Now, I was never a basketball player. I tried, but if you’ve read yesterday’s post, you know I was much better suited to football than basketball. Football looked a lot like work, and guys kept getting hurt. I didn’t have the coordination to play basketball, but I spent a lot of time in the stands as part of the pep band.
But when Indiana had THEIR perfect season (take that, New England), I was just getting ready to go to IU as a freshman. And Coach Knight could do no wrong.
I spent many, many nights at WBIW/WBIF playing the commercials during IU Basketball games. Don Fisher called the play-by-play, as I think he still does. Because of that, I only made it to one game in assembly hall, but I became a lifelong Indiana basketball fan, as well as a Bob Knight fan.
I saw the transition from the loud, plaid sports coats to the sweaters that barely covered his growing belly. Like most, I distinctly remember the chair-throwing incident, but never thought it deserved the absurd level of vitriol that the sports media bestowed on it.
I also recall when he was let go from Indiana. Like most, I thought he would retire from coaching in Assembly Hall. Instead, then-university president Miles Brandt made the very unpopular decision to kick him to the curb. Indiana basketball has really never been the same, though I’m still a fan.
So, when coach announced his surprise retirement yesterday, like most, I was shocked. Not to the level that fans at Texas Tech may be, but shocked all the same. College basketball will go on, but it will never be quite the same without Bob Knight. He retires as the winningest coach of all time, has one of only 7 perfect seasons on record, and was as scrupulous a coach as ever stalked the sidelines. His players graduated. His program was never called into question. And while he never had a lot of players go to the NBA, he sent young men out into the real world with skills they could use to make their way. That’s an accomplishment most coaches would be proud of. And there were other things. He made an effort to keep up with a young man dying of colon cancer at the ridiculous age of 35 (I think). He had been one of Knights’ students, and also happend to be the brother of a close friend of mine. I’m sure that’s only one of many examples of the Bob Knight few people bothered to get to know.
But then, there was the dark side of Coach Knight. John Feinstein wrote in his book “A Season on the Brink” that he put tampons in players’ lockers and called them pussies. There was the chair incident, and stuffing the photojournalist in a trashcan in Puerto Rico, and a litany of other offenses, real and imagined, that made Bob Knight a controversial figure. He didn’t seem to have the problems at Texas Tech that he did at Indiana. Maybe there wasn’t the pressure of being Bob Knight at Indiana. Maybe he did mellow a bit. But he did take Texas Tech and make it a winning program. It doesn’t have the cache of 3 championship banners in the rafters or a perfect season … but he helped them win. Until this year.
He leaves Texas Tech with a 12 – 8 record about mid season and his son Pat as head coach. I guess, like I wrote yesterday about quitting smoking, he just got up one day and didn’t want to do it any more. He’d known for some time that he should, but yesterday, something made him say “today’s the day”. Just walk away.
So, he’ll hunt, and fish, and do the things he always enjoyed doing. As John Feinstein said today on NPR’s Morning Edition, he’s not the first coach to hang it up mid-season. It makes sense that he’d go for one more headline.
Auf Wiedersehen, Coach Knight. So Long. Take a well-deserved rest, which some will say came about 10 years too late. I’ll admit, I sometimes had a hard time defending some of the things you did to my non-Indiana friends. But I’m sure you didn’t expect me to defend your actions to anyone. Thanks for the great seasons, the excitement, and Indiana Basketball. But I may never forgive you for winning a national championship the year before I got to IU, and the year after I graduated. The NIT championship was fun, but I didn’t get to experience Bloomington in a championship year. That’ll teach me to actually finish my college degree in 4 years.