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'He was just worn out'

Pat Knight sheds light on father's decision to leave

Posted: Tuesday February 5, 2008 9:14AM; Updated: Tuesday February 5, 2008 9:14AM
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After stepping down at Texas Tech, legendary coach Bob Knight handed the reigns to his son Pat.
After stepping down at Texas Tech, legendary coach Bob Knight handed the reigns to his son Pat.
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If there was ever an occasion for Bob Knight to be jubilant, it was Texas Tech's 68-53 win over Texas A&M on Jan. 16 in Lubbock. Not only did the Red Raiders get a rare triumph over the ninth-ranked team in the country, but the victory was also the 900th in Knight's illustrious career.

Yet, after the game, Knight's son and top assistant, Pat, walked into the coaches' locker room and found his father in a chair, slumped and exhausted. "We're all like Dang, we just won a good home game, but if you saw the way he looked, you wouldn't have known if we won or lost," Pat told me late Monday night. "The poor guy just looked beat down. I'm his son, I'm worried about his health, especially after what happened to [former Wake Forest] Coach [Skip] Prosser. He was just worn out."

That exhaustion was what pushed the strong and proud Bob Knight to announcing his retirement on Monday, once and for all. Knight had been telling Pat, his designated successor as head coach, for several weeks that he was thinking about stepping down, but Pat had urged him to hang on for another two months. So while Pat knew the end was near, he was still shocked when his father delivered the news Monday morning.

In fact, when his father told Pat on Monday that he wanted to meet with Pat and his brother, Tim, in Bob's office, Pat actually assumed he wanted to talk about the family's impending golf trip to Ireland this summer. "We get down there and he shuts the door, and I'm thinking, uh-oh," Pat said. "Then he says, 'Hey, I'm done. It's your team now. I'm just tired and I can't do anymore.' I felt like this could happen the last month, but it was a shock today." Yet, the relief on Bob Knight's face was palpable. "Today was the best I've seen him look in a long time," Pat said.

Former Cal coach Pete Newell, Knight's longtime mentor and friend, was not quite so shocked to hear the news. Last weekend, Knight spent more than an hour talking with Newell about the rigors of the coaching profession. "His team has been doing well the last 10 days, but he really didn't have the enjoyment that he would normally have," said Newell, who himself retired unexpectedly at the age of 44. "Having gone through this myself, I can understand why Bobby did this. It's like taking a load off your back. It just gets to a point where you've got to get out or you get choked to death."

With Texas Tech a disappointing 12-8 this season, Knight was also concerned about turning over an unstable program to his son. Part of the reason he wanted to make the handoff now was so Pat could get a head start. "Instead of not being able to coach the guys until next October, I'll have at least 10 games for them to get a feel for me," Pat said. "He was honest with me. He said it's going to be tough no matter who coaches this team, but in the long run, it's going to be a really good learning experience and will help me out in the future with these players."

After telling his sons of his intentions Monday, Knight met with the entire coaching staff and his administrative assistants before delivering the news to the players before practice. Knight explained what he was doing and why and then left Pat to run his first practice as head coach. "I've been running a lot of practices this year anyway, but it's still a little strange," Pat said. "Now you're the guy. It's not like he's going to come out in half an hour."

From practice, Pat went to a school cafeteria to conduct a radio show. When he walked in, the students gave him a standing ovation. He also had an extended heart-to-heart with Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers, which Pat described as "like a father-son talk."

Not surprisingly, Bob Knight also told Randy Farley, the school's sports information director, that he did not want to hold a press conference. He gave one interview Monday night to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal to explain his reasons for retiring, and that was it.

It is also not surprising that Knight would eschew the time-worn tactic of announcing his pending retirement at the start of a season, thus turning the ensuing five months into an extended farewell tour. After Texas Tech played at Texas last week, Texas coach Rick Barnes called Pat to say he was concerned that Knight had lost a lot of weight. When Barnes asked Pat if the old coach might go for another three or four years, Pat told him this season would probably be his last. Barnes, who is one of Knight's closest friends in the business, told Pat he was upset because he would have made a bigger fuss had he known the General was making his last visit to Austin.

"I told Coach Barnes, that's exactly what he doesn't want," Pat said. "He doesn't want all that fanfare where they give you a rocking chair and all that stuff. He wanted to go quietly. He always told me, I'm going to do it when I want to do it and I don't want a big deal made out of it. Well, he did it."