While Billy Gillispie took the high road Saturday in talking about his two seasons as Kentucky coach, his attorney sounded ready to go to court to get his client $6 million in compensation.
UK’s buyout obligation remained unresolved as the school fired Gillispie as coach on Friday. At a news conference announcing the firing, school president Lee Todd and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart voiced confidence that UK would not have to pay anything close to the $6 million buyout spelled out in a memorandum of understanding that served as a coaching agreement.
Todd acknowledged that that view merely reflected an “interpretation” of the memo, which Barnhart and Gillispie signed when the hire was made two years ago.
“I would have to disagree with that,” said Stuart Campbell, Gillispie’s Tulsa-based attorney.
Campbell noted that UK had answered media requests for Gillispie’s contract by producing the memo.
When asked if he’d be willing to go to court to force UK to pay Gillispie the $6 million buyout specified in the memo, Campbell said, “It’s what I do for a living. . . . I’m an attorney and I litigate.”
Campbell, who said he had not started any negotiation with UK on a settlement, suggested Gillispie should be asked about the willingness to go to court.
Gillispie, who answered questions Saturday at Lexington’s Marriott Griffin Gate complex, said he was not ready to say. “I don’t know all the details.”
But the former UK coach said he considered the memo a contract, implying a seven-year contract, as spelled out in its three pages. “It is a formal contract,” he said. “Just a short version.”
Standing on a podium in a light blue golf shirt, Gillispie spoke warmly of his time as UK coach. He said the team could win big next season with such recruits as prized big-man recruit Daniel Orton from Oklahoma City and Matt Pilgrim, a transfer from Hampton who sat out this season.
“I think they’re really ready to take off with one or two more pieces,” he said, “and those pieces are on the way.”
Gillispie deflected a question about whether he felt he had been treated fairly.
“It makes no difference,” he said. “I’m not a woe-is-me kind of person. . . .No hard feelings here.”
In firing Gillispie, Barnhart and Todd talked about the coach not being the “right fit” for Kentucky. Without being disagreeable, Gillispie disagreed. The former coach noted that basketball and horse racing were his two great loves. “Where could you be that’s any better for both of them,” he said.
“ . . . I know this. I’m loyal.”
When asked if Todd or Barnhart talked to him about the job’s public component, such as being a program ambassador and the face of Kentucky basketball, during his two seasons, Gillispie said, “I don’t know. I can’t recall a whole lot of conversation about that. Maybe none. “I’ve always been a company man. Believe me, I usually do what I’m told.”
Gillispie expressed good feelings for Barnhart.
“I like Mitch,” he said. “I don’t know too many people I don’t like. Sometimes people don’t like you.”
When asked what he liked about Barnhart, Gillispie paused for several seconds and then repeated the question.
“What do I like about Mitch?” he said. “I like a lot of things about Mitch. We’ll talk at a later time about details.”
During the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Gillispie refused to acknowledge a public component to the job of UK coach. Saturday, he backed off that comment.
“If I said that, I definitely didn’t mean it like that,” he said.
Gillispie said he had no regrets. When asked if he regretted playing Derrick Jasper six months after microfracture knee surgery, Gillispie said he simply followed the advice of medical staff.
When asked if he regretted his nationally televised dustups with ESPN sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards, Gillispie said, “I don’t have any regrets. Could I have handled it a little differently? Absolutely.”
Gillispie had a joking response when asked if he had been misunderstood.
“When I used to be married, I thought that all the time,” he said.