LUBBOCK, Texas — Billy Gillispie likes where he is, despite a winless Big 12 record so far in his first season at Texas Tech.
Keen to be back coaching after two years away, Gillispie began the season with a Red Raiders roster that included just one starter in three returning players from Pat Knight's team. There were 10 new players — all but one of them freshmen.
There is talent but not enough experience, said Gillispie, who insists he is OK with his team being winless in 11 conference games. "Overachieved" is how he characterized his team's performance this year.
"Nobody wants to have the record that we do right now," he said. "But when you look at the improvement that they've made and the approach that they've started to take, all the good things that really don't show up in the final score, I'm very, very proud of where we are."
Gillispie's view of the season heading into Saturday night's home game against Oklahoma (13-10, 3-8) isn't unfamiliar.
In his first season at UTEP, the Miners finished 6-24. In his second year, in 2004, Gillispie led UTEP to a share of the WAC title and its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1992 after it went 24-8, tying the NCAA record for most improved team from one season to the next.
At Texas A&M, he led the Aggies to three consecutive 20-win seasons and was chosen AP Big 12 coach of the year in 2005.
Red Raiders fans, who haven't seen their team in the NCAA tournament since 2007, would love to see the 52-year-old Texan do it again.
Knight was fired after going 50-61 in 3 1/2 seasons. He failed to lead the Red Raiders to the tournament after taking the reins when his famous father resigned during the 2008 season. Pat Knight now coaches at Lamar.
The winless conference record hasn't hurt recruiting, Gillispie said, adding that responses from recruits overall was better than he imagined.
"We're way ahead," Gillispie said. "They've seen the track record (of my coaching stops), they know what's going to happen, they just don't know when, either. But they know that we need to continue to upgrade our roster to make it happen."
Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said he is "not pleased" with the win-loss record, but he understands.
"I have complete confidence in Billy Gillispie, that he is going to return us to NCAA tournament participation," said Hocutt, who hired Gillispie last March after less than a month in his own job. "It's a process and a journey and as much as we want immediate success in the society we live in today that's not always reasonable."
The Red Raiders haven't won a game since Dec. 30. Gillispie said he and his staff keep the players focused on the next game, and it's helped.
"That's the reason they've been able to maintain their spirit because it's hard getting beat," he said. "All coaches say, 'one game at a time,' fans can't understand that but it is one game at a time, whether you're winning them all or you haven't won yet. We're going to get where we want to go. We just don't know when it's going to happen."
Gillispie was out of coaching for two seasons after his firing in 2009 from Kentucky. The Wildcats went 40-27 in his two seasons and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years.Comment on this story
Gillispie, who grew up about 250 southeast of Lubbock, knew what to expect coming back to West Texas.
"The bottom line is winning, and I'm a winner, and we turn these programs around," Gillispie said. "But for anyone to think there wasn't going to be some hard days and some hard times you really haven't paid very close attention. That's what happens when you take over a program that needs a little fixing."
Gillispie isn't frustrated because he knew what he was taking on.
"If the guys weren't playing hard, if the guys weren't having great spirit, if the guys weren't trying to get better, if they weren't trying to win then I think that's the time to get frustrated," he said. "But absolutely not. No frustration on my part."