Kentucky Basketball: What’s wrong with pride?

Constable Echelon

This started as a comment on Fig Jam’s excellent post regarding the Kentucky coaching situation, but I decided it could use its own post.

My poor paraphrase of Fig Jam’s post (just read it, he says it better than me) is that Kentucky had no business firing Tubby Smith because he was a good to great coach, and now with Gillispie they are reaping the harvest of unrealistic expectations. That and “Who cares?” My first reaction reading his post was “This is exactly right.”

But a little voice nagged at me, “Isn’t this just a bigger version of what went wrong with Washington football?”


Image: washington.edu

The parallels between Tubby Smith and Jim Lambright are obvious. Both men followed a legend at an established national power. Smith’s national title obviously places him a notch above Lambright, but ultimately each man was guilty of winning – just not quite enough.

Each school’s fans would not accept just being better than average. Kentucky and Washington demanded greatness. Washington cast their lot with Colorado wunderkind Rick Neuheisel. Kentucky hired the well regarded Billy Gillispie who was fresh off of a Sweet 16 berth with perennial NCAA basketball nobodies Texas A&M.

And each man WON. Again just not enough. Speculation arose after a couple seasons regarding their relative failures. Neuheisel and Gillispie were deemed bereft of the je ne sais quoi that would have allowed them to mesh with each program’s culture. Bullshit. If Liberace won back to back national titles they would say he bled Kentucky Blue.


Image: lz95.org

This is where the stories separate. Washington went on to hire Tyrone Willingham fresh off of his shitcanning from fellow unrealistic expectations harborer Notre Dame. Turns out the Irish had that guy pegged. Four years and a whopping six conference wins later, Washington fans have no choice but to join the pragmatist/pussy parade in declaring a post-dynasty era in college sports. Nevermind USC, LSU, Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, and others in football. Nevermind North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Michigan State, UCLA and others in basketball. “Their time will come as well,” we whimper.

After all of this losing how many of us would be ecstatic with a return to Lambright-level success? Me too. It’s attainable, realistic. But should I be happy with that when I’ve seen what can be accomplished on the football field at Washington? Absolutely not.

There are two ways to go about solving Kentucky’s problem. Washington would hire an Athletic Director so committed to the position that he abolished it at his previous school (cough, Todd Turner, cough) and hire a coach as much for good PR as, oh…I don’t know, winning (see Willingham, Ty). If you’re Alabama you get tired of fucking around and make a proven commodity an offer they can’t refuse a la Nick Saban. If Kentucky goes the former route then I agree with Fig Jam, they are arrogant and irrelevant.

I’m rooting for Kentucky. They are dinosaurs. I would like to see what an administration and fanbase unwilling to accept mediocrity can accomplish. As retarded as their unreasonable entitlement makes them appear, it is Kentucky’s last and best remaining hope. As far as I can tell, Willingham effectively drove a stake through those sentiments at Washington. Pray Kentucky rallies around their unyielding pride (all of the good and the bad of it) and it lifts them back up where they belong, and that they can serve as a lesson to the dispirited Dawg in all of us.