The ongoing saga of Texas Tech basketball coach Billy Gillispie has taken a new level of twists and turns.
Gillispie on Tuesday afternoon checked himself into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he is being treated for stress and high blood pressure, “amongst other things,” he told the Avalanche-Journal in a text message.
Back in Lubbock, assistant coach Chris Walker has temporarily been put in charge of the day-to-day operations of the program, Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement late Tuesday. Walker is not receiving an “interim” tag, but he has been placed in charge until Gillispie’s status is determined.
“We hope Billy Gillispie has a full recovery,” Hocutt said in the statement, “but we cannot wait forever as we have a basketball team that starts practice soon. In the meantime, Associate Head Coach Chris Walker will assume the responsibility for day-to-day operations of our men’s basketball program.
"Coach Walker will help ensure that leadership and accountability will be in place for our student-athletes, assistant coaches and staff.”
Walker did not return a text message seeking comment late Tuesday.
“We have been seeking a swift resolution to this issue from the very beginning,” Hocutt said. “We remain committed to communicating with Billy face to face regarding the issues relating to the men’s basketball program; however, time is of the essence.”
Gillispie, 52, said he is in the “testing stage” at the clinic, but he added he is “not sure how long” his treatment there will last.
News of Gillispie’s departure for Minnesota, first reported by ESPN.com, comes one day after he placed a 911 emergency call and had an ambulance dispatched to his home, Lubbock Police Sgt. Jeff Baker said.
The Associated Press first reported Monday’s emergency call, which marked the second time in 10 days Gillispie dialed 911.
On the morning of Aug. 31, Gillispie called for an ambulance after suffering severe pain and experiencing what he said felt like a stroke or heart attack.
“It was the worst I’ve ever felt,” Gillispie told the A-J.
Tuesday’s developments created more uncertainty for Gillispie’s future status with the program.
Earlier in the day, Hocutt said Gillispie has been told not to have any contact with the team until he and Hocutt meet face to face to discuss allegations Gillispie mistreated players and committed secondary NCAA violations regarding practice time.
“At this time, (Gillispie) is not making day-to-day decisions related to our men’s basketball program,” Hocutt said after a Board of Regents meeting. “Nor is he to engage with our program in any way until he and I have a chance to sit down and talk face to face.”
Hocutt said he issued that directive to Gillispie on Friday over the phone, but the two have yet to have an in-person meeting, the athletic director said.
Hocutt and Gillispie were supposed to meet the morning of Aug. 31 to discuss allegations of player mistreatment and potential NCAA secondary violations stemming from exceeding practice-time limits, issues that arose when Hocutt met with a group of Tech players several days earlier.
The Hocutt-Gillispie meeting didn’t happen, though, because the coach was taken to the hospital at about 5 a.m. Gillispie spent six days at University Medical Center being treated for high blood pressure and was released Thursday.
The second-year coach is currently taking accrued sick days, a Tech spokesman said Monday.
Hocutt on Tuesday morning didn’t specify a timetable for a meeting with Gillispie, or for a decision on his future with the program. The timeline only became murkier with Gillispie’s departure later that afternoon.
“I can’t anticipate given the other issues related to his health,” Hocutt said. “With basketball season officially starting practice in a month, the sooner the better.”
Through Tuesday, the Red Raiders had been using a group effort of assistant coaches Jeremy Cox, Bubba Jennings and Walker to conduct individual workouts and run other day-to-day operations involved with the program.
Hocutt on Tuesday again spoke highly of how players have handled the situation.
“I continue to be impressed by the caliber of men that we have on this basketball program,” Hocutt said. “It's a tough group of men. They’re doing all that they can. I’m sorry that they’re in this situation they’re in, but it’s going to be a learning experience for them that will make them stronger as people.”
The official practice period for NCAA basketball teams begins Oct. 12.
Hocutt said the biggest issue for Gillispie is getting his health in order.
“Billy’s got to take care of Billy,” Hocutt said.
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