As an alum of the great University of Kentucky, I must say a few words about what went down last week with the firing of coach Billy Gillispie. I agree that in most cases, two years is not enough time for a new coach to prove himself and turn around a program. But, apparently Billy G. didn’t click with the powers that be at UK, including the boosters and media.
But, for once, I think people need to take a strong look at athletic director Mitch Barnhart and question his role in this debacle and, ultimately, if he’s the right person for the A.D. job. I, for one, have never been impressed with Mr. Barnhart. And, if the side show he’s created with the basketball program indicates anything, he should be the one to leave. You don’t fire a coach without a new coach securely in place, and that’s the case with both Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie. When Tubby left, Barnhart just assumed that when UK came calling, a coach would drop everything to come to Lexington. And while my love for UK basketball may have me agree with this statement, I know in reality that’s not always the case. Barnhart quickly found out that fact for himself when his top two or three choices said no. So, he had to scramble and found Billy G.
Now, we’re back to square one and all of the media speculation has started again, turning a once well-respected basketball program into a circus. Mr. Barnhart, don’t mess this one up.
I hope we get the right person for this job. It’s not easy. Kentucky is a pressure cooker. You have to be able to flourish under an intense spotlight, live in a fish bowl, charm the pants off of everyone, speak to the Rotary and women’s clubs, hawk potato chips and cell phone plans on television, and, oh, yeah, take your team to the Final Four. It takes a rare personality, but it can be done.
There are some illustrious names being bandied about and hopefully, one of these candidates can step up to the plate. And, if a man can’t do it, perhaps we need to look a little further south at the Tennessee women’s program. Pat Summit has created a dynasty there. Maybe it takes a woman to come in and clean up this mess. Heck, maybe Pat Summit should be our next athletic director. Hmm, there’s an idea.