Graford basketball legend Billy Gillispie is the new head coach at Tarleton State University after being lured away from his alma mater Ranger Junior College by the prospect of building the Texans’ new D1 program.
The four-time NCAA Tournament and 12-time Coach of the Year has signed a four-year contract with the terms still pending approval by the Texas A&M Board of Regents.
Gillispie is stepping in at the recommendation of former head coach Chris Reisman, who announced a couple of weeks ago he wanted to focus his career on administration.
University President Dr. James Hurley admitted he was shocked when Reisman announced his career move and when Hurley asked if he had any recommendations to replace him, the first name was Gillispie’s.
Hurley and his new head coach had a little “history” with Gillispie coaching against Hurley’s college basketball team when he was a player. Hurley joked that the 35-point beat down Gillispie’s team delivered didn’t leave him with a great memory, but during interviews where Gillispie recalled the name of Hurley’s coach, player’s names and even the defense ran against his squad any negative thoughts evaporated.
“Coach Gillispie has shown to truly be genuine in the way he cares about helping student-athletes achieve great success both on and off the court,” said Dr. Hurley. “After a national search and an extensive interview process, we are confident that Coach Gillispie’s experience and commitment to Tarleton and our community make him the right person to build on the storied success of Texan basketball.”
While Gillispie is a considerable name in NCAA basketball, he is also stepping into some big shoes at Tarleton, where the Texans have averaged 22 wins a season since entering NCAA D2 basketball and where the recently retired Lonn Reisman (Chris’ father) rang up 654 of his 691 career wins.
Tarleton has been to four Elite 8 rounds and two final fours.
“Wow, what a blessing,” said Gillispie. “I’ve always believed I have been the luckiest man alive and today continues to illustrate that thought.
As the recipient of a kidney transplant, Gillispie has been lucky more than once, and his hiring at Tarleton is another step back up the coaching ladder after several mistakes in his life that included accusations of player mistreatment and trouble with the law for DWI.
Known as an elite recruiter, Gillispie once managed to put together four straight national top-25 recruiting classes from 2005-09. He also had the sixth-ranked recruiting class at Baylor as an assistant in 1996. In Gillispie’s career, he has helped recruit over 30 players that advanced to the NBA and NFL and 102 players that played professionally.
Gillispie also has a reputation for turning around basketball programs.
With 20 years of experience as a high school head coach in Texas and a Division I assistant, including under legendary head coach Bill Self at Tulsa and Illinois, Gillispie got his first collegiate head coaching job at UTEP from 2002-04.
In just his second year leading the Miners, Gillispie lifted the team to an 18-win improvement – the best in the NCAA – and claimed the WAC regular-season title, the WAC Coach of the Year award, and advanced to his first NCAA Tournament. It was UTEP’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1992.
After two seasons at UTEP, Gillispie was hired by Texas A&M, where he once again had one of the biggest turnarounds in the country. In his first season with the Aggies, Gillispie led his new team to a 21-10 record – a 14-win increase from the season before – and advanced to the NIT Quarterfinals.
After three seasons at Texas A&M, Gillispie was hired to lead the Kentucky Wildcats, where he racked up a 40-27 record over two seasons and reached his fourth NCAA Tournament.
After Kentucky, Gillispie signed on at Texas Tech but resigned after one season due to health reasons. In 2018, Gillispie underwent a successful kidney transplant.
A rejuvenated Gillispie made a triumphant return to the sidelines at his alma mater Ranger Junior College. Over the last four seasons at Ranger College, Gillispie went 103-24 and took the Rangers to the NJCAA national title game in 2019, where he was named the JUCO National Coach of the Year.
One person extra excited to see Gillispie return to the D1 coaching ranks is his kidney donor.
“I couldn’t be more excited for him. It’s been a long time coming. His health battle is something that I got an up-close look at and to see the other side of him,” Ericka Downey said “Everyone knows how good of a basketball coach he is, but the big missing piece that I’ve been blessed to be a part of is the type of person he is. He is truly a kind soul. Basketball is better because Billy Gillispie is still in it.”
Gillispie may be good at turning around programs. Still, it will be at least four years before he will lead the Texans into postseason play because schools making the transition to D1 basketball are not allowed to participate in the NCAA tournament until their fifth year. TSU will be eligible for the NIT tournament.
Current Graford coach Ty Tabor likes the hire.
“It seems like a great hire for Tarleton, Coach Gillispie has won at all levels,” Tabor said. “He is a great recruiter, and his teams play with extreme tenacity. He will certainly draw in local fans since he is from Graford.”