Following is a Q&A with Billy Gillispie, former Texas A&M basketbal coach who is the basketball coach and athletic director at his alma mater Ranger College.
Note: The Eagle on Sunday ran two stories on Gillispie, most of the following quotes did not make either story and a few of the other quotes I couldn’t leave out even though they were in the stories. There are also quotes of what team members say about Billy Gillispie.
Q: What did you do during the time you were away from coaching?
A: I did a lot of stuff actually, got involved with some Boys & Girls club things. I went to a lot games. When you look back at it I wonder what I accomplished but I was always doing something. I love the game so much, I love the people in the game, I love the players of the game. It’s fun to watch and keep yourself involved. (Gillispie did add that most of his basketball watching was done in Texas.
Q: Was there ever a doubt you might not get back into the coaching scene?
A: didn’t know whether I was going to or not. One I had to make sure I was passing blood pressure situation and I have been for a while so that is all great. When it comes down to it you look at different things but I’m a coach, I love coaching and I love having a chance to make a difference in young people’s lives in a positive way.
Q: What was the process of you being hired at Ranger?
A: Last year I was basically sitting at home and [Ranger president] Dr. [Bill] Campion called me and they had a problem with the coach they had after the last scrimmage and they had to forfeit a bunch of games and they were not eligible to go to postseason. He he called me on Dec. 6 over a year ago and asked me if I would take over. We had become friends because I love Ranger college when I was coaching when I wasn’t coaching, whenever at other places I always wanted to keep up with Ranger a little bit. Coach had a bad back so he left and the assistant coach took over and he didn’t sign on to be a head coach so it was tough on everyone including the players. They wanted to get the situation remedied and Dr. Campion called me and I said I would help in any way I can but that I would not coach that team so they got through the season and we talked some more and he convinced me to come out here and I’ve enjoyed every minute.
Q: How did you go about building a roster, since there were only three returning players?
A: Coach Rodney Heard that was the biggest way to build the roster was to hire Rodney Heard. He was coaching in China last year but his background has been in the NBA. He’s great, got so many connections. Everyone loves him who gets to know him. He’s a recruiting machine. He recruited Jason Kidd, a ton of pros when he was at Cal. People were calling us wanting to play for us. We could have had 200 players. I think there are a lot of players looking for two-year schools to play in. I think that there are still some parents who want their son to achieve at a high rate in the classroom and improve greatly on the court. People say that accountability has gone out the window I don’t believe that. I think it’s not stressed as much as it once was but I think there are still people who want their sons and players to be held accountable and so we’ve had the opportunity to coach a lot of good players. These guys are good, they try really hard every day and they are a fun group to coach.
Q: What kind of reception did you get coming back?
A: Not really. Coach [Ron] Butler was really excited he was my coach and that is who the gym is named after. When I came here it was a vision of Dr. Campion is he wants all his sports to win. He really understands the value of a winning sports team at a college or university and he’s a president who gives you the opportunity to win. He doesn’t just say we want to win. He keeps it in proper perspective but not everybody wants to win like he does. As far as coming on campus and people thinking there is going to be a whatever it wasn’t rally like that. I don’t think anyone has cared enough for a long time and they have changed coaches so many time they were probably thinking OK here is the next coach. Some people knew me because I’ve been here but there wasn’t a big deal made out of it.
Q: Are you starting to make people care now?
A: Yeah, they are caring and that is a favorite part for me is to see the joy of our players and we’ve won a lot games, got a long way to go but what makes me really happy is to see those guys work in practice and then see the plan come to fruition. The only way young people can see that is if they have immediate results and winning games so they understand the hard work is worth it. It’s fun for me to see this gym packed because last year there might have been 10 people at a game and this community is starting to catch on and really have a lot of fun with our team because our team plays so hard they are fun to watch. They are not perfect obviously but they represent themselves and the school so well it’s unbelievable. It’s very much like the team we had at Texas A&M and those guys are all successful. Lot still playing the ones that aren’t playing are doing great got their degree they were tough, they were together, they played for each other played for the school and this team has those same kind of things. They are tough they are together and they are doing it at an earlier age they are mostly freshmen but they got great understanding for what it takes to be successful and its going to bode well for them in their future.
Q: Did you need to successful immediately to keep the players buying into your style?
