Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What About Bob?

I was surprised last night to see scrolling across the bottom of my TV that the General Robert Montgomery Knight had decided to retire from coaching during the middle of the season. Coach Knight was the simultaneously the greatest coach and biggest jerk in basketball. I loved watching a Knight coached team play. The motion offense is the greatest offensive system in basketball. The man-to-man defense with zone principles (not just following your man all over the court) is the best defense to play at all times. Zones are for guys who are out of shape and lazy on defense (like me and my current state of (un)fitness). Coach Knight demanded hard-work, team-work, school-work, and excellence. I laud all of those principles.

Too bad he was an arrogant, foul-mouthed, sarcastic, out-of-control man who demanded respect but rarely gave respect. His poor sportsmanship far outweighed his community service efforts and compassionate acts (he did have them). His refusal to take responsibility for his bad behavior deserved punishment, and long before Myles Brand removed the icon from Bloomington.

I have always been an IU fan first. I am not and was not a Bob Knight clone. I do not now nor will I ever understand the many Christians who have defended his indefensible behavior.

I do not understand the timing of Knight's decision. I don't understand quitting mid-season when there are no underlying health or family issues. I also think that it is convenient he decided to walk away after winning his 900th game. His stated reason is to allow Pat Knight, his son and Texas Tech's new head coach, time to adjust from the two chair to the first chair. No one will convince me that mid-season is the right time for that adjustment. Knight was simply tired of coaching, and he wanted to quit; as with all things, he walked away on his terms.

One characteristic that I admire in people is consistentcy. I strive to be consistent in all areas of my life. I'm not perfect in this or any other area, but it is a goal of mine. Knight is consistent in one area only: he does whatever he wants to do, however he wants to do it, and whenever he wants to do it. As Pat Knight, Bob's youngest son and heir at Texas Tech said,
My dad did it for 42 years. He's 67 and now he's walking way on his terms. He did it when everyone least expected it, just like he said. (emphasis mine)
I don't doubt that Coach Knight was ready to walk away. I understand that he has a full life with many other interests. I also understand that he has nothing left to prove. But all this was true at the end of last season. To walk away from his team in the middle of a season is unprofessional. It is duplicitous to chide the Texas Tech crowd for not regularly attending home games and then walk away before all the games are played. As always, Knight apologists will line up and defend his decision no matter what. Here is one example, provided by Dick Vitale.

I'm often accused of being too hard on Coach Knight, of being "ungrateful", or of throwing him away like an old paper bag. Someone will usually say, "I just can't throw away Bobby like that!" To which my rejoinder is always "So you
cheered for Bob Knight University instead of Indiana University?!"

I will again, and for the last time now that he has resigned, assert that I am thankful for Bob Knight's coaching genius. I am thankful that he led IU to three national championships. I am thankful that the program was administered with integrity during his tenure. You never read about Coach Knight making or allowing his assistants to make illegal phone calls. Knight knew and followed the rules, and he demanded that those around him did the same. He was no cheater, and he was just as concerned with graduating players as he was with winning games.

I applaud all of that.


Still.

There is no escaping the uncontrollable outbursts of anger. The lack of respect shown to anyone whom Knight deemed "unworthy" of even common courtesy. There were people dumped in trash cans, bull whips used in press conferences, shoes and fists used on scoring tables, kicks aimed at chairs that missed at connected with his son, players being choked, students being grabbed, and chairs being hurtled across the floor during a game!

Honestly folks, all of that drowns out the applause.

Bob Knight has retired as the winningest coach in Division 1 college basketball history with 902 victories. It is very likely that Mike
Krzyzewski, his former player and assistant coach, will surpass that record. As it stands now, however, he is the king. The first 102 of those wins came in a six year span at West Point. All of the rest should have come at IU; instead, Knight earned 662 victories while at Bloomington. As coach of IU he had a winning percentage of 73%. Of his total wins, 73% were won while at IU.

I think it is a shame that Knight didn't stay with IU until his retirement. I think it sad that he didn't break Dean Smith's record and then eclipse the 900 win mark while wearing a red sweater in Bloomington. The reason it didn't happen was because the man refused to publicly, if at all, recognize his mistakes, repent of them, and then move forward. His complete lack of contrition is what led to his banishment to the back side of the college basketball universe.

It is sad that he left like he did. It is unfortunate that when one visits Assembly Hall the only vestige of Bob Knight is in the team photos of the national championship teams. It is sad, but the blame must be placed at the feet of Coach Knight. It is a shame that so many people, especially Bob Knight himself, are unable to recognize that simple fact.


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