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Alexander Wolff
November 20, 1985
It's Bob Knight of Indiana, who has many disciples in college coaching, few of them clones
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November 20, 1985

Look Who's Gone Forth And Multiplied

It's Bob Knight of Indiana, who has many disciples in college coaching, few of them clones

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Like Knight, Don DeVoe grew up an only child (a sister, Judy, is 17 years his junior) in small-town Ohio. He began his career in 1965 as an assistant at Army, where the 24-year-old Knight was then the youngest head coach in the country. Despite an array of handicaps that included the academy's then 6'6" height limit, he and Knight developed a knack for controlling tempo and winning with smaller players, something that has become DeVoe's hallmark at Tennessee. "Knight was taking physically spent kids and getting more out of them than the coaches whose kids slept in until noon," he says. "It made me say, 'If we can be successful here, we can be successful anywhere.' "

A Knoxville newspaperman who knows DeVoe describes him as "disgustingly normal." But he does have a strain of public self-righteousness that can cut both ways. On the one hand, his ripping of Southeastern Conference rival Georgia last season over that school's alleged overzealous-ness in the recruiting of Cedric Henderson led to some ugly sniping between DeVoe and Dawgs coach Hugh Durham. On the other hand, DeVoe has been the victim of his own exacting ethics. In 1976, as his contract at Virginia Tech wound down, DeVoe pursued the job at Ohio State, where he had played with Knight for a season. Tech officials, fearful of losing him, offered a new deal. But DeVoe didn't want to put himself in a position where he might have to break that pact should the job at his alma mater pan out. The Hokies hired someone else. So did the Buckeyes. DeVoe found himself out on the street, briefly, before finding a job at Wyoming. It should never happen again. In a survey of basketball writers conducted last, season by The Huntsville Times, DeVoe was voted the SEC's best coach.

Charlie Harrison was the most precocious of this group of early achievers. As a high school sophomore in Scotland Neck, N.C. with a bum left leg from a childhood bout with polio, he began coaching seventh-and eighth-graders. By 1971 Knight had taken him on as a graduate assistant at Indiana. "What do I have to do to get a job?" Harrison had asked. "Get a haircut," Knight replied.

Harrison has made a career as a sort of Knight errant. There's Harrison at 23, serving as Tates Locke's conscience at scandal-riddled Clemson. ("Tates, I don't know if that's right. Jesus, I don't know if that's right," Locke quotes Harrison as telling him in Caught In The Net, the cheating confessional that Harrison still hasn't been able to bring himself to read.) His restlessness led him to Oklahoma, to the NBA's Buffalo Braves, to a club team in Switzerland, and back to Norman before joining Norm Ellenberger at New Mexico in 1979. Then, at 29, he picked up the pieces there after the Lobos' transcript scandal; Harrison still won six games with a patchwork team of leftovers and intramural stars and was hailed for it by the governor, the legislature and the city council. He moved on to Iowa State, where for one year he enjoyed Johnny Orr's "unorthodoxy." Harrison is only 36, but he has the aphoristic way of someone much older. "Good players," he is fond of saying, "are easy to find and hard to get."

Nowhere is that dilemma more acutely felt than at East Carolina, a pocket of poverty amid the hoop riches of the ACC. Harrison is trying to deliver a winner to a restless campus whose basketball expectations have been warped by outsized success in football. He feels the pressure as he begins his fourth season, even though he had warned his superiors not to expect a winner for at least five. "If they fire me," he shrugs, "I'll go somewhere and become a writer."

Bob Weltlich and Dave Bliss were assistants together at Indiana, were roommates there and each was best man at the other's wedding. Coaching against each other in the Southwest Conference has not been a pleasant experience for either of them. Last spring Texas received a verbal commitment from Reginald Muhammad, a 6'9" center out of Dallas who proceeded to enroll at SMU. The SWC looked into a report of recruiting violations following that abrupt switch but found nothing. It was widely assumed in the SWC that Texas turned in SMU. Weltlich denies Texas did any such thing. But the episode brought into focus the close and competitive quarters in which Weltlich and Bliss work.

When Weltlich announced at his first press conference that titles are won "with good character—and not characters," much of Austin heard a slap at the tenure of Abe Lemons, the immensely popular wiseacre who had just been fired. Weltlich's standing among Texas followers hasn't improved since. In three seasons, "Kaiser Bob," as he is known, has presided over a 28-56 record, sluggish attendance and the departure of more than a dozen Longhorns, some of whom took parting shots at the coach's harsh practices and hypercritical motivational tactics. Yet Texas A.D. DeLoss Dodds has remained solidly in his coach's corner.

One reason Dodds is so forbearing may be that it took four seasons for Weltlich to turn a 6-21 Mississippi team into an NIT qualifier, and five to win an SEC title. Ole Miss might have won a second conference tournament in 1982 had it not been for a loss to Kentucky in which the Rebels were outshot 42-16 from the foul line. Afterward, Weltlich ripped the officials, uttering his memorable line, "Jesus Christ, what do you have to do?" before walking away in tears, sipping a Tab.

As an eighth grader in Orrville, Ohio, Weltlich had dutifully rebounded the practice shots of a senior hotshot named Bobby Knight. He's still something of a Knight caddie, swearing by the man-to-man and at his players. "Strangely, we're a year ahead of our schedule at Ole Miss but three years behind what's expected," he says. Little things rankle—a walk-on quits and the Austin American-Statesman puts the news on the front page of its sports section. But he's as committed to his way as ever. Says Weltlich, "We're moving things that don't belong on the front page off, and things that do belong on."

As Weltlich struggles in Austin, he knows the administration is behind him. Bliss, by contrast, has won, and in so doing has won over Dallas, but he hasn't been sure of where he stands with the SMU brass. The president and the A.D. who hired him left soon after his arrival. So Bliss aggressively sold his program to SMU fans, drawing on what he had learned about marketing at Procter & Gamble, where he had worked briefly on a campaign for Scope mouthwash.

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