A: You got to have some milestone victories because we work so hard and it’s very easy to say is this all worth it. We check every, class every study hall, they can’t be late they can’t miss, so it’s easy to say gosh this is too hard. Practice is very demanding so you have to have immediate results in the classroom and on the court to just hang in there. But after you taste a little success you wouldn’t want to do it any other way and that’s what I’ve seen in my career. The fist month or two or three is hard, it’s very difficult no matter if you are a freshman or a junior or whatever but once you get past that you say this is the only way to do it because you start making As and Bs in the classroom, which we require to make, we put a lot of pressure on them to make As and Bs because they can. If a C is all you can make then OK. We want them to overachieve in the classroom and not just do what the minimum standard is. We wan the same thing on the court. If you are going to work hard and demand things and hold people accountable like that you do need to have results very quickly.
Q: Do you coach any differently because it’s a two-year college?
A: I don’t. If I was smarter I probably would, but I’m not smarter. I just think they are here for a reason, they are here to move on. Guys at a four-year level think they are going to be a pro and some of them have the opportunity to so you have to make every moment count and with these guys it’s not there ending place it’s a starting place.
Q: Has the team brought a pride to the school, the town?
A: Basically it was a college within a small town, no back and forth. No one in Ranger basically didn’t even know Ranger College was in their own town. So, I wanted to change that to where we could be something they could be proud of and then do it here first and then try and get the surrounding communities and towns and make it really important to them and then move it out to the state. It’s happened a lot faster than I ever thought it would but it’s been really fun because there are a lot of townspeople that never came to games their whole life that have come to all our games and are getting excited about it and the town is on fire and the school is on fire. Last night [at the game] our student body was awesome, I mean awesome. It’s not 10,000 students (coming) but it’s a higher percentage. Bet got higher percentage of students coming to games and being excited. They don’t just come and watch, they participate and that is the excitement because they love watching these guys play and they can touch them because they see them in the cafeteria and they are all around them all the time. We will support other sports. We will do everything we can, the women’s team, the volleyball team, the baseball team when it’s all over all of us will support each other. It’s a really fun deal and it’s fun to be able to watch all that stuff.
Q: Did it take your alma mater to get you back into coaching?
A: I’ve had opportunities to go elsewhere, I just chose not to take them. I’m very fortunate that I didn’t have to coach and I wasn’t going to coach unless I was with the right people and at the right place. I didn’t want to take a chance on working for somebody that I did’t know. [The opportunities were] all college and above and I had some foreign things, I could have done some college, a couple of college head coaching jobs, but it didn’t interest me at the time nothing against them. A couple were here in Texas a couple outside. I’ve been around, I’ve been lucky, had great jobs everywhere I’ve been and I’m just at a point that I’m going to make sure they are committed to winning if I’m going to coach. No one is more committed than Ranger with Dr.Campion. You want to be around people you are going to work around every single day.
Q: Could this be your last stop?
A: I didn’t come here to do that. Everyone said I’d be here for a year. I didn’t come here for that reason, I came here to help Ranger to be recognized as the special place that it is and to help some young players and that’s what I wanted to do and it’s been so fun for me. I didn’t come here to try to use this to resurface back into college basketball or whatever. As far as I see it, I’ll be happy if I end my career here. I’ve loved being head coach at UTEP, I loved all my assistant jobs all the towns, the people, I loved being at Texas A&M, loved being at Kentucky at Texas Tech, but I love Ranger. Every day is special when you have a group of players that are so committed to helping themselves. It doesn’t get any better than that to me. You say it’s Ranger or it’s a two-year college or whatever and you’ve done this and that but I did not come out there to try to come here and use this place and leave. You never know what happens in coaching, never know how long they want you so if anybody says this is their last job or any of those types of things until they announce they are retiring and never coaching again nobody knows if it’s their last job.
Q: Is what you love coaching, no matter the level?
A: I’m a competitor and I love competing and I love getting guys headed in the right direction because they have to be competitive for the rest of their life. When basketball is over they have to be competitive with whatever job they get and we try to teach that. As far as these games, last night Kevin Gill is as good a coach as there is at any level. He’s outstanding. He has good players, very well disciplined and that was bigtime basketball game last night. It wasn’t on TV it wasn’t even broadcast on the radio and the only people who know about it are the people that came to the game, but every one understood it was a very highly competitive game and relatively speaking it doesn’t get any better than that. I love that. The fans were into it the coaches were into it, the players were definitely into it. Everybody had a great time and we got lucky and came out on the right end of it. It was a great game regardless of what the final score would have been.
Q: With the way you coach, do you need a good cop-type coach?
A: I think I’ve got a lot of good cop in me also but the bad cop sticks out more, no disrespect to cops either way. The thing about me is they know I love them and I tell those guys the whole deal is don’t always listen to how I say it but listen to what the message is because some times I say it to where it is very abrasive. Listen to the message not the way it’s always delivered. These guys are great Rodney [Heard] [Brandon] Espinosa and Acie Law, Bill Boyd, are golf coach who volunteers to help. Those guys are all experienced guys and they understand, they say this is what coach wants from you, he expects more from you than you are giving right now and we need you to do better and they do a fantastic job of keeping their heads on in a positive way.
