Perhaps even Bob Knight himself isn't fully aware of the diverse and often deviant ways of all these former assistants of his who are cropping up in head coaching positions across the land. Maybe someone should reintroduce him to...Tennessee's Don DeVoe, who attended Lamaze classes with his wife during the most recent recruiting period; and East Carolina's Charlie Harrison, who thinks he might someday like to try his hand at writing fiction; and Texas's Bob Weltlich, who once dissolved in tears before the press; and SMU's Dave Bliss, who looks to Henry David Thoreau for inspiration; and Illinois State's Bob Donewald, whose most offensive oath is "No stinkin' way!"; and Cornell's Tom Miller, who uses Ultimate Frisbee in his conditioning program; and South Alabama's Mike Hanks, who admits he kind of enjoys the sounds when his players crank their boxes full blast; and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who encourages his wife to call coaching "our career," not just his; and Evansville's Jim Crews, who has no use for hunting and fishing. So, Bob, what do you have to say to that?
Somebody get me a chair.
It should be an endowed chair, of course—one of those maroon, thronelike club deals with the wooden curlicues and brass doohickeys around the edges, the kind of chair that many men would have trouble lifting, let alone throwing. As Knight begins his 21st season as a head coach, he's creating a legacy that may ultimately flatter him more than any of his other considerable achievements will. Fifteen of the men who assisted him at Army and Indiana are currently coaching college teams. Most win. To do so—as far as we know—none sins.
Oh, Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps has sent on a few assistants of distinction. So has Villanova's Rollie Massimino. (Dean Smith's adjutants at North Carolina tend to stay put.) But when we take the nine Knight School grads who push clipboards in the big time and add to them the alums who toil below the Division I level—at Ohio Northern (Gale Daugherty), Brigham Young-Hawaii (Ted Chidester), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Ray Swetella), and at just about every point on the compass in the He-Showed-Me State (Missouri Southern's Chuck Williams, Northwest Missouri State's Lionel Sinn and Missouri Western's Skip Shear)—the man's record looks untouchable. In former DeVoe assistants Sonny Smith (Auburn) and Mack McCarthy (Tennessee-Chattanooga), there's even a second generation. And the paterfamilias is still a spry 45.
While he had them, Knight expected each to aspire to become a head coach. "It's almost like he kicks his assistants out," says Miller. "He gives them a nudge out of the nest to see if they can fly on their own." Knight had been exposed to the pedagogy of command from the very beginning of his own career, as the enlisted assistant to Tates Locke at West Point, where men are prepared for leadership. "He doesn't have a 'recruiter' and a 'scout' and a 'game coach,' " says Crews. "You deal with scheduling, running a camp, recruiting, films, preparing a practice plan—the whole shebang. He's grooming you."
But Knight's head men don't wear plaid. "The single most unfair thing to Bob Knight is that we're constantly being compared to him," says Weltlich, who's usually likened to Knight for his intensity. "Like teacher, like pupil. The fallacy of the whole thing! I'm responsible for my own screwups." And just as each is his own man now, none was permitted to be a yes-man as an assistant. "Sure, there's an intimidation factor while working for him," says Krzyzewski, who played for Knight, too. "But he overcomes that by prompting discussion, drawing you out."
As his own idiosyncratic reputation grows ever more daunting, Knight has sent his younger aides—Hanks, Miller and Crews, in addition to Krzyzewski—off with explicit encouragement to be themselves. Play a bleeping zone, if you see fit. Most do, at least once in a while. As Krzyzewski tells it, Knight wants to be sure credit for success goes to the individual instead of some monolithic "system." More important, when things go bad, he doesn't want his men shirking the responsibility for failure. Only by failing can one discover how not to fail again.
Of course, they don't fail often. Collectively, the filial 15—less Crews, who begins his head coaching career this season—have a 1,782-1,424 mark, but that's not primarily why former Knight assistants are in such demand. "University presidents today want winning programs, but they also want honorable ones," DeVoe says. "So Bob Knight, being the figurehead he is, is called. And what he says carries a lot of weight."
If ever there was a time for Knight's Moral Minority, this is it.