The lawsuit against Kentucky was sensational and certainly could be perceived as a negative when candidates were compared.
Suing your former employer isn't exactly going to put one candidate ahead of another when there is a close call for a job. But contractual rifts can occur, even if this one seemed to be a bit extreme: Kentucky fired him thinking it wouldn't have to pay his $6 million salary, but Gillispie felt he deserved the money even though he never formally signed his long-term contract and was basing his case on an internal memorandum.
Despite all that, he could've survived.
What likely has forced Gillispie to the assistant route before landing another job as a head coach was his arrest early Thursday morning on a charge of driving under the influence. Coaches who get fired find it incredibly difficult to be recycled in the next coaching carousel. Most have to become assistant coaches again to find their footing before proving themselves worthy of head-coaching positions again.
But Gillispie was coming from Kentucky, one of the premier jobs in the country. He was a proven success in his brief tenures at UTEP and Texas A&M, where he had done a marvelous job of turning each into a legit program. The Kentucky gig didn't go as well on the court in his second season in Lexington, but the recruiting wasn't the issue.
Let's remember that Gillispie beat out Florida's Billy Donovan and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski to get Patrick Patterson, who may well be the SEC Player of the Year this season for new Wildcats coach John Calipari. Gillispie is also the one who secured Daniel Orton, a big-time get who should flourish under Calipari this season.
But the DUI charge is the clincher for Gillispie. This is not the first time he has faced such a charge. He was arrested in 1999 on charges of driving while intoxicated and use of an improper lane in Tulsa, Okla. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving, and the other charges were dropped.
In 2003, when he was the head coach at UTEP, Gillispie was arrested again, this time on suspicion of drunken driving. The charges were later dropped because of a lack of evidence that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.
The damage has been done with Thursday's arrest.
One athletic director who is well connected in the Midwest and West and would have considered Gillispie for an opening in the future, said Thursday that as soon as he saw Gillispie's name back in the news: "I found myself thinking, 'Can this guy be hired?' I think an AD would have to think long and hard about the community he's in. Drinking and driving is such a big issue."
The athletic director, who asked to remain anonymous, said the DUI charge is the one transgression that could keep Gillispie from being hired.
"Lawsuits and litigation happen; contracts can have ambiguity, and there can be different interpretations," the athletic director said. "To me, the DUI is much more problematic. There's no question that if a job came open and you had two candidates, it would be hard to hire him. There are so many good candidates out there with less baggage.
"But who knows, someone may take a chance on him. My guess is that it will be a while and it won't be the job he wants."
Gillispie could have remained in College Station for a decade-plus. The Aggies were winning, and he was at home in his native Texas. It was hard to turn down Kentucky, though, considering all the job has to offer -- from the prestige to the recruiting advantages to the money. But since he took the job, the star Gillispie has been on has plummeted and created a crater he will now need to crawl out of in the near future.
Gillispie has good friends in the business, is a likable soul and has a passion for the game. He has proved to be an intense, passionate and productive coach. But now is the time for him to make sure he makes decisions that will allow him to get back to what he loves doing instead of dealing with the embarrassment of a mug shot that will haunt him for some time.
• Louisville coach Rick Pitino made a point in his monologue at a news conference Wednesday that the Cardinals haven't been hurt in recruiting and will continue to bring in top-10 classes. He's probably right. Recruiting has changed. The days of a traditional recruiting experience in which an elite coach goes into the home to pitch the school are over.
Louisville, like a number of elite programs, gets players through a variety of ways and notably through connections. Pitino is still viewed as a coach who can land NBA-level players. He won't have to be in a family's home to convince a player and his parents that he has high moral standing and that they should come play for him. By the time he gets to a home visit, the decision to go to Louisville likely already has been made.
Decisions are made so early, often well before a home visit, that the sitdown with the family generally has become nothing more than a rubber-stamping of the decision.