LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas Tech fans had pinned their basketball hopes on Billy Gillispie.
He had turned around two other flagging programs in the state, and they hoped he would do the same for the Red Raiders.
They watched a difficult first year in which Texas Tech won just one Big 12 game. Now fans won’t get a chance to see a possible turnaround similar to what the 52-year-old coach had done at UTEP and Texas A&M.
Gillispie, a West Texas native, resigned on Thursday, citing health concerns.
“Billy has decided to focus on his health, and we wish him a full recovery,” athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a news release. “We are proud of the young men that he has brought to this campus. Billy’s decision allows him to concentrate on his well-being and allows us to turn our attention to preparations for the upcoming season.”
Gillispie didn’t immediately return a call or text from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Gillispie will be paid the remainder of this contract year, about seven-months’ worth, or about $467,000. Chris Walker, who took over day-to-day operations, will remain in that position until an interim head coach is chosen.
Gillispie’s resignation letter said he appreciated the opportunity to coach the Red Raiders, but that he needed to tend to his health, officials said.
The move came less than a month after the school announced it was looking into allegations of player mistreatment last fall by the veteran coach — a sensitive topic at Texas Tech, given the 2009 firing of football coach Mike Leach after claims that he mistreated a player suffering from a concussion.
Hocutt, who declined to make further comment Thursday, earlier this month called the allegations “very troubling.”
In January, the school reprimanded Gillispie and assistant coach Brooks Jennings after a review found the team had exceeded practice-time limits in 2011. The school reported the secondary violation to the NCAA and penalized itself by reducing the team’s practice time by about 12 hours.
While all that was filtering out, Gillispie’s health was apparently growing worse.
Twice in a 10-day span this past month, 911 calls were made from Gillispie’s home. The first, on Aug. 31, came hours before he was to meet with Hocutt and led to a six-day stay in a Lubbock hospital. The two men never met to discuss the allegations.
Gillispie wasn’t taken to the hospital after the second call on Sept. 10. But the following day, he left for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he said he got treatment for kidney problems and abnormal headaches. Doctors there told him to avoid stress for 30 days.
Gillispie succeeded Pat Knight, who went 50-61 in his three-plus years. Knight had taken over after his father resigned in February 2008.
Five years ago, Gillispie was one of the hottest names in the college game and had reached a pinnacle: coaching at perennial powerhouse Kentucky.
That peak lasted just two years. He was fired from Kentucky in 2009 after going 40-27 in two seasons, and the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years. When he returned to coaching at Texas Tech two years later, he came cheap. He went from an annual salary at Kentucky of $2.3 million to $800,000 a year at Texas Tech, signing a five-year contract to succeed Pat Knight.
In late 2009, Gillispie and Kentucky settled lawsuits against each other, with the former Wildcats coach getting about $3 million with no admission of wrongdoing from the school. Six months after his firing, Gillispie sought treatment at John Lucas’ substance-abuse program in Houston following his third arrest for drunken driving in 10 years.
Gillispie’s first two years as a college head coach were at UTEP in the Western Athletic Conference. He made headlines there for the biggest turnaround in basketball history, taking the Miners from 6-24 in 2002-03 to 24-8 the following year.
The conference named him coach of the year in 2004, the same year he was a finalist for the Naismith Coach of the Year — the first of three times he made the final cut. He was then an adept recruiter, and he stayed in close contact with scores of Texas high school coaches to stay in the loop about the state’s talent.
He later went to Texas A&M, taking a downtrodden program and leading the Aggies to three consecutive 20-win seasons after they went winless in Big 12 play the year before he got there. At the end of Gillispie’s first year with the Aggies in 2005, he was named the AP’s Big 12 coach of the year.
It was the NIT after his first season and the NCAA tournament after the next two — getting the Aggies to the round of 16 in 2007. But Kentucky came courting, and two weeks after his final game with the Aggies, a 65-64 loss to Memphis in the NCAA regional semifinals, he left Texas for the Bluegrass State.
Gillispie is among the basketball coaches who have lost significant amounts of money because of investments with David Salinas, who committed suicide last year as federal investigators probed his management of college coaches’ money.
Baylor’s Scott Drew, former Arizona coach Lute Olson, former Utah coach Ray Giacoletti — now an assistant at Gonzaga — and Baylor football coach Art Briles, who previously coached at Houston, also invested.