Dealing with the devil

Updated: February 4, 2004, 5:35 PM ET
By Mark Kreidler | ESPN.com

Give Texas Tech chancellor David Smith this much: He can at least say that he didn't sign on for this.

Smith came late to the Bob Knight party in Lubbock; he neither reviewed the Knight dossier nor made a favorable recommendation on the human powder keg regarding the Red Raiders' basketball coaching job back in 2001. That's on another man's permanent record, that beauty of a hire.

Thus, Smith -- assuming he has never read one word of any story connected with Knight over the past 20 years -- can claim he didn't see it coming, this latest Vesuvian eruption from the league leader in molten lava. You can't grant that same intellectual and emotional leeway to the rest of the Techhies.

Nope, the rest of the Tech brain trust, Gerald Myers and the gang, knew exactly what it was getting. It agreed to shake hands with the devil, or at least the guy wearing the devil-red sweater. It agreed for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, through victories and defeats and, just guessing at the thinking here, more victories.

There may not have been a salad-bar clause included in the paperwork, but you get the idea.

The time for shock and awe has come and gone, gone, gone. Bob Knight is as predictable as Honolulu weather. He's the MTV of the clipboard-carrying set, guaranteed to push the envelope as far as it can be pushed. Knight getting his fuse lit, be it on a grocery-store kind of an afternoon or a Big 12 showdown kind of an evening, is the surest thing in sports next to the selfsame man fashioning a winning program wherever he is let loose.

Deep down, you figure the Tech folks know it. Judging by Tuesday's whiplash of events -- Knight went from purportedly suspended and meeting with his lawyers to right back on the sidelines faster than you could say "executive capitulation" -- they know full well the breadth and depth of the situation.

Enjoy the ride, fellas, and look at it this way: at least you'll be in the news.

It's unclear what effect this episode will have on Knight, although at this point in the proceeding I am willing to hazard a guess: none whatsoever. Already, Knight's son Pat has hinted that Sir Bob has had differences with Chancellor Dave over "petty" issues. Translation: Knight thinks Smith's concerns are petty. Thus, you can sort of rule out behavior modification as an issue the coach will wish to pursue.

In other words, Monday's exchange was likely rooted in whatever grudges toward Smith that Knight already had been carrying around with him for however long he had been carrying them. This reduces the importance of knowing exactly who started what at the salad bar, because, with Knight, any one comment from Smith could have been freighted with meanings neither intended nor implied -- or, if you wish to line up on the coach's side of things, fully intended and fully implied.

It makes Knight a complicated and slightly tortured guy, but then you knew that already. It suggests Knight as a man who simply cannot control himself even when the moment screams out for control, but you knew that, too.

And that is the point, of course. The point is that the denizens of Texas Tech knew all this three years ago, and they hired Knight anyway. They did not hire Coach K or Tubby Smith or Kelvin Sampson or Mike Montgomery or, I don't know, name your favorite three dozen college coaches who do not routinely make asses of themselves as practically a condition of their employment.

Tech wanted splashy. It got splashy. Tech wanted headline-grabbing. It got headline-grabbing. It wanted to win. It has received a 61-26 record so far from Knight in exchange for its money and patience, including a 16-4 mark this season and the No. 18 ranking in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll.

Now it deals with the fallout from the latest in Knight's utterly unsurprising pattern of good-doggie, bad-doggie behavior. We're led to believe that this one is different because, golly, it occurred in a public venue, as if the middle of a basketball court during an NCAA game -- or in the locker room or the interview room afterward -- is not public enough.

Nope, this time it's a verbal altercation at a salad bar. Or, to put it another way, a harsh exchange in a Lubbock grocery store. Or, to put it another way, a public confrontation with perhaps the most individually powerful man at the university.

Or, to put it another way: Bob Knight, being himself for the 800,000th time. Take all the action you want. Take no action at all. We'll back you all the way, just so long as you don't, not even for a minute, act like you didn't see it coming.

Mark Kreidler is a columnist with the Sacramento Bee and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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