Commentary

Lamar the right fit for Pat Knight

Originally Published: May 23, 2011
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

His wife was somewhere between Lubbock and Beaumont, driving across Texas with their three dogs, and he had just finished putting some spackle in his video room and a fresh coat of paint in his office.

Almost 11 hours of traveling separated Amanda Knight from her starting point and her destination.

Metaphorically, the trip was even further for her husband.

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Ron Chenoy/US PresswireLamar will give Pat Knight the opportunity to build his own program.

Pat Knight, the son of a legend, was fired from the A-list of basketball, axed at a major-conference school like Texas Tech after three years, and rehired by the B-list, taking on a reclamation project at Lamar.

Outsiders might consider the move a tumble down the coaching hierarchy, a long drive south on the basketball route from the Big 12 to the Southland Conference.

Not Knight. "This is where I belong," he said. "What the hell was I doing with my first head-coaching job in the Big 12? I lucked out. I didn't get into this for the fame or the money. My dad did all of that. I wanted to build my own program. I wanted to win and be proud of something I made. That's what I can do here. That's what I'm meant to do."

Knight always has graciously toted the weight of his last name. He doesn't shy away from it, nor does he chafe at the inevitable comparisons to his father. Being the son of Bob Knight has opened plenty of doors for Knight, most notably the gig at Texas Tech. Knight was an unproven assistant when he was handed the reins of the Red Raiders in February 2008, sliding over to the head-coaching chair after his father unexpectedly resigned in midseason.

But there are drawbacks, too. Taking over for Bob Knight would have been an impossible job for anyone. For Pat it was doubly difficult, walking into a larger-than-life shadow and viewed as the son who was handed the keys to the family car before he earned them.

Of his 12 seasons of basketball coaching, Knight has worked with his dad for nine.

Now at Lamar, Knight has a program that has nothing to do with his father. He was selected based on his own merits, not inherited because of his father's choices.

"You've always got to respect the name Knight," said Larry Tidwell, who has since resigned as Lamar's athletic director in order to concentrate more fully on his women's basketball coaching duties. "But Bob Knight wasn't coming to Lamar. I concentrated on Pat Knight and when we went through the process, Pat Knight really stood out. On a scale of one to 10, he's a 12."

Of course Knight is no fool.

He knows his father's name carries weight in basketball circles regardless of the post, so he already has auctioned off a round of golf with his dad and plans on doing the same with a fishing trip.

"We need to raise money here, so who's better than my dad for that?" Knight said. "Of course my last name helps. I'm not one to shy away from that. I'm not going to be on "True Hollywood Stories" or on some TV show talking about how hard it is to be Bob Knight's son. I try to embrace it."

His father, he said, was crushed when Texas Tech pulled the plug -- "He was miserable," Knight said. "I almost felt worse for him, he felt so bad. It was like someone ran over his dog."

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Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesKnight has worked with his legendary father in nine of his 12 coaching seasons. That won't be the case in 2011-12.

Not Knight. He declared last season a "get an extension or get fired kind of a year" at Big 12 media day, so when the Red Raiders stood winless in the Big 12 in mid-January, Knight could read the writing on the wall.

And then he took down the pictures.

Knight said in January he packed up his personal belongings in his office, taking down the artwork and more or less emptying his desk -- "if you had looked in my office, you would have seen nothing," he said. He knew what was coming and didn't want the awkwardness of cleaning out his office after he was fired.

Before he was out the door, though, he insisted that, whether it was at Texas Tech or elsewhere, he would continue to coach. He believed he had proved himself as his own commodity in his years in Lubbock and only needed another opportunity -- his own opportunity -- to make a mark.

"I think it's hard for anybody who takes over when he was an assistant first," he said. "They don't look at you as the head coach. The idea of coming in as the head coach is nice."

At Lamar, Knight also will exist in the shadow of a legend, but Billy Tubbs quit coaching in 2006 and his day in the sun with the Cardinals is long in the rearview mirror. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lamar was the class of the Southland Conference, winning five league titles in six years. In 1979, the Cardinals made national news when they upset No. 17 Detroit in the NCAA tournament. A year later, the school made its only Sweet 16 appearance.

Recent history has been less kind. The Cardinals won their division in 2008 but otherwise have not stood atop the Southland since 1984. Steve Roccaforte was fired this year after the Cardinals failed to make the Southland Conference tournament for the third consecutive season. In fact, no one on Knight's current roster has even played in a conference tourney game.

Yet Knight has long had his eye on the Lamar gig. As an assistant at Texas Tech -- without an inkling that he'd ever become head coach there -- Knight once wrote a letter to Tubbs, when he was the school's athletic director.

He believes his recruiting ties to the state of Texas will serve him well and looks at Lamar as a great choice for players who want to transfer out of bigger programs or even junior college players looking to make a fresh start.

"When Coach Tubbs was here, all anyone talked about was Lamar," Knight said. "Lately, there's been a different champion every year. When you say ACC, you think North Carolina or Duke. You say Southland and you can't mention any one school as the school in that league. We want to get back to being that school, being the pride of the Southland."

And so Pat Knight scrubs and spackles and paints, putting a fresh coat to his new digs and his new program while simultaneously giving himself a fresh start, too.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

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