Aggies need new direction for post-Gillispie future

Arkansas wasn't appealing enough to lure Billy Gillispie from
Texas A&M, but Kentucky had no trouble tearing the coach from the
team he took from the Big 12 basement to national prominence.

Now that the turnaround king has moved to his next post, the
Aggies are left to ponder what's next.

In three seasons, Gillispie took the Aggies from an 0-16 Big 12
record to their first trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 since 1980.
Texas A&M finished with a school-record 27 wins and was ranked in
the top 10 for most of the season.

In their second straight appearance in the tournament, they were
eliminated by one point in the regional semifinals by Memphis. The
run capped a school-record third straight 20-win season and marked
the first time Texas A&M had made back-to-back tournament

Last week, in the midst of being courted by the Razorbacks,
Gillispie agreed to a new contract with the Aggies that increased
his salary $500,000 to $1.75 million. School officials said he would
sign the contract, which made him one of the highest-paid coaches
in the Big 12, when he returned from the Final Four.

Speculation he was in the running for the Kentucky job was
fueled when the school never announced that he'd signed the

Apparently taking over the storied Wildcat program wasn't as
tough of a decision as passing up the Arkansas job was. After
Florida's Billy Donovan turned down Kentucky, Texas A&M athletic
director Bill Byrne gave them permission to speak with Gillispie on
Thursday night. By morning he had taken the job left vacant when
Tubby Smith took over at Minnesota.

Gillispie agreed to a seven-year contract to take over a
Kentucky program that lost in the second round of the tournament
this season. He was introduced at a pep-rally style news conference

The Aggies were the second straight team Gillispie transformed
in record time. Before arriving at A&M and improving the Aggies'
record from 7-21 to 21-10 in his first season, Gillispie engineered
an 18-win improvement at UTEP.

Those performances made him the only coach in NCAA history to
lead the nation in turnarounds two years in a row, and his
continued strides at football-crazy A&M made him a hot coaching

His work at A&M also brought excitement to a team that had
always played second fiddle to the football program. Reed Arena was
consistently sold out, and to get a seat for big games students
slept outside the ticket windows -- something that was unheard of
just three short years ago.

The Aggies are investing in their program, too, building a new
basketball facility to show a commitment to the sport.

Gillispie, who has only been a head coach for five seasons, went
70-26 at a school that had just one winning record in league play
in the 18 seasons before his arrival.

Byrne wasn't available for comment Friday, but an A&M spokesman
said he had a short list of candidates for the job and hoped to
move quickly on hiring a replacement.

The Aggies knew they'd have to move on without dynamic senior
point guard Acie Law and big man Antanas Kavaliauskas. Now the
departure of Gillispie, an excellent recruiter, leaves even more
questions, not only about who will next lead the team, but
concerning his highly regarded recruiting class.

Gillispie snagged the top recruit in Texas in DeAndre Jordan, a
7-footer from Houston. Jordan, who the recruiting Web site
Rivals.com calls the eighth best recruit in the country, was also
pursued by Florida, Indiana, LSU and Texas. The coach also signed
Derrek Lewis of Tulsa, who is rated as one of the top five players
in Oklahoma.

There hasn't been any indication that either will jump ship, but
players who sign with a coach will often rescind their commitments
if the coach leaves the school before they enroll.

Even if some of the recruits change their minds about A&M, the
Aggies return a solid nucleus of players including 6-foot-9 Joseph
Jones and top defender Dominique Kirk. Three-point shooting ace
Josh Carter and promising freshman Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis
will also be back.

No names have immediately surfaced to take over for Gillispie.