Friday, March 27, 2009

Gillispie - Toast!

The saga of Gillispie is finally over at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. On the afternoon of 27 March, the president and athletic director, Dr. Lee Todd and Mitch Barnhart, respectively, held a press conference to handle the matter, so important that Lexington TV stations had already – a good while before – chopped big slugs out the afternoon soaps or whatever else to break the news to the breathless. In Kentucky, something as important as a basketball firing deserves more instant attention than a triple murder.

The most amazing thing regarding this matter – something everyone has known for two years – is that Coach Gillispie has been working without a signed contract for…yep…two years. He and Barnhart have been operating on something called a “memorandum of understanding” that spelled out all the usual stuff like how many cars UK furnishes the coach for free (Barnhart gets two, even though he can drive only one at a time), how many country club memberships UK furnishes the coach for free, how much an appearance in a NCAA shoot-out adds to the coaches take, and the salary guarantee, of course – a cool $2.3 million per year, more as the years add up to seven, the length of the “memorandum,” now broken by UK, not the coach.

When asked about this at the press conference, Barnhart simply said that it just hadn’t been possible to work out a contract, obviously expecting everyone to understand that this was a perfectly permissible perennial problem. After all, what’s a little thing like a $2.3 million-contract between friends? Why couldn’t the athletic director complete a contract within 60 days, you ask? He didn’t say. Obviously, anyone as shifty as Barnhart is should be a part of the administration in Washington, where being smart enough to cheat the government out of taxes or anything else is the most important part of any resume.

Well, the athletic director said the coach simply wasn’t a “good fit” for the job. He’s admittedly not a hale-fellow-well-met type of guy, not given to making speeches or being an “ambassador” for the basketball program. In fact, the coach was rude – oh gasp and three palpitations – to one of those lady sportscasters who grabs a coach at the end of the first half, when he’s trying to get to the locker-room to give a thorough tongue-lashing to his team. Who can blame him, anyway, if somebody – man or woman – asks a stupid question, like “Hey, why didn’t you use a zone press or at least have the manager whip out his .38 and shoot the guy making all those three-pointers?”

Those with suspicious inclinations – such as present company – might see other aspects that could lead to a firing. For instance, Barnhart gets an extra $25,000 when the team gets to the NCAA March Madness Tournament, now in progress but obviously without UK, which just lost to Notre Dame in the NIT, not the NCAA. There’s more: If the team gets to the epitome of basketball-jiving – the imperial Final-Four – Barnhart gets another $25,000. This year – zilch – though Barnhart collected a cool $30,000 when the football team made it to a bowl, a possibility if it wins only half its regular-season games.

So…what’s a poor, fired coach to do? The “memorandum” mentioned a “firing consolation prize” that could go as high as $6 million. The word is, though, that negotiations are underway involving UK and Gillispie, and UK has said the amount will be less than that. Nah! The negotiations are in the hands of the coach’s lawyer…what else, pray tell? In recent years, UK fired a football coach and gave him a cool million dollars in the process, plus two cars. Not long before that, UK fired another football coach and showed its appreciation by slathering him with $600,000. Dragging a simple firing through the courts is something the school would rather not do (terribly distracting when tuition has just gone up another 5%), besides which, the athletic department is always flush with cash, so what’s not to like about a quiet, lush giveaway? It’s only money, doncha know?

Thus the saga of Gillispie! Like the man said – just not a good fit. Oh yes…Barnhart is in line each year for $50,000 in “discretionary incentives” as defined by the president. Wonder how that definition will strike the citizens this year. As for the coach…laughing all the way to the bank! Only in Kentucky!

And so it goes.

Jim Clark

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