Be honest- there was a time when you didn’t like Gregg Doyel, wasn’t there? I know I didn’t. Used to despise the guy. In fact, I may have been guilty of sending him one or more pieces of hate mail. He’s used to it, though. In fact, when I started our interview by leveling with him about just how much I didn’t like him, he shrugged it off and said “No one does.”
But admittedly, Doyel has grown on me over time and he believes he knows why. “People dislike me when I’m killing their team and when I stop killing their team they start liking me. I didn’t like Kentucky when Tubby was there. It was nothing personal- well, it was personal. I didn’t like Tubby.” Was I guilty of that? Not being objective and hating someone just because they spoke ill of my team? Who am I kidding? Of course I was. “Or”, Doyel suggested, “you could have been worn down by my animal magnetism.” Um, yes. It was definitely the first option.
But we’ll discuss basketball in a minute. First, I had to find out Gregg’s allegiances. Being a ’92 graduate of the University of Florida, I was sure I could picture him in the middle of the Swamp, rubbing elbows with the coeds and doing the chomp. I asked him if he still cheered for Florida. “Oh, hell no. Never. Never. Not even when I went to Florida. In fact, the only Florida game I can remember having a rooting interest in was in 1993. They were playing Florida State and I was rooting for them to lose. Florida was killing them, like 35-3 and then Florida State started coming back and I just thought what a great comeback that would be.” Gregg isn’t even a fan of Tim Tebow. When pressed if his status as a Gator alum and a national sportswriter put him squarely in the driver’s seat of the Tebow Bandwagon, Doyel said “Lord no. I totally jumped off that thing even before it got going. Whenever the world tells me it’s one way, I’m going to see it as the other. I can’t help it. I refuse to follow along. I can’t do it.” Finally. This is sounding like a Gregg Doyel I can get on board with.
Just a few short years ago, it appeared Doyel’s favorite hobby was roasting Kentucky basketball. It seemed not a week went by without some good, old-fashioned Tubby bashing from CBSSportsline’s resident villain. That’s why I found it particularly strange that, during the final few years of the Tubby saga, Doyel wrote a book about Kentucky basketball called “Kentucky Wildcats: Where Have You Gone?” which chronicles the whereabouts of 50 former Cats and not the last 5 years of Kentucky basketball as title might suggest. I myself read the book without buying it at Joseph-Beth and Lexington and found it to be highly enjoyable. I would suggest you to do the same. I asked Gregg why he chose to write a book on Kentucky basketball since he never really had much good to say about the subject. I thought maybe it was because he had found that soft spot in his heart that loved the Cats. Not even close. “I didn’t choose it. It was thrown on my lap. The publisher called and said they were doing a book on Kentucky basketball and we’re looking to pay this much money, want it written in this many weeks or months and want it to be this many words. Are you in or are you out?” So there you have it. Strictly a financial decision and not the product of partiality.
When UK and the Tubster parted ways in 2007 and the man known as Clyde arrived in Lexington, Doyel, ever the critic, was strangely quick to heap mounds of praise on the hire. Even going as far to call it a “grand slam,” “perfect,” and “By the time (Gillispie) is done running Louisville out of the state, the Cardinals will be getting their mail in Missouri.” Well, to the best of my knowledge, Pitino is still receiving his medical insurance bills in Louisville and BCG is back to picking up his mail at Wimpy’s place in Graford. So where did Doyel go wrong? How could something so perfect not work? While he admits he “couldn’t have been more wrong,” he claims he had insufficient information. “I think something’s wrong with Gillispie. I think we’ll find out someday. His last DUI arrest shows there’s a problem there. He wasn’t the fit I thought he’d be or the Kentucky administration thought he’d be. Part of that is that he was used to being the underdog. He goes to Kentucky and he and the spotlight don’t agree. And as smart as I think he is, and I think he’s real smart, he didn’t know himself well enough to know he wouldn’t be able to handle that spotlight.”
Fair enough, but what about his 180 on Pitino? In 2007, Doyel was killing Pitino for allowing Derrick Caracter to sloth around his program, even going as far as to accommodate him with human alarm clocks. From an article that fall- “(Caracter’s) continued presence makes Pitino look awful, and I’m all about anything that makes Pitino look awful.” But in an article last week, Doyel seems to have pulled a John Kerry. The piece’s title? “Damn, I’m starting to like Rick Pitino”. I pressed Doyel as to how he could hate a guy when he coddles his overweight center, but when he coddles (or is it canoodles?) his equipment manager’s wife, he softens on him? “He just strikes me now as more human than he’s ever been. I can empathize with a guy who has done what he’s done, and been through what he’s been through and now has the world laughing at him and mocking him. Going after Pitino now is like piling on, shooting fish in a barrel. If everybody is thinking one thing, it’s my nature to think the other. Everyone is killing him now for something half the world does, so we don’t need to act like he’s the biggest sinner of all time.”
So is this guy Doyel just a contrarion? He doesn’t seem to think so. “There are some writer’s whose whole goal in life is to write what others are already thinking. They want to be a mirror reflection of society. Well, I don’t want to do that. I want to write what people aren’t thinking and make them think in a whole new direction. And for some reason people decide that makes me a jerk. True, I can be wrong, but I always mean what I say.”
Before the interview ended, I wanted to play a little game with Gregg. A word association game. I say a name, he tells me the first thing that comes to his mind. I can’t think of anyone better than Doyel for this. Here’s how it went:
Tubby Smith: Boring
John Wall: Best PG in the country
Joakim Noah: Shut up, you clown
Billy Gillispie: Fooled himself when he took that job
Erin Andrews: Victim, but stay out of the limelight, please
Patrick Patterson: Better than I thought
Karen Sypher: Deserves whatever she gets, and I don’t mean that in a good way
Rick Pitino: Wouldn’t wish his problems on my worst enemy
Matt Jones: He’s no Marc Maggard
Gregg Doyel used to piss me off. Used to make my blood boil. But I’ve realized that the guy truly does make you think outside the message board group think. His views aren’t just to get a rise out of his readers, they’re to make you think in a new direction. And, after talking to him, he’s a really nice guy to boot. Thanks again, Gregg. I appreciated your time. And I never thought I would say this, but- Damn, I’m starting to like Gregg Doyel.