Q: Best memories at Texas A&M?
A: I got a million. There is a million, but it’s always about the players, seeing guys grow from young men to grown men and that is what we’ve been really good at doing. Taking guys that had lost 17 games in a row and coming out of the box and winning our first 11, going to Kansas and getting beat by five by a guy we had recruited at UTEP he made a shot with 58 seconds to go that put them up by three. It was a tie game, Alex Galindo we had signed him at UTEP but when I left he ended up getting out and going to Kansas and he made a shot. There are just so many things but it’s all based on player achievement A&M, Texas Tech whatever.
I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world. I left from being a head high school coach to the head coach at Kentucky in 15 years and I don’t know if anybody has ever done that. It was very fast and the reason it happened was because I was around good people and I got with coach [Bill] Self [at Illinois] and I had great learning with coach [Harry] Miller and Larry Brown, who I started my college career with. Harry Miller at Baylor did a fantastic job. He was after the academic scandal over there and he came in and did a fantastic job of cleaning that up and I took a lot of things from coach and then I got lucky to catch on in a rising star in Coach Self early in his career. You knew how good he was going to be, you just didn’t know he was going to be this good. I’ve just been awfully lucky, all those places are good places with great people.
Q: Why didn’t it work at Kentucky?
A: I didn’t have enough time. I’m really confident in my coaching ability and recruiting ability and I think I was a bad fit at Kentucky, a good coach but a bad fit. I think we would have won some championships by now but it was always going to be a struggle. I’m a blue collar guy. I’m not for sure I was a great fit. I think I can coach with anybody and I’ve kind of proven that over the years. We can develop programs and I think they hired me to do something and then they changed course and that’s OK, I don’t have any bad feelings about anybody. They wanted a tough guy at the start and then very shortly after they didn’t really want a tough guy and that’s OK it didn’t bother me it didn’t shake my confidence or anything like that it didn’t take anything away from me. I was what I was, I stayed the same. They hired me to do the job I had done before and then they kind of changed. I’m not mad at them I think they have a perfect fit there right now a really good coach that really understands being a CEO of a program but I’m not a CEO type, I’m a worker bee, not saying coach [John Calipari] doesn’t work, he works really hard but I think I was plenty good as a coach just a bad fit up there.
Q: How has wearing a second hat, being an athletic director gone?
A: Yeah, it is (new). It happened later. They had an athletic director who retired (he was just AD), he retired two or three months after I got here. It was strongly encouraged that I do it. I didn’t have any background in it, I know how to manage people that kind of stuff and I said hey you got to get me some help on the paperwork and stuff and he said yeah we can do that and it’s been fun too because you get a chance to have an impact in not only your sport but in others so we are in the infant stages off that trying to help other programs. We want to win in everything over here and I think we are on the right track. We got a lot of good coaches.
One of the most important things as I’ve seen from afar in my career that’s about the most important job an athletic director can do is you have to raise money.
Q: What will be your legacy when you stop coaching?
A: I’ve never cared about a legacy. I think what you do is you have to have a sound philosophy, you’ve got to work hard, got to treat people right. A legacy in my opinion is what people say about you and you really can’t control that. I don’t really care what my legacy is. I don’t mean that to sound bad or cocky or anything like that but all of us really work hard, we make a lot of mistakes. We do a lot of good things and however people want to view me when it’s all said and done I’m OK with.
Q: What is your contract here?
A: It’s a five-year contract and I make more as the AD than I do as the basketball coach. I didn’t come here for money. I didn’t go to A&M or UTEP or Texas Tech. I’ve been lucky, very very fortunate, never coached one day of my life thinking of money. I’ve been lucky enough to have more than I deserve. It doesn’t take much for me.
Q: How much did you have to do with the A&M basketball facilities?
A: I have never been in it and it’s just coincidental. That first year when we came in and we started winning some games a lot of people got excited. Jerry Cox kind of led the charge on that through [athletic director] Bill Byrne and so they had their big February meeting that they have and at that time we were playing Baylor that weekend so they bring in all the big donors and give them a state of the union report. Those people were asking me what we needed to really be a program and so what I really had asked for at Reed Arena was an upgrade in our locker room because it was about the worst one in Division I basketball and that is all I really wanted. So they looked at doing some excavation under the bleachers around Reed Arena to where there was actually some potential space and we had all kind of designs and drawings and Kevin Hurley was kind leading that charge. I just wanted a better locker room and we were winning so much and so many people were getting excited about it they said well lets do something different and that was really Bill Byrne’s vision and so he kind of led the charge in that and Jerry Cox and Mr. McFerrin pitched in a bunch of money one weekend. One weekend we raised about $10 million basically saying this what we are going to try and do. Basketball here can be a generator, create a ton of excitement and that we had a lot of success with Shelby [Metcalf] through the years and we want to get that feeling back. They had a guy they believed in and before you know it they are breaking ground. I know I was involved in the design of our particular locker room and the lounge areas and the weight rooms and all that kind off stuff. I d really like to see how it came out.
