LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky deserves a coach who understands “this is not just another coaching job,” and so Billy Gillispie was fired after just two years on the job.
University of Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said during a news conference Friday that there were times when there was not the right chemistry or the right fit with Gillispie at the helm.
Gillispie went 40-27 in two seasons with the Wildcats. Kentucky went 22-14 this season, tied for the second-most losses in the program’s 106-year history, and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.
Barnhart said the university did not plan to pay Gillispie a $6 million buyout that was to be part of his never completed seven-year deal.
“Suffice it to say it will be less than that,” Barnhart said.
Gillispie never signed the long-term contract, and Barnhart said the school would abide by the memorandum of understanding, which he considered a year-to-year contract. Gillispie made $2.3 million annually.
University president Lee T. Todd Jr. also emphasized the philosophical differences between the school and Gillispie.
“This is a job that requires a lot more than just coaching and recruiting,” Todd said.
And it seems it won’t be Florida coach Billy Donovan who replaces him.
“In response to rumors about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this quickly,” he said. “I am committed to Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here.”
Gillispie’s job security appeared to be in jeopardy after the Wildcats stumbled down the stretch, losing eight of their final 11 regular-season games to squander a 5-0 start in Southeastern Conference play. A quarterfinal loss to LSU in the SEC tournament followed, relegating Kentucky to the NIT.
Barnhart said the problem wasn’t Gillispie’s won-loss record, but his seeming refusal to do the other things associated with being the head coach at the state’s flagship institution.
“(Gillispie) spoke to things that were not in his job description, just about winning and losing and improving,” Barnhart said. “This program is bigger than that. There’s much more to it than that.”
Gillispie met with players Friday afternoon but did not address reporters as he walked to a vehicle outside the player dormitories.
Gillispie appeared to sense a change could be forthcoming. When asked if he expected to be back following the loss to Notre Dame, Gillispie said the decision wasn’t up to him.
“You’re asking the wrong guy,” he said. “All I know is to go to work, recruit, coach and that’s what I did, that’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”
Gillispie arrived at Kentucky with great fanfare to replace Tubby Smith two years ago. Hundreds of supporters crowded the floor of Memorial Coliseum during a pep rally — one with a sign that read “Billy G: Our Savior” — following a whirlwind negotiation that was sealed in the middle of the night at Barnhart’s house.
The deal was put together so quickly that Gillispie signed a memorandum of understanding instead of the actual contract. Barnhart said he expected a formal deal to be signed shortly after the hire. The document has never been signed, and the topic became part of a running joke for Gillispie, who seemed nonplussed about it whenever asked.
Regardless, the coach who engineered turnarounds at UTEP and Texas A&M was quickly embraced by one of college basketball’s most ardent fan bases.