With his retirement Bobby Knight leaves behind one of the most mixed legacies in sports that has no doubt branded his tenure in controversy. Media scribes will be debating for years his legacy and his place in history.
Here is what is indisputable: Knight is one of the greatest coaches in the history of sports with 902 wins, 3 national championships, and a winning record at each of his outposts (Army, Indiana, and Texas Tech).
While his great success on the court lead to headlines, so did his behavior His profanity laced tirade, his grabbing of players and his sometimes boorish behavior with the media kept Knight shrouded in controversy. So what do we make of this larger than life figure?.
First many in the media have taken shots at his abrupt departure from coaching this week. On this I am more apt to give him a pass. He claims to be tired and just doesn’t have the fire or desire to coach. Step back for a moment and think of your own situation. Haven’t we all at one time or another just gotten tired of our jobs? Don’t we just feel like moving on or doing something different? For most of us it’s a daily struggle.
The difference between us and Bobby Knight is that he can afford to do it. Most of us have home payments, car payments, a kid’s college tuition to pay for.
He has accomplished everything there is to accomplish at his profession–an Olympic gold medal, three national championships, and being the all time winningest coach. What else does he need to prove? He sounds like a man that just lost his energy. Let’s also remember he is 66 years of age.
Knight doesn’t seem like a spend thrift; I’ll bet he is pretty conservative with his money. He probably doesn’t own nine cars or 16 gold watches. In fact on most of his vacations, Knight likes to hunt and fish, and he is a history buff who likes to visit Iwo Jima and Normandy or spend time with his friends Bill Parcells and Tony LaRussa.
Yes, the timing of this move late in the season wasn’t the best, but maybe he just couldn’t do it anymore. If I was a Texas Tech fan, I think I would want someone who can give the program all his energy, rather than someone going through the motions.
As far as Knight’s legacy, it will no doubt cause debate. He was an old school motivator who preached team work, discipline, and fundamentals. He also preached academics. Knight has always had one of the highest graduation rates in the country. His program was never on probation or rumored to be. He kept boosters and bad influences away from his program and most importantly from his kids. When kids did well in school and finished four years, Knight was unbelievably loyal to them.
One of his ex-players is Ravens Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron. Knight was one of the first people to call Cameron after he was fired by the Dolphins this January. Cameron was by no means a star player; yet Knight reached out to him. He was also very loyal to the schools where he coached. He never ran to the riches and took the big NBA payday or the next big college job that gave him more money. This combination of loyalty is very rare at the collegiate level these days.
Knight’s downfall to many was his temper. Occasionally he crossed the line, and when it got the best of him, it usually had dire consequences. His style with the media didn’t help his image and this week some have had fun getting back at him.
In the end I look at Bob Knight as one of the true giants in sports. The good he did for young men and for the sport of basketball to me outweighs the bad. He never forgot that he was there to help players become better people even if his tactics and style weren’t always well received. He graduated some very high quality young men, and his lessons, though harsh, has stuck with many of these players.
His teams played the game the right way and won ethically and within the spirit of the NCAA rules. While the media won’t miss him, I believe that college athletics and the sport of basketball will.