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Knight gets mark his way

Texas Tech coach passes Dean Smith with his 880th win, but his legacy will be controversial because of his in-your-face behavior.

January 02, 2007|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

As others debate his legacy, Bob Knight strode into history Monday, setting a record no one's opinion of his behavior can erase.

The 880th victory of Knight's 41-year career came after New Mexico missed a three-point shot at the buzzer to allow Texas Tech to escape with a 70-68 victory in a game it once led by 20 points. With that, Knight, 66, broke the record for victories by a Division I men's basketball coach he had shared with former North Carolina coach Dean Smith.

Knight had downplayed the significance of the record, but as strains of "My Way" played over the public-address system in the Texas Tech arena in Lubbock, a stoic Knight blinked back tears.

"I've always thought if there's ever an occasion where a song should be played on my behalf, I wanted it to be Frank Sinatra singing 'My Way,' " he said later at a news conference.

"I've simply tried to do what I think is best, in the way I think you have to do it to do what's best. I think I've put myself out on a limb, at times knowingly, simply because I thought what I was going to do or say was the best way to get this kid to be the best player or best student he can be."

On the court, he poked fun at what he called "the hullabaloo" over his popping Texas Tech player Michael Prince under the chin earlier this season by walking over to Prince and lifting his chin more gently. Prince laughed.

When Knight spoke of regrets later, it seemed less an apology than a defense.

"Regrets, sure, just like the song, I have regrets," he said. "I wish I could have, not necessarily done things different. I wish I could done things better at times.

"Just like he said, I did it my way. And when I look back on it, I don't think my way was all that bad."

The milestone is one that would have been more widely lauded had Knight accomplished it at Indiana, where his teams won three NCAA titles and reached five Final Fours. He was fired in 2000 after a confrontation with a student that was the final straw in what Myles Brand, the NCAA president who was then president of Indiana, called a pattern of "defiant and hostile" behavior.

That history, chronicled by a long litany of episodes that includes being convicted in absentia of assaulting a Puerto Rican policeman in 1979 and gripping Indiana player Neil Reed by the neck in a 1997 video, are why Knight is held in mixed regard despite his brilliance as a coach.

John Wooden, whose 10 NCAA titles make him one of only two coaches to win more than Knight -- Adolph Rupp, with four, was the other -- said recently he admired the fundamental soundness of Knight's teams but questioned Knight's style.

"Bob Knight unquestionably is one of the outstanding teachers of the game of basketball, in my opinion, that the sport has had," Wooden said. "Unfortunately, some of his methods have brought him some bad publicity and a lot of people will talk about that more than what he has done.

"His methods, just as General Patton's, were different. But wouldn't you want General Patton on your side in a time of war? I have the utmost respect for Bobby Knight. I just differ and disagree with his methods."

Iowa Coach Steve Alford, one of the stars of Knight's 1987 NCAA title team, called Knight a figure of tremendous presence, recalling how he influenced a basketball-crazed state after becoming Indiana's coach in 1972.

"All of a sudden, everyone in high school started wanting to play man-to-man defense and run a motion offense," said Alford, who attended Texas Tech's loss to Nevada Las Vegas on Thursday in hopes of being there for the record but did not return for Monday's game.

Even before claiming the record, Knight had a remarkable list of accomplishments. When he was named coach at Army at the age of 24, he was the youngest coach in major college history. He was only 35 when he won his first NCAA title at Indiana, in 1976, with a team that remains the last undefeated national champion. He coached the U.S. to Olympic gold in 1984, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Smith, who did not attend the game, considers Knight a friend and called him "well-deserving" and "a tremendous coach."

Indiana Coach Kelvin Sampson, who competed against Knight as coach at Oklahoma and this season took over Knight's old stomping grounds in Bloomington, Ind., said recently that Knight "influenced a whole generation of coaches" because of the discipline of his teams.

After the record was his, Knight gave a long speech at his news conference expressing his regard for such mentors as Pete Newell, Joe Lapchick and Clair Bee.

But as the record approached, Knight had shown little interest in discussing it. Pressed during a teleconference about what impact his episodes of temper might have on his own legacy, Knight bristled.

Pressed further, he hung up, ending the interview.

Exactly how much distance Knight puts between himself and those behind him depends on how long he coaches.

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