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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bob Knight's Record-Breaking Quest

is drawning yawns from most parts of the hoops world.


Is it because Knight isn't a great coach?

Is it because Knight hasn't won a national title in 20 years?

Is it because Knight left Indiana after a series of tantrums and tarnished his image?

Is it because he's frequently been at war with the media?

Is it because he hasn't acted so stellarly at Texas Tech, either (witness the salad bar incident with the university's president)?

Is it because Dean Smith is beloved and respected while Knight is grudgingly respected?

I think the answers to all of the above questions are qualified yes's. Smith is a legend, a hero and a very good man. Knight is a legend, he's not a hero, and while he's a man with good intentions and high principles, he hasn't always acted like a gentleman. Smith is likeable; Knight is gruff and it's hard to determine when he's going to be kind and when he's going to be hard-nosed and sometimes cruel. You read a lot about the "Carolina Family" and how important it was to Coach Smith; his former players talk of him with reverence for what he contributed to their lives on and off the court. You don't hear the same type of talk about Coach Knight.

Which isn't to say that Knight's an awful person; far, far from it. On the moral and ethical coaching continuum, with Dean Smith on the one end and say Jerry Tarkanian on the other, Knight is very close to the Smith end (if not standing next to Coach Smith). He has graduated an outstanding percentage of his players, he recruits and plays within the rules, and he's an ethical man. Where he's fallen short is on his public outbursts, his lack of regard for his school's authority figures at times -- failing, in essence, to control his temper and his ego. And because the public has seen more of the visceral and angry Bob Knight, they aren't that interested in this record.

Is that a shame?

Perhaps, but I'm not sure. I'm a big college hoops fan and an admirer of Dean Smith. I've read his books and have learned much from them. I've respected Coach Knight's approach to the game -- he's an outstanding coach. It just doesn't seem that he's as avuncular and, well, humane, as, say, Smith, against whom in my mind all coaches will be measured. You can say without hestitation that you would have wanted your son to have played for Coach Smith; I'm not sure that as many people would say the same thing regarding Coach Knight.

Make no mistake about it, when the record is broken it will be a great accomplishment, applauded in Indiana and parts of Texas and perhaps even in the office tower at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

But perhaps few other places. (Click here to see what I mean.)


Blogger Stormy said...

Don't forget that wins isn't the be-all, end-all measure of greatness in coaches. Championships matter. Knight has 3, behind Rupp (4) and of course Wooden (10). He's tied with Krzyzewski, and one ahead of Smith (2).

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Tom Kilty said...

In speaking of the "Carolina Way", you state Knight isn't held in the same reverence by his former players. Try again. Knight's former players are still very loyal to the man. This is widely publicized. Saying otherwise is ignoring the facts.

Both are excellent coaches who rank at the top in any category. Knight defeated two of Smith's better teams in the 81 and 84 tournaments. They would have met in the second round in 76 if UNC had not lost to Alabama by 15. These are facts you can't ignore.

7:15 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your comments, Stormy and Tom.

I wrote a little too loosely about Knight regarding player reverance. Yes, his former players are loyal to the man, but I still contend that they aren't as reverent about him the way Smith's are. That said, both have very loyal followings among former players, but the "outburst" factor is such that I'd still give the edge to Smith in this category.

As to on-the-court accomplishments, both are very close. Someone argued that Knight's accomplishments were more amazing because Smith coached more NBA All-Stars in college than Knight (by a factor of say 10) (the argument being that Smith should have fared much better with all the talent that he had). But the reverse of that argument is compelling, too -- Smith was a better developer of talent than Knight (by virtue of the fact that so many of his former players became NBA all-stars). I don't want to take a side on that one, other to say that the arguments cut both ways. Again, when you're in such rarified air, it's hard to choose one or the other. I just happen to like Smith better for his overall comportment and the fact that he didn't let himself become larger than his school (the way Knight did and the way, arguably, Coach K has).

11:46 AM  

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