Pat Knight makes it clear Texas Tech is 'his team now'
WACO, Texas -- New Texas Tech coach Pat Knight expected at least one new viewer would be tuning in Wednesday night to witness his college head-coaching debut.
"I joked with the team telling them that Eli Manning is probably sitting up there in New York wondering who the hell the Texas Tech Red Raiders were," Knight said. "I told them that if Eli doesn't have [ESPN's] Full Court package, he was calling his cable company to see why we were taking all of his publicity the last two days."
If the Super Bowl MVP actually tuned in, he probably didn't recognize much judging the Red Raiders to those coached by Knight's legendary father, Bob Knight.
On Wednesday, Tech's coach was still was wearing the familiar sweater vest with the advertisement across his chest hyping a regional auto-parts company. But that was about the only similarity that could be found when comparing Pat Knight to his predecessor.
The younger Knight brought a pressing defense and employed a 3-2 zone defense less than five minutes into the game -- along with the unexpected levity in his pre-game speech.
Even those coaching wrinkles couldn't trump talent. Baylor took advantage of Tech's weak interior game to post a grinding 80-74 victory that ruined Knight's coaching debut.
"So much pressure was placed on the game that I wanted to make it light for those guys," Knight said. "Every time you turned on the TV, something was on about it. I wanted to lessen the pressure around the game."
Knight made no apologies for the drastic alteration compared to the coaching strategies of his father. He said he consulted his father and used some of the ideas that Bob Knight might have thought about but was unwilling to try.
"The reason I ran the 3-2 is that he thinks it's the best zone to run," Knight said. "Everything we did were his ideas, even if he hasn't run them in games."
The Red Raiders responded to the changes early in the game. Starting a small lineup with 6-foot-5 Mike Singletary at power forward, the Red Raiders beat the Bears at their own running game in an impressive 11-4 start. Tech scored on five of its first seven possessions.
Baylor coach Scott Drew said Tech's unconventional look helped explain his team's lethargic start.
"It was the difference between night and day, and no pun intended," Drew said. "They got out and ran more and were tough in transition. That was something different, something we weren't expecting."
After Baylor's first time out, an animated Knight was waiting with back slaps and high-fives for his team that would have been foreign for his father.
But Tech's lack of athleticism caught up with them later in the half, missing 10 of its final 11 shots before the break.
A group of Baylor students known as the Bear Pit serenaded Knight with a few choruses of "Where's your Daddy" during that late slump.
The Bears had their own emphatic "Who's your Daddy" greeting on the next possession when Kevin Rogers threw down a monster dunk off an alley-oop pass that left Knight shaking his head on the sidelines.
And a disappointing string of five turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half put Tech in a double-digit deficit for much of the second half.
Unlike their former coach, these Red Raiders didn't quit when faced with some adversity. After trailing by 14 points with less than nine minutes remaining, Tech trimmed Baylor's lead to 70-67 on Alan Voskuil's 3-pointer with 3:52 left.
But they could come no closer in a game that Drew described as a "less than perfect effort" from his team.
"I was proud of our guys," Knight said. "All I ask for was for them to give me some effort. I asked them to do a lot of things we hadn't done, and I thought they did a heck of a job for me. I can't complain."
It was a blast. I haven't had this much fun since I played. When you're an assistant, you can be on the sideline and not have your head on the chopping block. I haven't felt this much nervousness or energy since I was lacing them up playing for my dad.
Tech players were unavailable for comment after the game. They were ushered to the team bus by team officials without stopping to talk with several waiting reporters.
Tech's struggles against Baylor underscore the core problems that Knight will face during the rest of the season -- just like his dad earlier this season.
The Red Raiders (12-9, 3-4 Big 12) have two intriguing freshman players in Singletary and skinny point guard John Roberson. But in a league dominated by bigger and stronger freshman like Michael Beasley, Bill Walker and Blake Griffin, the Red Raiders will be outmuscled most nights.
On Wednesday night, journeyman Baylor center Josh Lomers ripped them for a career-best 14 points and five rebounds in only 13 minutes of play.
It means that Tech has to play a perimeter game and hope its shots are falling. It's a tricky combination to expect to win with on most nights.
But even those vexing problems can't dim Pat Knight's enthusiasm, which was apparent after his first game.
"It was a blast. I haven't had this much fun since I played," Knight said. "When you're an assistant, you can be on the sideline and not have your head on the chopping block. I haven't felt this much nervousness or energy since I was lacing them up playing for my dad."
Knight is going to be different than his dad. Rather than reading a fishing magazine in the locker room shortly before tip-off like Bob Knight preferred, the son was listening to John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson on his iPod while his team warmed up. It was more than a mere generational change.
It helped soothe his nerves as he prepared for his first head-coaching assignment since an abortive 11-game coaching stint with the Columbus Cagerz of the USBL in 1998.
Other than a short stint at Akron as an assistant under Dan Hipsher, Pat Knight has been coaching with his dad ever since.
And although he's willing to lean on that expertise, the younger Knight showed Wednesday that he's intent on making his own coaching identity.
"Not to be rude, but I'm the head coach," he said. "Those changes were something I talked to him about, and he helped me with. I'm not doing this job thinking about what other people think. It's my team now."
Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.