Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Knight Produced Winners Off The Court, So All Is Forgiven

I don't know if I ever stopped to think of how I thought Bobby Knight would quit coaching, but I must say, the way he did so doesn't surprise me in the least.

No farewell tours. No big announcement at center court at Texas Tech. No "win one for Bobby" mentality in any post-season tourneys.

Just ... done.

Knight's announcement Monday, that he's done with Texas Tech, and probably done with coaching, just like that, was stunning when I first saw the blurb on the bottom of the ESPN News screen. But then I took a step back after it soaked in and realized that that was probably the way it was going to be all along. Whenever Knight felt like it was time, he'd quit -- regardless of when it was.

Why do it now? Why walk out in February, the push to March Madness only beginning?

Well, why not?

Knight's son and heir apparent at TT, Patrick Knight, suspects that his father is tired and ready to give up the coaching lifestyle, at age 67. And he's tired and ready now, so why be fraudulent thru the end of the season? The younger Knight said Bobby spoke at length with his wife about quitting on Sunday, then walked into the president's office at TT Monday afternoon and dropped his bombshell.


So with Knight cut out of our consciousness like a severed power cord, quickly and painlessly, where does that leave his legacy?

I likely have no deeper perspective than any of the other 500 folks you've probably already read and heard talk about Knight and his career. I never met him. But you've read this far, why not indulge me for another paragraph or two?

I classify Knight in the same category as Vince Lombardi, Woody Hayes, Scotty Bowman, and Billy Martin -- coaches that were often times not particularly well-liked by their players, but who won. Guys who only wanted the respect of their charges -- not to be on their Christmas card list. So when someone of this ilk calls it quits, you're going to need a protractor to itemize the recollections -- because they're going to be 360 degrees apart.

Though it might be slightly different when it comes to a college coach like Knight. Most of his former players will laud him. It's going to be the writers, TV people, and fans who are going to be on one extreme or the other.

Was Knight a baboon? A horse's ass? A jerk? At times maybe even a misogynist? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Did he disgrace his profession at times? Yes. These are all accusations that even the Knight defenders must admit to as being true. So these charges aren't up for debate. It's how you place these in context of his career that you're going to get the 360 degrees thing.

I, frankly, have no problem with Bob Knight. He can throw chairs, act the fool with officials, yank on a player's jersey, drop "F" bombs during a post-game presser, and tell his critics to kiss his ass. All good -- as long as you can look back on what he did with college kids and say, "Yeah -- no thugs present."

As long as Knight didn't crank out chair throwers, fools, abusers, or potty-mouthed players while at Army, Indiana, and Texas Tech, then all is forgiven, in my book. If the young men who were absorbed into "real life" after college were, for the most part, fine and upstanding citizens, then all I can offer to the kooky behavior is a shrug and a dismissive wave. He must have been doing something right, to separate the Knight we saw in public from the mentor and teacher his players and associates saw in private.

They came up with things like "Do as I say and not as I do" for people like Bob Knight. And it seems to have worked.

Oh yeah -- there's also the matter of 902 victories and three NCAA championships, though the last of the latter was 21 years ago. All that winning is why Knight is relevant to begin with.

It's not that "all is OK as long as you win." No -- it's that all is OK as long as you mold and groom winners for life after basketball.

Then there's this -- another thing that the Knight lovers and haters can agree to: college basketball just got a whole lot more boring.

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