In March of 2009, just three weeks before Billy Gillispie was fired from Kentucky, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil was given an assignment to follow Gillispie and the UK basketball team around for an All-Access feature on the program. O’Neil had done many of these before, but none were anything like her time around Billy Clyde. In her look back on the All-Access piece, she uses words like “standoffish,” “rude,” “insular,” and “abrasive” to describe his personality. She said she was locked out of the locker room, and then asked to leave by the coach once he allowed her back in.
But, as O’Neil writes, it’s not about how he treated her; it’s how he treated his players at Kentucky.
I have logged more than a few hundred hours around basketball coaches and their players. News flash: Coaches aren’t always nice. They can be downright mean when they have to be.
But always there is a place for levity — at the end of a practice, on the bus, the plane, somewhere the other side of the relationship is apparent. There is banter and fun.
Not at Kentucky. In four days, I never saw Gillispie have anything other than basketball-related interactions with his players.
Gillispie ended every conversation, broke every huddle, by saying, “Let’s go to work,” and that is exactly what it was — joyless work for the players. In a situation desperate to break the oppression of misery and the stress of losing, there was not even the briefest of respites.
The man is sick. I don’t know how the players who stayed lasted as long as they did.
[ESPN.com: We should’ve seen this coming, (September 6, 2012)]
[ESPN.com: An inside look at a blue blood on the bubble, (March 10, 2009)]