I’ve been waiting to write a column about Bob Knight for a long time. Until very recently, I thought I might never have the chance. I didn’t think any respectable school in America would actually give him another chance. But I should have been more cynical. I should have known he’d resurface somewhere like the river rat that he is. I just never thought it’d be so soon.
Let me start with how I really feel. I hate Bob Knight. I have never met the man or seen more than ten minutes of an interview with him, but I know that I hate him. I hate what he stands for, I hate that he won’t admit that he’s made mistakes in the past, I hate that he’s so self-centered and arrogant and I hate that he’s been given another opportunity to coach a basketball team. The administration at Texas Tech should be ashamed at its decision to hire Knight as their new coach, but in a sporting world where recognition and billboard status are almost prerequisites to success, who can blame them?
Well, at least 100 members of the faculty at Texas Tech can. They understand how detrimental Knight could be to their University. Knight is a monster in a red sweater, a volatile combination of fiery charisma and moral depravity. He throws things when he gets mad like a five-year old child; he puts his hands on players when they anger him like a drill sergeant. He curses, and spits, and kicks, and somehow he’s managed to coach his teams to almost 800 victories and three NCAA championships. That’s got to mean something, right?
Wrong. Bob Knight is a master at scare tactics. You don’t get a nickname like “the General” for nothing. The kids that play for him are so frightened to screw up that they often play beyond themselves and perform at levels that they normally wouldn’t under other circumstances or other coaches. Knight, perhaps more than any other coach in college basketball history, has milked the absolute most out of his players, and once they’ve left his sphere of influence, they’ve basically amounted to a mountain full of nothing. Don’t believe me? Then quick, name an Indiana player that has done anything in the NBA other than Isaiah Thomas. Can’t think of anyone? My point exactly.
It makes me sick that all of the incidents of misbehavior have been overlooked by Texas Tech. The news conference announcing Knight’s hiring was a complete joke. Any time a member of the media made any sort of allusion to Knight’s troubled past, the entire arena full of students booed and jeered. Knight used it all to his advantage, avoiding questions completely, always with that trademark smirk that says “you’re never going to touch me.” When one reporter continued to press Knight, the coach calmly retorted “My wife has a saying, ‘If the horse is dead, get off the horse.’ The horse is dead.”
But the horse is not dead, despite what many people would like to think. Are we supposed to believe that Knight has suddenly become a new person after over 30 years of playing the exact same role? This is, after all, the same man who once told Connie Chung in an interview that “if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it,” the same guy who choked one of his own players, punched a police officer in Puerto Rico and kicked his own son during a game. Bob Knight is as typecast as Pauly Shore in Son in Law. Texas Tech will not offer any greener pastures.
However, the cold, hard truth is that Bob Knight produces winning teams, or at least he used to, and as long as you win you will be able to find a job somewhere in America. People are willing to overlook your flaws for great results, and this adage applies not only to the world of sports but to the world of politics, business and everything else. A man like Knight could mean millions of dollars to a mid-level school like Texas Tech, which doesn’t have much else to distinguish it besides sage brush and an inferiority complex about Texas and Texas A&M.
The really sad part is that Knight does have a great gift to coach basketball. He understands the fundamentals and tactics better than all but a select few coaches in the history of the game. But his fatal flaw is also that which makes him so great: his inability to control his temper. Without it, he wouldn’t win half as many games as he has; with it come victories and glory, all negated by the waves and waves of criticism. Therefore, its almost impossible to separate Knight from his anger. And no matter how well he does at Texas Tech, there will always be that caveat, that feeling that, “Wow, Bob Knight is a great coach, but boy was he a real son-of-a-bitch.”
When Bob Knight takes the sidelines in Lubbock next fall, he will be 117 games behind Dean Smith on the all-time college basketball victories list. Given the state of the Red Raiders basketball team, for Knight to win 120 games will take at least 10 years. But it could happen. And yet, what a travesty it would be if Knight were to break the record. It’s a slap in the face to coaches like Smith, and John Chaney, and John Thompson and all the old-timers?Fogg Allen, Henry Iba, John Wooden?who, while all possessing their own faults, never let them take over.
Who knows exactly what went on behind the closed doors of all those McDonough practices under John Thompson, but whenever he was in the public eye he handled himself with composure and dignity. He respected the media, his fans, and even his enemies. The same cannot be said about Bob Knight. And now he’s back in the spotlight again, where he knows he belongs, where he can antagonize and belittle and rant without any consequences.
But Bob Knight is in for a reality check. The game has changed. The last decent team Knight put together was 10 years ago. His coaching style no longer meshes with the players of today, most of whom are thinking of where they’re going next instead of what they’re going to do now. Thompson and Smith, his old war buddies, are long gone, replaced by younger firebrands and new strategies that take advantage of the three-point line and the phenomenal athletic abilities of the players instead of stifling them with zone defenses and set offenses.
Maybe Knight really should take his wife’s advice. The horse is dead, Bobby, get off it!