Tarleton State’s decision to hire Billy Gillispie is shameful

Getty Images
3 Comments

Billy Gillispie is the new head coach at Tarleton State.

But the truth is that Billy Gillispie, the former UTEP, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Kentucky coach, should never again be allowed to coach basketball at any level, which is what makes Tarleton State’s decision to hire him to lead the program into the Division I ranks next season all the more shameful.

He’s abusive, he’s manipulative, he treats the people in his program horrifically and you can never be quite sure when his next drunk driving arrest is going to happen. He’s had at least three since his coaching career began. When he was the head coach at the University of Kentucky, he had a driver because the school could not trust that he would not get behind the wheel while hammered. Case in point: exactly five months after Kentucky fired him — when he no longer had a driver supplied to him by the school — he was pulled over at 2:47 a.m. in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, for DUI. He plead guilty two months later despite refusing a breathalyzer.

Every stop that he has been along the way, there are stories about the way that he treats players, his assistant coaches and the people he interacts with around the program every day. There was the time at Kentucky he made Josh Harrellson sit in a bathroom stall during halftime because he was “playing like s***,” or the time he made Harrellson ride home from a road game in a van with the team managers. There was the time at Texas A&M that he made a player break up with the girl he was dating — a booster’s daughter — on the charter flight home from a game, in front of the girl’s family.

Then there was Texas Tech.

As Jeff Goodman, then of CBS Sports, reported at the time, Gillispie’s treatment of the players was just horrific. He had his team practicing for four hours a day — including one day where they went for eight hours — just obliterating the NCAA’s limit of 20 hours per week. It left one player on the team with stress fractures in both legs that he was forced to play through. He lied to players about scholarship offers, stringing them along until he had someone better to give the scholarship to. He did the same thing with coaches trying to get a spot on his coaching staff. According to Goodman’s reporting at the time, former Indiana guard Tom Coverdale quit his job as a Junior College coach to be an assistant on Gillispie’s staff only to get to Lubbock and be told that he was going to be an assistant strength coach that paid half as much. He would force everyone with the program — including radio and TV broadcasters — participate in layup lines at the start of practice. Anyone that missed a shot at to run the stadium stairs.

“It was mental warfare,” said a source that has worked with Gillispie in the past. “Everyone had to have a clear understanding. He was the ruler. He has a major complex with making sure everyone knows he’s in charge. For no reason, just to flex. Meeting at all times of the night, meeting on Christmas Eve, just to see if anyone says, ‘can’t coach, wife said no.’ Then he’d overcompensate with gifts for the family, for the kids.”

Like any abusive relationship, he breaks down people he has control over, builds them back up by showering them with compliments and promises that it will never happen again only to repeat the process all over.

And then there was the incident with Chris Beard.

Fed up with the way that he treated people in the program — as many as 30 people left Texas Tech, from players to secretaries, in the 18 months that Gillispie was in charge — Beard confronted Gillispie about it in a meeting with Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt. Things got heated. The two had to be physically separated. Beard was paid a hefty chunk of money to be quiet about it, and he was sent on his way, taking a job in the ABA before ending up back in Lubbock.

Those are just the stories that I feel comfortable enough to publish.

Tarleton State knows exactly what they’re doing in hiring Billy Gillispie. None of his issues are a secret. Things haven’t changed since he took over at Ranger College, a JuCo in Texas, three years ago. But the new president at the University wanted to make a splash. He wanted to transition to Division I, and he wanted to win as soon as he got there. The WAC is hardly a powerhouse, and if there is one thing that Billy Clyde Gillispie can do, it’s win basketball games.

He did so at UTEP and he did so at Texas A&M. Odds are good Billy Gillispie will also win at Tarleton State.

And in the process, he’ll treat everyone that he deems beneath him — student-athletes, staff members, whoever — terribly.

Is that really worth it?