Monday, March 26, 2007

Gillispie to Arkansas?

A bit of a surprise out of Fayeteville today, as the University of Arkansas announced it was firing head basketball coach Stan Heath. I had heard before the SEC conference tournament that Heath would be out if the Razorbacks failed to make the NCAA tournament. After a run through the weaker teams of the SEC, followed by a 21 point ass-ramming at the hands of Florida in the conference title game, the Sows somehow backed into the Big Dance ahead of teams such as K-State and Syracuse, despite their losing conference record in the weaker of two SEC divisions (I'm not still bitter about that or anything).

After making the Big Dance, the Sows certainly proved they belonged, only falling to USC by 17. It appears that even a selection committee gaffe wasn't enough to save Heath's job, however, and now the rumor mill is really ramping up as to who the replacement will be. The early word is that Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie is the front-runner, with some sources even claiming it's already a done deal.

It all makes some sense to me that this is possible. Frank Broyles, the UofA AD, may have had his sights set on Gillispie from the beginning, and wanted to make sure he had him locked up before firing his coach. Probably better to do that than fire the coach before a sure-fire replacement is in the works, right Nebraska fans? Also, Broyles may have wanted to wait until A&M's tournament run was over, in which case he should be commended for not following in Dean Smith's footsteps when he openly courted Roy Williams during KU's run to the title game in 2003. If all this is the case, it's certainly possible an agreement in principle was reached between Thursday night (when A&M was eliminated) and today when Heath was fired.

I also have reasons to believe Gillispie would be interested in leaving A&M, in spite of his near-hero status in College Station. First, Arkansas fans may have a slightly inflated sense of their standing as a traditional power, but they do have a recent national championship to their credit, whereas A&M has never been on the map as a basketball powerhouse. Even worse for A&M may be the "Texas football syndrome." We saw it even in Oklahoma last year, as Kelvin Sampson bolted for Indiana, at least in part due to the fact that football will always be the primary sport at OU (the threat of sanctions probably didn't help either). In College Station, as in the rest of Texas where A&M fans reside (pretty much everywhere), football will always be king. I don't care if Gillispie had taken the Aggies to the Final Four this year, the A&M fans would still be equally interested in spring football news from Fran's Disaster Crew (sorry Ags, Fran should not be your man). At least at Arkansas, Gillispie can coach at a school where basketball can be considered the most important sport.

Another consideration could be the money. As far as I can tell, Gillispie is making $930,000 at A&M, and has the possiblity of earning a $1 million bonus if he stays through 2012. Apparently Heath made a bit less than that, but I'm guessing UofA would be willing to pony up for Gillispie if they really want him. All they really need to offer is $1.1 million per year for five years in order to match A&M's offer.

So what does this mean for the Big 12? Obviously it means losing a young and talented basketball coach. It also fuels the perception that the Big 12 is an inferior basketball conference, in my opinion. As long as the Texas schools continue their damn-everything-but-football mentality and the Big 12 front office (in Dallas) does nothing to promote Big 12 basketball (thanks Kevin Weiberg), the national perception will remain the same and teams like K-State will get shafted from the tournament if there's even the slightest reason to doubt them.


On a happier note, big ups to my sister for being offered her first post-graduate job today. Way to go sis!


Justin said...

BCG did not go to Arkie, but a nebraska man did.

TB said...

yeah, that's a damn shame. look for a post about it tomorrow.