Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Love Him or Hate Him, Bobby Knight Was as Much an Educator as a Coach

Count me among those who were saddened by the news that Bobby Knight had stepped down as head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders Monday (2-4-08). It is unusual if not unheard of for a major college basketball coach to quit during the middle of the season, but perhaps such an occurrence was business as usual for Bobby Knight.
It is doubtful that any major college coach in America was as passionate, as demonstrative and as committed as Bobby Knight was to basketball and his players. Many pundits would not agree with me when I say that Knight was more interested in doing things right than in winning games, but let me make the case for the Bobby Knight haters.
While no coach in his right mind likes to lose a game, I believe that Knight was at least as interested in how his "kids" played as he was in whether they won or not. If his players applied what they learned from him, played their hearts out, left everything on the court and lost, I think Knight would have been better able to tolerate a loss.
Knight was no stranger to winning. When you win 902 games in a 42-year coaching career, you have little competition. Dean Smith of North Carolina has 879 victories to his credit, Adolph Rupp of Kentucky has 876 and Jim Phelan (Jim who?) of Mount St. Mary's in Maryland has 830. Smith is 76 and retired, Phelan is 78 and retired, and Rupp died 20 years ago. The next most wins-800-belong to the new first active coach on the list, Eddie Sutton, the 71-year-old coach of San Francisco.
Knight had 102 wins in 6 seasons at Army, where he became coach at 24. He had 662 victories and 3 national championships in 29 seasons at Indiana. He had 138 victories in 7 seasons at Texas Tech. He coached the USA to Olympic team to gold in 1984 at Los Angeles.
It is possible that thousands of basketball followers will now seize the opportunity to torch Bobby Knight for his well-known outbursts over the years. There must be enough licensed Bobby Knight haters to fill the largest Super Bowl venue. I am not one of them Knight's son Pat, an assistant on his Texas Tech staff, has replaced him. Pat Knight was named the Red Raiders coach-designate in 2005.
Indiana University kicked Bobby Knight out for "a pattern of unacceptable behavior", but only after his Knight-trained players had won 3 national titles for Indiana and the 1975-1976 club went 32-0, the last Division 1 men's team to finish undefeated (something even the New England Patriots could not accomplish this year). Bobby Knight's "antics" are well documented for those who want to revel in his shortcomings as a public relations agent.
Less well documented is the fact that in 42 years of coaching he never got into trouble by breaking any NCAA rules and regulations, and trust me when I say that the NCAA rule book rivals the Internal Revenue Service code for picky, annoying crap.
Less well documented is the fact that Bobby Knight's players always had a high graduation rate; Knight made them toe the mark. Show-offs and prima donnas had no place on Knight's teams. Knight was all about playing the game right and teamwork. Less well documented is the fact that Bobby Knight gave his salary back a few years after he arrived at Texas Tech because he did not think he had earned it.
Some pundits and fans have already said that Bobby Knight was a great coach and a poor role model, and offer John Wooden of UCLA as a great example of a great coach and a great role model. Do I think Wooden was a better role model than Knight? Yes I do.
Wooden's success at Pauley Pavilion has made him the gold standard among America's most successful coaches in basketball and really any sport. Wooden's teams won 10 national championships-7 in-a-row from 1967 through 1973-and from 1971 to 1973 won an unprecedented 88 consecutive games, a record many sports pundits consider unbreakable.
John Wooden is the real deal, and he is also a very big deal. So let's weight in on what he had to say when hearing about Bobby Knight's surprise resignation Monday:
"I guess you can never be surprised at some of the things Bob does," said Wooden. "I don't think there's ever been a better teacher of the game of basketball than Bob. I don't always approve of his methods, but his players for the most part are very loyal to him. I would say that no player that ever played for him would not say he did not come out a stronger person."
Another of the nation's most respected coaches, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who played for Bobby Knight at Army, said this about Knight's departure:
"Outside of my immediate family, no single person has had a greater impact on my life than Coach Knight. I have the ultimate respect for him as a coach and a mentor, but even more so as a dear friend. For more than 40 years, the life lessons I have learned from Coach are immeasurable. Simply put, I love him."
Bobby Knight not only won more games than any other coach in history, he also made his players better people and better able to cope with the challenges of life when they left the university with their degree in hand. So why am I saddened? Because Bobby Knight he will be more vilified than honored for what he did accomplish both on and off the court.
I say let him who has won 900+ games and never been in violation of the NCAA rules cast the first stones. The rest might consider the side of Bobby Knight that failed to get really positive coverage because his few failings were so dramatic and so public.
Bobby Knight is the kind of person people either like or dislike. I like Bobby Knight and respect him.
I believe his chief failing in some people's eyes is that he likely would have called a butt end by name, whether it was a critical university president, the meddling parent of a player, a disrespectful student or an unhappy janitor. I would do the same; I just would not do it as publicly, and I have not won a single game as a coach.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
Ed Bagley's Blog Publishes Original Articles with Analysis and Commentary on 5 Subjects: Sports, Movie Reviews, Lessons in Life, Jobs and Careers, and Internet Marketing. My intention is to inform, educate, delight and motivate you the reader.
Editor's Note: Read my 5-Part series on Running: "Wheat Products and Sugar Can Be the 'Kiss of Death' When Trying to Lose Weight - Part 1", "How Lectins (Proteins in Foods) Are Very Negative in O Positive Blood Types - Part 2", Gluten in Wheat Products Bind to the Small Intestine Lining and Turn to Fat - Part 3", "How Popular Running Magazines Are Constantly Giving Very Poor Diet Advice - Part 4" and "There Is an Inescapable Correlation Between Weight and Cardiovascular Efficiency - Part 5".