Knight's final act a hypocritical one in a career full of them
If this is it and Bob Knight has really just folded and walked in midseason, it's one more hypocritical moment in a career full of them.
Knight has always been a putative disciplinarian who lacked self-discipline. Now a man who demands loyalty has abandoned a Texas Tech team that is 12-8 (3-3 Big 12) and No. 54 in the RPI -- in other words, still harboring NCAA Tournament hopes. Along the way, the guy who has always disdained individual player glory sure didn't quit before he reached that 900-victory plateau, did he?
So now Knight takes his record 902 wins and quits. Bobby Petrino was charbroiled for leaving the Atlanta Falcons with three games left and the team at 3-10, but The General surrenders with at least 11 games to go and we're supposed to give him a pass?
I don't think so. Not if there are no health issues attached for him or anyone in his immediate family, and by all indications from those surrounding Knight, there are none. Remember, this is a guy who signed a three-year contract extension in September.
Knight told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the timing was largely to benefit his son and successor, Pat.
"My thinking was that for Pat and for this team -- most of which is returning next year -- the best thing for the long run for this team would be for Pat and his staff to coach these remaining 10 [regular-season] games," Knight said, according to the paper. "And [to] get an understanding, get a real feel for each other, be able to think over the course of the spring and summer going into next season about how people had played, how things had been done offensively or defensively, what could be done or couldn't be done, what to stay away from, what to work on and develop that from a game standpoint as the coach in charge of everything rather than as an assistant coach."
That's nice for Pat Knight, who has a chance to be a very successful head coach. But what about the four seniors on the Tech roster: leading scorer Martin Zeno, No. 3 assist man Charlie Burgess and reserves Esmir Rizvic and Tyler Hoffmeister? How do they feel about having the last weeks of their college careers turned over to on-the-job training for the coach's son?
You'll hear a lot in the coming days about Bob Knight doing this "on his terms." Of course he did. When has Bob Knight ever done anything that was not on his terms? He is a walking one-way street.
The irony of this is where Knight's terms left him in the end.
Knight's terms left him at a remote basketball backwater on the Texas prairie, where the stands at the home gym are rarely full. Knight's terms left him a bit player on the national stage, his relevance leaking steadily as he made Texas Tech basketball better but couldn't make it matter. Knight's terms left him far from the basketball mecca where he had his greatest glory and became a polarizing icon in the sport.
If Knight had been willing to budge off "his terms" -- to treat people with the respect he always demanded, to refrain from bullying, to avoid the abusive behavior -- this moment would be far different.
The tribute would be unanimous and universal.
Had he not blown himself up with toxic temper at Indiana University, they could have run a parade route through the state from East Chicago to Vevay, and fans would have lined every mile of it. And he would have been closer to 1,000 wins than 900.
Had he managed to avoid confrontation instead of seeking it, his respect would be as widespread as John Wooden's, Dean Smith's and Mike Krzyzewski's. Because he's a better pure coach than Smith, at least as good as Krzyzewski and in the argument with Wooden. They all have had better talent than Knight.
It would be nice if Robert Montgomery Knight could simply be remembered and revered for three national titles, for 32-0, for the Olympic gold medal, for being the maestro of motion offense and the nonnegotiable believer in man-to-man defense. It would be nice if the career highlight reel stopped after testimonials from Buckner and May and Benson and Isiah and Alford and Cheaney. It would be nice if Assembly Hall's court bore the name of Indiana's greatest coach.
But nice was never part of the package with Knight. Which is why he'll also be remembered for the thrown chair and the choked player and the grabbed student at the end in Bloomington. It's why the player testimonials will be interspersed with tape of bellowed profanities, head-butted players and more burned bridges than a brigade of pyromaniacs could produce. It's why the divorce from IU became so bitter, and why his name probably will never adorn that Assembly Hall hardwood.
In the end, it feels hollow for Bob Knight to shuffle offstage on a February Monday, far from the spotlight of his sport and nearly three years removed from his last NCAA Tournament victory. At least he did not exit in Woody Hayes fashion, as had often been feared and forecast, but there is something un-General-like about it.
Perhaps this is it:
He is often championed by people who believe he stood for old-fashioned American values. Finishing what you start is one of those values, and now Bob Knight has contradicted his mythology one last time by walking out on the job.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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