Tech stuck with Bobby Knight, after all.
But Gillispie isn’t Knight. He’s not a legend worth a few headaches. He has also given his bosses an out, since he was put on notice for exceeding NCAA practice limits last winter. Then, he was issued a reprimand and told there would be “no tolerance for further disregard for rules.”
Monday added to the momentum against Gillispie. First, Gillispie was put on extended medical leave to give Tech time to investigate. Next, his leading scorer last season, Jordan Tolbert, told ESPN.com he doesn’t want to play for Gillispie again.
For Gillispie, it’s a career crisis. If Tech goes against him, as Kentucky did before, he will be stamped as an abusive, erratic coach who couldn’t win.
Then would Clyde, once a rising star, be unemployable?
At least in college.