In sports, there is a fine line between having a heartfelt appreciation for a player or coach and respecting his accomplishments on the field or on the sideline. Today, the personalities of players and coaches alike are as important, if not more important, than the results on the field. No longer are players and coaches left to themselves to ponder a bad performance or a devastating defeat.
A particular example in the past year has been New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey. You do not have to like Shockey as a person, in fact I don’t really know anyone but Giants fans who like the guy, but you do have to respect his abilities as a tight end, having been selected to the Pro Bowl after his first year of play in the league. He consistently dominated defenses the Giants faced towards the end of the year.
One of the most notorious college basketball coaches of all time stands in the same position tonight in the minds of sports fans. A coach who most fans and pundits dislike, but he is deserving of their respect as he is two wins away from the 800-win milestone, a barrier which only four Div. I coaches — Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Texas’ Judy Conradt, Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp and North Carolina’s Dean Smith — have exceeded.
Either you like Bobby Knight or you don’t. It’s as simple as that. No middle ground exists when it comes to choosing a side either for or against a coach who has been ridiculed and criticized as much as Knight was while at Indiana.
In every college basketball fan’s mind there exists an image of the red-faced, red-sweatered, grey-haired madman who sat on the Indiana bench, ready to burst like a balloon at any second. He made people, even my mother, scared to watch Indiana games, afraid that he might hit one of his players on the bench. He did kick his own son, Patrick, during an Indiana game when he returned to the bench.
Show me a college basketball fan who will ever forget the plastic chair flying across the gym floor during a game against Purdue in the 1984-85 season. Every college basketball fan has been well versed in the seemingly uncountable ejections, technical fouls and obscenities that Bobby Knight gathered during his tenure at Indiana.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t respect his abilities and skill as a coach.
Having made the most of his time at Indiana, Bobby Knight has won three national titles and 11 Big Ten titles, all while having only one of his players, Isiah Thomas, play in an NBA All-Star game. At Indiana, Knight had 661 career coaching victories, while at Army he had 102 wins.
The fact of the matter is, Bobby Knight has been a success each place he has coached. Now, at Texas Tech, Knight has turned a joke of a collegiate program into a national contender, as his Red Raiders made it to the NCAA tournament last year. If the Red Raiders find a way to beat Colorado and Texas A&M this weekend, Knight will have reached the 800 pinnacle, joining a group with names that loom large in college basketball lore — names like Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp.
So when Bobby Knight enters this hallowed company, do not think of him as the Bobby Knight who has been suspended, fined and ejected, but instead respect him as one of — if not the — greatest college basketball coaches of all time.