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Archive for Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Commentary: Knight ends career with a whimper

February 6, 2008

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In the end, against all odds and most predictions, Bob Knight, a coach unrivaled in genius as well as temper, went out with a whimper.

No victimized players. No fuming bosses.

No farewell tour. No bouquets.

No last zinger.

No more fire.

He told Texas Tech officials he's just tired at 67, and he's looked it. He insists that he's not ill, even though he's lost at least 20 pounds. Like his old Army buddy, Bill Parcells, Knight felt out of balance. The wins no longer could repair the damage of the losses. Head in hands, he looked gray, drained, done. Or he'd show up at news conferences with one of his grandsons, the fearsome tyrant whose withering glare could silence a room suddenly a doting, paternal figure.

He told the Lubbock paper that he decided to quit over the weekend after talking to Pete Newell, the old basketball legend. Leaving in the middle of Big 12 play, he said, gives his son, Pat, a running start on next season.

The old man's former team deserved better. The Red Raiders are in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. Knight talked about what was best for Tech's future.

Next year is what he meant by future, apparently. Not the next 10 games.

Leaving before the end of the season will be part of a Tech legacy that Knight probably wasn't particularly proud of, if he could admit as much.

He reportedly told Pat before his 900th win that he was thinking about quitting, but the story goes that Pat talked him out of it. Hang on a couple more months, Pat pleaded. But the old man made it only a few more weeks.

Just long enough to get 902.

For all his faults, Knight always seemed above anything personal when it came to coaching. His legions of defenders will tell you how selfless he was, how he helped countless players and coaches, including his last boss.

Gerald Myers' friendship with Knight goes back to when Knight coached at Army. Myers called a lot of coaches for advice, but none was more giving than Knight.

Myers took a considerable risk repaying that kindness. Knight was out of a job at Indiana less than six months and still a hugely controversial figure when Myers took a chance on him in the spring of 2001.

The introductory news conference in Lubbock was one of the weirdest I've come across, and that includes one in a kennel club and a couple of dog-and-pony shows from Jerry Jones.

Knight came out to the strains of a marching band and a standing ovation from 7,500 fans at United Spirit Arena. Guns up, he looked ready for bear. His first shot caught a sportswriter, which probably goes without saying.

When some poor soul tried to ask a second question, Knight cut him off and turned to his partisan audience.

"How many of us want to hear a follow-up from this guy?"

A wave of boos washed down on the arena floor. Tech officials assured us at the time that Knight had changed, but it was hard to see then.

Myers never imposed a zero tolerance policy on Knight like Indiana officials did. He held off even after Knight got caught in a fracas around a salad bar with a Tech administrator and released records of a player who had left the team.

Knight stayed longer in Lubbock than anyone figured, the great coach included. In 2004, he made overtures to his alma mater, Ohio State, but was rebuffed. He must have realized then that his career would play out in West Texas.

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