Coach's radio diatribe may have damaged his legacy
Posted: Tuesday March 22, 2005 11:57AM; Updated: Tuesday March 22, 2005 6:15PM
Bobby Knight lashed out at his former employer and assistant in a bitter radio rant last week.
For some strange reason, I thought Bob Knight would be over this by now. His Texas Tech team is one of the biggest stories of the NCAA Tournament. That should be enough reason for him to rejoice and to avoid whining about the past. But Knight can't help himself. When it comes to his former employer, Indiana University, the bitterness boils continually while the feelings of injustice can't escape his soul.
It's really sad, too. Thanks to the Red Raiders' victory over Gonzaga last Saturday, Knight is making his first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 1994. But that moment hasn't generated half as much buzz as the recent interview Knight gave Sporting News Radio. During that conversation, he claimed he stayed "six years too long" at the university, bashed former Indiana athletic director Clarence Doninger and declared he had planned on firing current Hoosiers head coach Mike Davis when Davis was a member of Knight's Indiana staff.
Five years have passed since Indiana axed Knight after a 29-year coaching career in Bloomington. The way he ranted, it sounded as if he keeps voodoo dolls of Doninger and Davis in his bedroom, just so he can prick them with needles. What's most telling is that it's clear he'll never get over this. He's going to carry these feelings to his grave, regardless of whatever else he does in his career. He could win 1,000 games and he'd continually claim he was the victim in that mess.
In fact, Knight is so blinded by his anger that he can't see how much it's overshadowing the job he's done with Texas Tech, which has been nothing short of amazing. If he could let go of his antipathy, we could focus on the success he's enjoyed with the Red Raiders. Remember, he inherited a program that won nine games the season before his hiring in March of 2001. Now look at them. They've played in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons and reached the NIT the other year. They nearly upset Oklahoma State in this year's Big 12 tournament final. In last Saturday's 71-69 win over Gonzaga, Knight thoroughly out-coached Mark Few in leading his team to a regional semifinal matchup with West Virginia.
This is the Bob Knight that we should be talking about, a man who is one of the best coaches in college-basketball history. The way he led Texas Tech through the first weekend of the tourney reminded us of his greatest qualities: his ability to motivate, strategize and maximize the potential of an overachieving squad. But by lashing out at his former employer, Knight also forced us to recall all the reasons he lost his job at Indiana: his foul temper, intimidating nature and his refusal to accept responsibility for the boorishness that led Indiana to create the "zero-tolerance" policy he eventually violated.
I'd like to believe Knight won't make the same mistakes he made at Indiana, but his interview makes me think otherwise. And it's not just his bitterness. There are more subtle indications. Knight has high status in a town like Lubbock, where he arrived as a messianic figure and instantly made that program respectable. Given how badly Texas Tech wanted him after his dismissal from Indiana, I doubt anybody in that school's administration has the courage to challenge Knight if he acts a fool again. Plus, he's winning games. When Knight has bosses he can bully and a successful program, history tells us that can be a miserable combination for any person who gets on his bad side or refuses to be an enabling sycophant.
Consider Davis. I'm amazed how much Knight detests his former assistant. All Davis did was accept an opportunity as Indiana's head coach that any assistant not named Pat Knight would've jumped at. Then again, that's the kind of guy Knight is. He only knows one point of view: his own. He's also so vindictive that he couldn't pass up the chance to bash Davis' coaching skills now that Indiana's program is struggling.
It's too bad, too, because I was starting to think Knight was one of the better comeback stories in college-basketball history. I could see Tech making it into the Elite Eight and I wouldn't be surprised if Knight had enough tricks to propel his team into the Final Four. That's how well he's been coaching lately. But great comeback stories are also supposed to include happy endings, and until Knight lets go of his hostility toward Indiana, the remainder of his coaching career will always have a sad tint.