SI Flashback: The Rabbit Hunter
Bobby Knight may be tremendously successful on the court, but off it, Indiana's controversial basketball coach often stalks the insignificant
Posted: Thursday December 28, 2006 4:05PM; Updated: Wednesday January 16, 2008 4:56PM
Success is feminine and like a woman; if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling. -- William Faulkner
As Bobby Knight is the first to say, a considerable part of his difficulty in the world at large is the simple matter of appearance. "What do we call it?" he wonders. "Countenance. A lot of my problem is just that too many people don't go beyond countenances."
That's astute -- Bobby Knight is an astute man -- but it's not so much that his appearance is unappealing. No, like so much of him, his looks are merely at odds. Probably, for example, no matter how well you know Coach Knight, you have never been informed -- much less noticed yourself -- that he's dimpled. Well, he is, and invariably when anyone else has dimples, a great to-do is made about them. But, in Bobby's case, being dimpled just won't fly.
After all: DIMPLED COACH RAGES AGAIN. No. But then, symbolically, Knight doesn't possess dimples, plural, as one would expect. He has only the prize one, on his left side. Visualize him, standing in line, dressed like the New Year's Baby, when they were handing out dimples. He gets the one on his left side. "What the bleep is this?" says little Bobby, drawing away.
"Wait, wait!" cries the Good Fairy or the Angel Gabriel or whoever's in charge of distributing dimples. But it's too late. Bobby has no time for this extraneous crap with dimples. He's already way down the line, taking extras on bile.
"Countenances," Knight goes on, woefully. "I just don't have the personality that connotes humor. It kills me. I get castigated just for screaming at some official. And the other coach? Oh, he's perfect, he's being deified, and I know he's one of the worst cheaters in the country. It's like I tell my players: your biggest opponent isn't the other guy. It's human nature."
Knight happens to be a substance guy in a style world. Hey, he could look very good in polyester and boots and one of those teardrop haircuts that anchormen and male stewardesses wear. Very good: he's tall, 6' 5", and dimpled (as we know) and handsome, and the gray hair and embryonic potbelly that have come to him as he crosses into his 41st winter are pleasant modifying effects.
In the early '60s, when Knight was a big-talking substitute on the famous Jerry Lucas teams at Ohio State, he was known as Dragon. Most people think it was in honor of his fire-snorting mien, with the bright and broken nose that wanders down his face and makes everything he says appear to have an exclamation mark. Only this was not so. He was called Dragon because when he came to Ohio State, he told everybody he was the leader of a motorcycle gang called the Dragons. This was pure fabrication, of course, but all the fresh-scrubbed crew cuts on the team lapped it up. It was easy. People have always been charmed by him; or conned; anyway, he gets in the last word.
It's never neat, of a piece. When Knight stands up, coaching, with his hands in his pockets, he looks like a street-corner guy. But with his tousled hair, the tie forever undone, there's also a childish aspect to his appearance:
Wear your tie, Bobby.
All right, Mom, I'll put it on, but I won't tie it tight. The boy-coach who got his first major-college head-coaching job at 24 may be middle-aged now, but still, every day, in some way, adolescence must be conquered again. "Listen to me," Woody Hayes pleaded with him once. "Listen to me, Bobby, because I've made a lot of mistakes and you don't have to repeat mine." The real issue isn't the countenance, anyway. The real issue is the rabbits. And Knight knows that. In the Indiana locker room before a game earlier this season, Knight was telling his players to concentrate on the important things. He said, "How many times I got to tell you? Don't fight the rabbits. Because, boys, if you fight the rabbits, the elephants are going to kill you." But the coach doesn't listen to himself. He's always chasing after the incidental; he's still a prodigy in search of proportion. "There are too many rabbits around," he says. "I know that. But it doesn't do me any good. Instead of fighting the elephants, I just keep going after the rabbits." And it's the rabbits that are doing him in, ruining such a good thing.