Monday, March 16, 2009

Cutting Losses

Selection Sunday was yesterday, and for the first time in 18 years Kentucky was left out of the brackets. There has been a lot written, blogged, and "talk radioed" about the state of the Kentucky basketball program with Billy Gillispie at the helm. Much of the ranting and raving comes from the same people that expect Kentucky to win every game and make the Final Four every year. I do not count myself in that company of Kentucky basketball fanatic. But I do count myself -- reluctantly -- in the company of those that believe Dr. Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart should cut the cord with Gillispie after a short two-year stint as basketball coach.

Let me start by saying that I was a fan of the Gillispie hire. Although I was a Tubby Smith supporter to his last day on the job, I thought if anyone fit the mold of what it takes to succeed in the fishbowl that is the University of Kentucky basketball program, it was Billy Gillispie. Here was a guy that admittedly put basketball first and foremost in his life so much so that it cost him his marriage. What better person was there to eat, sleep, and breathe basketball at one of the most storied schools in the country to appease a never-satisfied fan base.

Through his first season and a half, I still thought he was the best coach for the job despite some embarrassing losses -- Gardener-Webb, a 40-pt drubbing at Vanderbilt, VMI. But my mind began to change in January as Kentucky went on a 3-game losing streak. It was not the losses that bothered me so much -- after all, Kentucky never did develop a solid scoring option outside of Jodie Meeks or Patrick Patterson. Rather, it was the way the coach handled himself in representing the university that bothered me.

At Ole Miss, Gillispie was interviewed by an ESPN sideline reporter where he gave a condescending answer to a straightforward question. The next game, a home loss to loss to South Carolina in January where UK blew a 10-point second half lead, Gillispie chased the officials off the court at the end of the game rather than shaking South Carolina coach (and Lexington native) Darrin Horn's hand. Finally, the following week on another ESPN-televised game against Florida, Gillispie once again gave a belittling, snippy answer to a seemilngly harmless question from Jeannine Edwards, ESPN's sideline reporter.

As the losses began piling up and Kentucky's chances became slimmer and slimmer of making the tournament, articles were written that were more and more critical of Kentucky's coach. Some of those articles come with the territory when a team is losing. But when a coach's team is not winning the quirks and behaviors are less likely to be brushed aside or glossed over.

One article in particular on stuck with me as I came to grips with the fact that I may join some of the fanatics that were calling for Gillispie's head. The piece was "An inside look at a blue blood on the bubble" by Dana O'Neil where she was given "all access" to follow the team and coach through practices and games the last week of the season. The article touched on Gillispie's sarastic leadership & motivational style:

Gillispie hasn't revealed himself to be a yeller. He is more a sniper, a guy with a biting tongue who can make his point without ever inserting a curse word.

Far edgier in this practice, he reacts to a lazy lob pass with a "That's the difference between being 11-4 and 8-7 right now,'' and sarcastically asks a player if he's ready to hustle now.

If you have ever worked for a manager or played for a coach that used this type of leadership with people, you know how limited this approach is. I am a believer that you don't bring the best out in people over the long term by consistently belittling them or using negative motivational tactics. Granted, this is basketball and you don't hand out Disney stickers when a player does something good to motivate him. There is yelling and hard-nosed tactics involved with motivating 18 year-olds. But sarcasm and negativity as the cornerstone of your approach burns people out over the long haul.

Case in point, a team that features two of the best players in the country in Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson (and two incredibly quality individuals at that) loses nine of its last thirteen games down the stretch and misses the NCAA.

So I am joining the fanatics in calling for a coaching change after two seasons. After two seasons of a childish, arrogant, and ultimately non-producing coach, Billy Gillispie is not the right guy to lead the University of Kentucky basketball team.

The only caveat I will put on this is if Gillispie atones for his mistakes and changes his ways, especially with how he represents the university. But there is something about that stubborn, arrogant Texas swagger that leads me to believe Kentucky fans have to take him or leave him as he is.

If that's the case I say cut your losses right now and make a change before the situation gets even worse.


a said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.

- Amanda M.

Brooke said...

looks like they heard you!