To many, today will be a day of good riddance. It will be a day which will be followed by a better tomorrow. You can almost hear a chorus of “Ding, Dong, the General’s Dead,” ringing out from his legions of detractors. Sadly, they are a people who do not appreciate the many contributions, the style, the approach and the love of Coach Robert Montgomery Knight, but that does not lessen those things to those who know better.
Today, Bob Knight, winner of 902 college basketball games, retired as head coach of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. A world of basketball fans will be divided on whether or not it is a good day, or a sad farewell to one of the greatest to ever walk the sideline. The only thing, of which we can be reasonably certain, is that we will not see his likes again.
Coach Knight is famous. He is famous for winning. He is famous for tantrums. He is famous for leadership and for lapses in judgment. He is famous for innovation and for refusing to evolve. A seeming paradox, perhaps, to the untrained eye, but perhaps, that’s just exactly what he wanted us to think.
I’m not a Knight apologist by any means. I don’t pretend to agree with everything the man has ever done between the lines, or in the pressroom, but I do believe that in his own way, he was always trying to do what he felt was right, what he felt was best, for his team and for the players on that team.
There are books devoted his treachery. He is a tyrant, and the accounts of the things he has done in the name of winning are infamous. To outsiders, his antics and psychological tactics are cruel and even inhuman. However, for all the years he coached, for all the teams he guided, so few have ever come forward to disagree with his results, not just in the win column, but in the building of men.
It’s not that he’s an ogre or some kind of monster roaming the sidelines. It’s that the world around him changed, and not for the better. He refused to do things in a way that was more palatable to a more politically correct society. Lombardi, Halas, Auerbach, McGraw, there are a number of fiery, ill tempered coaches who we look upon as heroes of their sports today. We name trophies and awards in their honor and celebrate their legend. I can only hope that time will remember Coach Knight in that way as well.
His career began in a time when coaches were coaches and men were men. He and his style fit in seamlessly. As his career wore on though, the world around him got soft. His tragic flaw is that he chose not to soften with it. I would submit that while many of the ideas of modern society are for the better, many are also self-indulgent and superfluous.
Many choose to mollycoddle instead of discipline—it’s become almost a standard way to treat our youth. Coach Knight simply chose not do so. He stuck to the ideas of hard work, discipline, respect, loyalty and tough love that were proven successful to him, and for that he was labeled antiquated and a bully.
Anyone who’s ever coached the game knows that he is one of the greatest strategists of all time. His theories are on display nightly on every basketball court in the country. He is a brilliant tactician and his contributions to the innovation of the sport are perhaps unparalleled. He is an amazing teacher; his players have continually been some of the most intelligent players in the game. There are many attributes for which his detractors have no answer, but for Coach Knight, it will always come back to his disdain for the press, his volatile style and refusal to ever admit any wrong on his part.
There are still some of us though, who still remember with fondness a coach or teacher who was so good, who had such an amazing impact on our lives because they were so hard on us. When people argue that the way he treated his players was cruel, I think back to those who were hardest on me and how they too, could be misunderstood in this day and time. Then I think about what I’d be, or perhaps more accurately, what I wouldn’t be if not for those people and I choose to believe that Coach Knight did all that he did, in, what he believed, was in the best interests of those in his charge.
He wasn’t always right. He wasn’t always wrong. His indiscretions always seemed to be louder than his charity though. I think he’d be lying if he said that didn’t bother him, but I think if you really give him a fair chance, you can’t deny his loyalty, his passion, his love and that through it all, like Sinatra, he did it his way.