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November 7, 2002 Columns No Comments

A Mess for the Miners

by Kevin Reilly

A coach resigns five days into the preseason. The basketball program at a major school left leaderless mere weeks before opening night. How do things play out? Can there possibly be a happy ending?

Coach Jason Rabedeaux has left The University of Texas- El Paso claiming personal and family issues. He came to El Paso three years ago replacing the legendary Don Haskins.
Haskins coached 38 years at UTEP and won a national championship at the school when it was known as Texas Western.

His first season was a smashing success winning 23 ballgames and garnering a post season bid. The honeymoon ended quickly and in his third campaign just last winter the Miners stumbled and finished with a school record 22 losses.

“When you replace a legend, you are usually getting a pretty good job” stated Rabedeaux upon his hiring three years ago. I am not sure that he would share that same opinion now.
In addition to losing games , he lost players from his squad as well as a key recruit.
UTEP was picked last in this year’s preseason conference coaches poll.

The departing mentor has a young family. As a former coach and a family man myself,
I can feel for him but the timing of such a move is very poor. Why couldn’t this announcement have come a month or so earlier at least? Rabedeaux himself was hired in September 1999 and had only 6 weeks till the preseason commenced.

In defending his former protege Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson stated, “There are a lot more important things than college basketball.” I agree with Sampson one-hundred percent, but trying telling that to the disgruntled UTEP faithful.

After the ill-timed departure, The UTEP administration scrambled and has now settled
on Billy Gillespie, a 43 year old, University of Illinois assistant.

They had pursued famed alum Nolan Richardson, among others, but why would a big timer step in now? This will be a tough run for Gillespie but as a first time Division I
head coach his motivation can not be questioned.

The school’s hierarchy has to be complimented for giving Gillespie a multi-year deal
on hopes of solidifying the future, and most importantly displaying strength for it’s
recruiting efforts. An interim tag on one of the assistants would not have gotten it done.
Reportedly there are five scholarships available at season’s end.

Gillespie is Texas though and through. He played college ball at Southwest Texas State, was a high school coach in central Texas and was an assistant at Baylor.

The new coach has said all the right things, so far. He has given the current assistants a vote of confidence to continue on. His former boss Bill Self, the head man at Illinois, has unselfishly backed his candidacy. Self and Gillespie worked together at WAC rival Tulsa.

So far so good…Right?

How about the players? How do they fit in? That remains to be seen as the year unwinds.
Will the old assistants be team players? Only time will tell.

There is one issue keeps popping up in these situations. A coach can up and leave at any time without any penalty but if a player seeks to leave a program, he will have to sit out a year before playing at another D-I school. These players were recruited by Rabedeaux and now must play for Gillespie. Upon his hiring Gillespie stated, “We are going to have so much fun.”

Let’s hope so, for him and most importantly his players. But remember, at this level Fun is all about Winning .


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