I, like many others, was shocked to learn on Monday that legendary Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight had resigned (2-4-08). It is quite rare for a high-profile college basketball coach to resign in the middle of the season, but maybe this was routine for Bobby Knight.
One would be hard-pressed to find a top American college basketball coach who cared as much about the game and his players as Bobby Knight did. Let me make the argument for the Bobby Knight haters, because many commentators would disagree with me when I claim that Knight was more interested in doing things properly than in winning games.
I think Knight cared just as much about how his “kids” played as he did about the scoreboard. I believe that Knight would have been able to better endure a loss if his players had put into practise what they had learnt from him, played their hearts out, left everything on the court, and still lost.
As a matter of fact, victory was nothing new for Knight. When you amass 902 victories over the course of 42 years as a head coach, your competition is limited. A total of 879 victories belong to North Carolina’s Dean Smith, 876 to Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, and 830 to Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s Jim Phelan (Jim who?). Smith is 76 and has been retired for some time, Phelan is 78 and has also stopped working, and Rupp passed away 20 years ago. Eddie Sutton, the 71-year-old head coach of the San Francisco Giants, has the second-most victories among active coaches with 800.
At Army, when he took over as head coach at the age of 24, Knight amassed 102 wins over the course of six seasons. In 29 years as a Hoosier, he led Indiana to 662 wins and three titles. Between his first and seventh years at Texas Tech, he amassed 138 wins. In 1984, he led the United States Olympic team to victory in Los Angeles.
Thousands of basketball fans may now take this occasion to criticise Bobby Knight for his infamous outbursts. The largest Super Bowl stadium must be able to accommodate the number of officially sanctioned Bobby Knight haters. Not me; I am not one of them. Pat Knight, the coach’s son and an assistant coach at Texas Tech, has taken over for his father. In 2005, the Red Raiders announced that Pat Knight will be their next head coach.
Bobby Knight was fired from his coaching position at Indiana University for “a pattern of unacceptable behaviour,” but not before the 1975–1976 squad he coached went 32-0 and became the final Division 1 men’s basketball team to go unbeaten (something even the New England Patriots could not accomplish this year). Those who like to take pleasure in Bobby Knight’s failures as a public relations agent can find ample documentation of his “antics.”
In his 42 years as a coach, he never ran afoul of the NCAA, and believe me when I say that the NCAA rule book is on par with the Internal Revenue Service law in terms of finicky, tedious junk.
Although it is commonly known that Bobby Knight had an extremely high winning percentage, it is less well known that his players also had a very high graduation rate. To put it bluntly, Knight did not tolerate egomaniacs or show-offs on his squad. The importance of doing one’s part and contributing to a team was paramount to Knight. Several years after he arrived at Texas Tech, Bobby Knight returned his salary because he did not feel he deserved it. This is a fact that is not widely known.
Some sports commentators and fans have already criticised Bobby Knight for being a bad example to his players, contrasting him with UCLA’s John Wooden. Do I feel that Wooden was a better example to follow than Knight? I do agree with this.
As the most successful coach in the history of American basketball, and perhaps of any sport, Wooden is universally held up as the model for future coaches thanks to his record at Pauley Pavilion. From 1967 to 1973, Wooden’s teams won seven straight national titles, and from 1971 to 1973, they won 88 games in a row, an NBA record that is still unmatched to this day.
The legendary John Wooden is the real deal and a major player in his field. Let us give some thought to what he said after learning of Bobby Knight’s abrupt departure on Monday:
I guess there are some things Bob does that you just can not take by surprise,” Wooden added. When it comes to teaching basketball, I do not think there is ever been a greater instructor than Bob. Though I may not always agree with his approaches, his players are incredibly dedicated to him. Nobody who ever played for him would disagree with me when I say that he emerged from the experience a better guy.
Mike Krzyzewski, head coach at Duke and a former player under Knight at Army, had this to say after Knight left:
“Coach Knight has had a greater impact on my life than anyone else, including my parents and siblings. As a coach, a mentor, and a friend, he has earned my utmost regard. The things I have acquired from Coach over the past four decades are invaluable. Put simply, I have feelings for him.
Not only did Bobby Knight have more coaching victories than any other coach in history, but he also helped his players develop into better individuals and better prepared them for the real world once they graduated. If that is the case, why do I feel such sadness? Because of Bobby Knight, his on-court and off-court accomplishments will be mostly overlooked in favour of his reputation for being a villain.
Whoever has won more than 900 games and never been in violation of NCAA rules can throw the first stone, in my opinion. Bobby Knight’s few shortcomings were so spectacular and public that the rest of us might consider the side of him that did not get particularly positive press.
People seem to have strong opinions on Bobby Knight, either for or against him. The legendary basketball player Bobby Knight is a guy I admire.
His worst flaw, in my opinion, was that he probably would have called a butt end by name, whether it was a nitpicky university president, a meddling father of a player, a disobedient student, or an irate janitor. Although I share your sentiments, I would not do so publicly and I have never been successful as a coach.