In this round of the blogger contest, our contestants were each assigned a mainstream media figure to interview. They were given the ability to ask any question and take the interview in any direction. Garrett Sparks was assigned Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News.
The little picture that accompanies Mike Decourcy’s articles on the Sporting News displays the best facial hair in sports journalism. Brad Pitt told me that Decourcy’s stache-goat combo inspired his own bit of manicured nasal lawn in Inglourious Basterds, but nothing would grow on his chin but a bit of fuzz. Decourcy himself performed some of the stunts that were later cut, but will be included in the upcoming “Dead Natzee” DVD edition.
Mike slowed down just enough after his holiday weekend to take a break from his golden Sporting News keyboard to let me explore with him some other alternate realities.
Q: Mike, thanks so much for taking a moment to chat with me today. The best movie of the summer for many Kentucky Sports Radio readers was Quentin Tarantino’s alternate history of the end of Nazi Germany, so I wanted to see what you thought about a few “what-ifs” in college basketball right now. So first, what if back on March 27, Mitch Barnhardt had decided to give Billy Gillispie another year to improve his fit at the University of Kentucky?
A: Well, I think there’s a good chance that Patrick Patterson would no longer be playing for the Wildcats. I think you’d be looking at another year of really struggling in the SEC. They would probably go into the season ranked behind Tennessee, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Florida, probably Florida. You’d be looking at a fourth or fifth place finish in the SEC East. I think that the reality is that given the circumstances as they were near the close of March last season, I don’t think there was really much choice but to move on.
Q: Do you think there would have been any other significant recruits besides Daniel Orton and Jon Hood in the pipeline that could have really come in and contributed with Gillispie still at the helm?
A: I’m not going to say there aren’t players. I don’t remember exactly who all Kentucky was involved with at that point, but I know there weren’t many difference makers out there at that point. John Wall was out there, but Kentucky wasn’t going to get him with Billy Gillispie as coach. So I think you’d be looking at being predicted for a fifth place finish in the SEC East and having a very difficult time digging out of that. Certainly it would have been wonderful for Memphis because Memphis would be looking at a preseason number one ranking, and John Calipari would still be in place, and they might have been able to finish the job they almost completed in 2008. But I don’t think that it would have been a positive circumstance for Kentucky.
Q: How do you think the negotiations with Billy Gillispie have changed since he was fired?
A: I can’t really say. I’m not exactly sure what Kentucky’s attitude is towards this situation now. They may look at what happened a month or so ago as an opportunity to reduce their position, their offer, whatever you want to call it. Say there’s enough on the table. Or I should say they may see it as an opportunity to reduce what they may be willing to settle for, put it that way. But they may not. I don’t know what their legal position is. I think that Billy Gillispie is owed money. That’s not a legal opinion, it’s a personal opinion. I think it would have been smart to have settled this by now. I don’t think that it was a wise decision. It may have been the correct legal decision to sue, but I don’t think it was a good tactical decision for someone who wishes to pursue a coaching future. When you get into suing universities as a college coach, your opportunities become reduced because the next university president thinks, “This guy was willing to sue his last boss. How do I know he’s not willing to sue me.’
Q: What do you think has to happen before Gillispie becomes a head coach at another BCS conference school?
A: I think a lot of time is going to have to pass. I don’t know what “a lot” of time would be defined as, a year or two years, whatever. That’s going to be dependent upon the minds that have to hire, but I think a significant amount of time is going to have to pass with him being without incident. It could be one year, it could be two. But it will have to be a while.
Q: I’ve even heard some suggestion that Gillispie should try to get another year back under Bill Self as an assistant. That seems like a fairly radical suggestion. Any thoughts about that kind of approach?
A: I don’t think it would hurt him for to work for someone as an assistant. I don’t think that would be a bad idea at all. But I don’t think that’s going to be easy to accomplish either. Obviously, he has friends in the industry, but the situation that developed in Frankfort, until that’s resolved, that’s an issue. Plus there’s the fact that most staffs at this point are pretty much intact. I think his plan all along was to take a year off and then get aggressive about pursuing a job next spring. And that was undermined by that circumstance.
Q: Returning to John Calipari and alternate realities, how do you think the Derrick Rose “scandal” would have affected college basketball differently if John Calipari had still been at Memphis?
A: I think that if he were still at Memphis, I think the first thing that would have happened if he was still the Tigers coach and they were called to the hearing whatever day it was, I don’t think he would have gone to China. I think he would have gone to Indianapolis. I don’t know whether his presence in Indianapolis would have made a difference in the conduct of the hearing or not. But some of the things that were said by people representing Memphis were not necessarily advantageous to Memphis’ case, and I don’t know if Calipari would have thrown himself up in the air and said, “Wait a second! You can’t say that!” At least, he would have been in a position to make an impact if he were in the room instead of ten thousand miles away or however far it is.
I think he would have been more aggressive about taking a public opinion in defense of his situation. I think he has felt somewhat handicapped in his ability to make public pronouncements because he no longer works there and he no longer represents the school. Because he no longer represents the school, his ability to have a say about how he is defended is limited. And I think he’s right about that. It is a Memphis case now. And it would be wrong for him to inject himself into that case anymore than he already is.
Q: How do you think the entire incident would have been different if Memphis had joined the Big East a few years ago instead of remaining in Conference USA? Do you think the NCAA would have approached the situation differently?
A: I’m not sure. I think it’s possible. I think it is an odd coincidence that Memphis as an outsider school to the BCS, and UMass as an outsider school to the BCS, their Final Fours under Calipari both get wiped out when there have been other circumstances in which similar cases have not produced the same result.
Q: If John Calipari had not been available or had said no to Mitch Barnhardt and Lee Todd, who do you think would have been the next coach at the University of Kentucky?
A: That’s a great question. I’m still very strong of the belief that Kentucky could have saved itself a lot of heartache. If you want to talk about a “what-if,” if Kentucky had listened to what I wrote in 2007 about the fact that Tom Crean was the ideal candidate for what they were seeking, there’s a “what-if” for you. Tom’s at Indiana now. He’s certainly inherited a much more difficult circumstance than he would have at Kentucky. I think that he would have been ideal for them in that situation in 2007. He obviously would not have been available now in 2009. Even after that first year at Indiana, I think Tom feels that ultimately they’re going to be very successful there. Off the top of my head, I hadn’t really given it a lot of thought about who would have been the ideal person for Kentucky if Calipari had said no. You know, Calipari was offered a lot of money. Probably more to stay than he was offered to leave. At least it was close enough it would come down to incentives and this and that and the other thing as to which offer was really higher. So it wasn’t strictly about money. Let’s say he had stayed at Memphis for that reason, that there was no monetary reason to leave, or just that he was really comfortable at Memphis, really happy at Memphis. At that point, I think Sean Miller would have been a great hire for Kentucky. He’s going to do great at Arizona. He is an aggressive coach that gets his players to play their best in March. His March record at Xavier has been really impressive, especially his NCAA tournament record. Really impressive at a place like Xavier. I think if it would have come to it, he would have been the ideal person to replace Billy Gillispie if Calipari hadn’t been unhappy at Memphis.