Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard the news that Billy Gillispie has been fired by Kentucky. Although it's unusual for a second-year coach to be fired, Gillispie's departure had been widely rumored for weeks, so it's not a huge surprise.
I've said before that I don't think it's ethical for an athletics department to fire a coach without giving him four or five years to build a program unless that coach is guilty of serious off-court indiscretions. I still stand by that belief, and therefore I find it a little surprising that Kentucky made this move. However, reading Orestes Meeks's response to the situation makes one seriously question whether Gillispie did commit some pretty serious off-court errors, what his relationship with his players was like, etc. We may never know the true story about what Gillispie did to get fired, but I think it's safe to say that it's not all about wins and losses here. In that sense, I'm willing to give Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart the benefit of the doubt and say that Gillispie's dismissal is somewhat understandable.
At the same time, I think it's safe to say that Kentucky and its fans are going to take a serious grilling on rival teams' blog and in the national media. Remember how the media reacted to Mike Shula's firing at 'Bama a few years back? Expect it to be like that. Kentucky fans, of course, are hoping it ends up like it did at 'Bama, with Barnhart finding his own Nick Saban.
Although I think the move was understandable to some degree, I also think it may have been poorly advised in the sense that Barnhart apparently does not have a replacement lined up. It's one thing to fire a failing coach, it's quite another to do it if you aren't sure that you can get a better one. That said, Kentucky is Kentucky, and despite the pressures associated with the job, it should be able to get a good coach if it's willing to pay the price.
The question that we as Gamecocks (as well as the rest of the SEC) are asking is, who will be the 'Cats next coach? Will they hit a home run or be forced to take a chance on a younger guy like they did with Gillispie? Expectedly, rumors flew all day about Billy Donovan, but Donovan has come and said he will not leave Florida. That may or may not be true, but personally, I believe him. He has a good situation at Florida; he's getting paid well, has built the program up and is revered by the fans, and has access to the best players in the nation. Although Kentucky has a more storied tradition, I really don't think Lexington is any more attractive a locale than Gainesville these days, especially considering the pressure that goes along with being the 'Cats coach. Another thing that would seem to confirm that Donovan is staying is that Anthony Grant accepted the Alabama job today. Grant, a former Gators assistant and likely candidate for head coach if the position were available, would have likely held out for the Florida job if he believed it would come available. It would seem that he doesn't believe that's going to be the case. At any rate, a Donovan-to-Lexington shuffle wouldn't be too bad for Carolina; it would (probably) help Kentucky, but it would hurt Florida, and therefore be more or less the same to us.
Another name that comes up on the rumor mill is Michigan State's Tom Izzo. As I don't know a whole lot about Izzo other than that he's a very good coach, I'm not sure why his name is connected to the search, but I think it's safe to say that his hiring would be a nightmare for the rest of the SEC. Izzo is a master strategist who has proven that he can win big with much less at his disposal than he would have at Kentucky. I think he would immediately turn the program around and would make Billy Donovan, Bruce Pearl, Darrin Horn, and everyone else run for cover. However, I also don't think he'll go. Like Donovan, he's already got a good gig. He's also not a young man, and may hope to ride out his last decade or so in East Lansing before retiring.
Finally, the question you're probably all wondering about: will Kentucky go after Darrin Horn? I would say no, at least not early on. Horn is a good coach, but I expect for Kentucky to pull out their checkbook and go for a more proven, bigger name. After failing with Gillispie, 'Cats fans want (and, quite frankly, have reason to believe they can get) a coach that has proven that he can frequently take a team deep into the NCAAs. Horn may be that coach one day, but he isn't yet, so I don't think Kentucky will go after him unless it runs out of better options.
One thing's for sure: this will be exciting viewing over the next few days. It's going to be all over the sports press, and, when all is said and done, some poor school is going to be heartbroken when Kentucky comes and steals their hotshot coach. Sit tight.