- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) - Billy Gillispie doesn’t know about chemistry problems or whether he was the right fit at Kentucky. What he does know is that he simply didn’t win enough games.

“I wish we would have won more,” Gillispie said Saturday, less than 24 hours after the university fired him following two turbulent seasons.

During an amiable 30-minute meeting with reporters, Gillispie hardly sounded like the coach whose prickly act had quickly worn thin during his brief time at the home of college basketball’s winningest program.

He cracked jokes, asking if someone wanted to buy his mansion. He smiled, a rarity during his final days with the program. And he said he had no ill feelings toward athletic director Mitch Barnhart, who cited philosophical differences as the reason Gillispie was let go.

“I’m not a woe-is-me kind of person,” Gillispie said. “I’ve always said this, show up every day, try to work hard, try to do your best with the right attitude and everything works out right. I’ve had a great time here at Kentucky.”

One that was cut short after Gillispie went just 40-27 in two seasons. Kentucky stumbled down the stretch this year to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. Not exactly the makeover the program anticipated when he was hired to replace Tubby Smith in April 2007.

While Barnhart said the decision was about more than wins or losses, Gillispie argued he never shied away from the public responsibilities that come with being the state’s highest-paid and most visible employee.

Ultimately, however, he knew his main job was to restore some of the luster at a school that hasn’t been to a Final Four in more than a decade. On that front, he knows he didn’t live up to the expectations he embraced during the rowdy pep rally that greeted him two years ago.

“We didn’t win the right kind of games,” he said. “We just had a couple of bad stretches and an inexperienced team did that. But they kept getting better, they kept on fighting and they finished up really strong and I think it’s going to really help them in the future.”

A future that will go on without him. He refused to feel sorry for himself and doesn’t believe he was forced out by an impatient fan base.

“Tough times don’t last but they say tough people do, and I’m pretty tough,” he said. “I’m looking forward to moving on.”

So are the Wildcats, who are looking for a coach for the second time in three years.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Memphis coach John Calipari are among Kentucky’s top targets, though the divorce from Gillispie could get messy.

Barnhart said Friday he doesn’t expect to pay Gillispie a $6 million buyout for dismissing him after two seasons, citing Gillispie’s refusal to agree to a formal contract.

The coach worked under a memorandum of understanding signed following his whirlwind courtship by the school. Barnhart said the university would try to negotiate a fair separation agreement but believes it will be well below $6 million.

Gillispie believes he’s due the full amount.

“That’s what it says in the contract, that’s what it looks like to me,” he said. “I don’t know all the details and all those kind of things. I just know we signed a contract. It was a shorter version than maybe some.”

After taking a one-day “vacation,” Gillispie said he expects to get back into coaching as soon as possible and doesn’t believe his reputation has been damaged by his sudden fall from grace.

“I think my track record proves that we can recruit, we can really coach,” he said. “We won’t let this bother us. It’s a bump in the road. It’s not an ending in the road and we’ll bounce back very quickly.”

Just not at Kentucky, a school Gillispie expects to be back at the top of the Southeastern Conference no matter who takes his place. He has simply one request from the 24,000 fans who pack Rupp Arena every winter if the road back to prominence takes longer than expected.

“If they don’t win every game, I think they ought to be on the coach all the time,” he said with a laugh. “I think they need to turn the heat up on that a little bit any time they lose a game and they may not lose one.”

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