One of the cool things about taking my trip to Ethiopia is that I was able to meet a handful of other wives and husbands doing the same thing we were doing. And like most guys, if I can steer a conversation to sports, I will and was able to have some terrific sports discussions. Of course, I was wearing my Texas Tech shirts for a good part of the trip and naturally, the husbands would ask me about the football and basketball program. Not surprisingly, I think the average guy (or gal) doesn't necessarily know who the head men's basketball coach is for Texas Tech and in both of my sports conversations, when I talked about the retirement of Bob Knight, the hiring of Pat Knight, Pat's recent termination, and most recently, the hiring of Billy Gillispie. The natural reaction on both guys I spoke to was, "Oh . . . really (nodding head) . . . okay, that's a pretty good hire."
Reflecting back on this spring, I don't know that there was really any other candidate for the job, but so much had to happen in order for Gillispie to be hired.
I don't know that Pat Knight was given every opportunity to do what he wanted, but ultimately I thought that Pat had proven himself. I tend to think that after Pat was hired at Lamar and said that he shouldn't have been given a Big 12 coaching job, but he wasn't going to turn it down (I don't blame him). With a losing record and waning fan support, Texas Tech president Guy Bailey informed Pat that he would no longer be retained as Texas Tech's head coach.
The most awkward part was the retirement of Gerald Myers, who is incredibly close to Pat's father, Bob, and as mentioned above, despite still holding the title of athletic director at the time that Pat was let go, it was the Texas Tech president that gave Pat the news. I haven't seen a story on what happened, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Myers simply say that firing the son of one of his best friends wasn't going to be his last act as athletic director.
With the firing of Pat and an athletic director that would be retiring soon, two hires had to be made in a relatively short period of time. I won't get too much into the hiring of Kirby Hocutt as athletic director, although I do think that the more Hocutt is on the job, the more I like what he's doing.
So now we get to the hiring of Gillispie, who as we all know, has a bit of a checkered past, but has been incredibly successful at turning programs around.
When Gillispie was being discussed as a possible candidate there were certainly more safe choices and you could certainly debate who had the most success, but for me, I thought that Gillispie was the one candidate that offered the most risk and the most reward. Sure, guys like Marquette's Buzz Williams, Wichita State's Gregg Marshall and Nebraska's Doc Sadler could offer up a resume similar to Gillispie's, but I don't think that any of these candidates had turned programs around quicker and faster than Gillispie.
Gillispie seemed to have the magic touch when it came to turning programs around from being dreadful to highly successful. At UTEP and at Texas A&M Gillispie took over abysmal programs and turned them around in one or two seasons. Gillispie's rise to fame led him to Kentucky where he just didn't win enough quick enough. I am sure there were other issues that led to his termination at Kentucky, but for whatever reason, the fit wasn't right. And Gillispie's alcohol issues were well documented also seemed to be a mark on his career. After being terminated at Kentucky, he sought help with the John Lucas After Care Program in Houston.
As mentioned above, I think that there were safer hires, but perhaps would not have invigorated the fanbase quite like the Gillispie hire did. And despite all of the accolades that Gillispie had as a coach, my main concern prior to his hire was whether or not those alcohol related transgressions would eventually lead to Hocutt looking elsewhere for a coach. On one hand, it was a simple decision for Hocutt. Gillispie is from West Texas, born in Abilene, and gets the West Texas culture that so many Texas Tech fans appreciate, but Hocutt could have taken the easy way out and hired a coach that maybe didn't have the high coaching marks, but didn't have some of the baggage that Gillispie had.
Personally, I love the hire and I love that Hocutt was willing to take a chance on a coach that I think had rehabilitated himself from a personal and professional standpoint to make him the best candidate for the Texas Tech men's basketball position and I hope that his hire is an indication as to how Hocutt intends on running the program at Texas Tech.