Q: What about facilities at Ranger?
A: We have to do a lot of things. We have teams here on campus that don’t have locker rooms and don’t have adequate training space and all that kind of stuff. I’m looking at this gym and they painted the inside of it and it’s looking 100 percent better than it did our locker room area is probably the best one in junior college basketball and that’s been done through some money that we raised and we raised some money to change the dorm and it’s probably as good dorm for where are players stay as anywhere. We have to do a bunch of those things to improve all areas and we have to raise a bunch of money to help the soccer team and the baseball team and the women’s softball team.
Q: What former A&M players do you keep in touch with?
A: I keep in touch with so many of them actually. I have great memories for Antanas [Kavaliauskas]. I keep in fair touch with him. Chris Walker’s family was here on Saturday. Dominque [Kirk] Acie [Law IV] and Joe, I talk to Joe’s mom all the time, so many good people throughout the years. Whether it’s Kentucky or Texas Tech, I see Jordan Tolbert over at SMU and he was at Texas Tech with us. He’s having great success. You see all these guys and you’re so proud of them because you know you made an impact on them and they are having so much success, not because of you but because of them, but you might have had a little piece because you encouraged somebody to get a degree. That’s why you coach all about the relationships you form. Every day is not easy but every day is not easy in any relationship that is worthwhile. I don’t have family, I mean I have great sisters and now these guys are my family and it makes me really proud to see them achieve all the time.
Q: Do you keep up with A&M now?
A: I watch every time I can like to learn stuff like to see plays. I love the players they recruited, the returning guys. So I’m happy because in this day and age patience doesn’t happen very often. I love the patience they’ve given [Coach Billy Kennedy] to build a program and I knew exactly what was going to happen. I didn’t know the timetable but I knew it would happen and he is a really good person, really a good coach. I think they could win it all this year, it’s wide open.
They will get a great seed have top play great to get to the Sweet 16 and then win two games and they are in the Final Four and that team could do it and it’s in Houston, there you go.
Leading scorer Jordan Geist about Billy Gillispie
Q: What has it been like practicing and playing for Coach Gillispie
A: It was definitely a lot different. You have to be in great physical shape but you also have to be mentally ready because he is a great coach and knows what he is saying and you listen to what he says and in these practices we are learning so much stuff it beats you up physically and mentally. When we go to games we kill people because of the kind of shape we are in mentally and physically.
He definitely put in our minds if you want to win you have to play defense, so we focused on defense for the longest time without even running any plays. We just played defense and learned defensive principals,that is the thing that helps us win.
Sometimes you think man he’s yelling at me so much right now and you don’t know what to do, so you’ve just got to think he’s trying to help me out and I need to do this, this and this. The coaches do a great job of saying you are good, just get back out keep playing do your best.
As long as your are hustling and trying hard and not ding anything stupid.
Leading rebounder Josh Simmons about Billy Gillispie
Q: How tough are practices?
A: When you are speaking tough, Coach Gillispie has a really high definition of tough love that I’ve never seen before. When you are first getting used to it it’s like, wow, and impacts you like this is something different how do I get through it it’s hard experience. After a while when you see things kind of manifest you buy in and so now, at this point time, if he’s not tough on me I feel like I’m doing something wrong. That’s just the way he teaches and I embrace it and its made me a better person a better basketball player and I enjoy being here especially with him. He’s like the father who doesn’t say he loves you but he loves you that is how it is.
Former player and volunteer assistant Acie Law IV about Billy Gillispie
Q: What has changed about Coach Gillispie since you played for him 10 years ago?
A: Nothing, nothing, not one thing, from his pregame to how he writes on the board to how hard he is on the players to his work ethic to his passion to the game to his success. His way works and I think it’s proven and that is why I gravitated to him, reached out to him, because I knew he was somebody I would like to learn from and he’s just been great.
He has a special ability to get people to buy into him ,tough but you believe because he wins. When you have success from the hard work you appreciate it more and these guys have bought into that and tonight they beat the No. 9 team in the country and they are still hungry they want more looking forward to practice tomorrow that’s how they finished it off tonight get after it tomorrow.