A Knight Of Influence

I just saw a trailer for a future ESPN 30 for 30 presentation.  The documentary series that appears on the cable sports network, ESPN, is terrific.  My favorite 30 for 30 has been Survive and Advance, the story of the 1983 North Carolina State men’s basketball team.  Led by their coach, Jim Valvano, the most unlikely of teams surprised everyone by winning a national championship.

I don’t think I’ll like the new ESPN 30 for 30 I saw advertised in that trailer.  The name of the documentary is The Last Days of Knight.  According to the information ESPN has put out, it will focus on the final days of Bob Knight’s coaching reign at the University of Indiana.

I have read just about everything written about Bob Knight.  My favorite book I ever read about Bob Knight was Season on the Brink.  Even though the book is 32 years old, I still think it should be required reading for anyone thinking about going into the coaching profession.

Season on the Brink was written by John Feinstein.  Knight allowed Feinstein almost total access to the 1985-1986 basketball team.  Knight hated the book even to the extent of denying Feinstein press passes to Indiana games after the book was released.  I disagree with Knight’s evaluation of the book.

Season on the Brink shows the unbelievable amount of work a coach has to do to be successful.  Not only the amount of work for head coach, but the book shows the life of Knight’s assistants.  I had no idea what it would take to succeed in coaching until I read Season on the Brink.

In the 1986-1987 season, Indiana and Bob Knight won their third national championship.  Feinstein was one season too early.  The book did give us ground work that the readers could get behind the coaches and players as they sacrificed to win a championship.

Sadly, things spiraled down for Bob Knight until he was fired in 2000.  He was accused of brutality to his players.  Who knows, it was probably true.  However, to my dying day, I will always think Bob Knight was the greatest coach of all time.

The 30 for 30, The Last Days of Knight, will focus on the bad.  There is so much good with this coach that will be lost in his last years.  Knight was a classic.  One of the things that got him in trouble was a student passed him in the hall in 2000 and called him “Knight.”  Instead of blowing it off, Bob Knight stopped the kid and made him call him Coach Knight.

He always gave an opening day convocation in Assembly Hall each fall.  One of my favorite Bob Knight lines came from that convocation.  When speaking about the media, he said when he died, he would be buried upside down so the media could kiss his …. You get the idea.

What makes me the saddest is this 30 for 30 will not show his coaching genius.  Bob Knight saved my career.  There’s no question in my mind about that.  It all happened in two days in Denver, Colorado.  Bob Knight would do a one-man clinic.

I had been a successful high school coach.  I felt pretty good about my coaching ability.  I shouldn’t have been so cocky.  My teams won in high school because we had better talent than almost any team we played.  There were better coaches but not better players.

I was so confident, I took a college job and I thought it would be easy.  After all, I could recruit my own players.  After I got them on campus, I would use my superior coaching skills to make winners out of them.

It didn’t take long for that idea to come crashing down.  After three seasons, my teams at Doane College had a losing record.  With my best recruiting class, I had led my troops to a 10 – 21 mark.  My players didn’t think I could coach and I was beginning to doubt it, too.

Bob Knight and his philosophies resurrected by career.  The first thing he did was convince me and every other coach in the gym that our players were out to get us.  They all thought they were smarter than their coaches.  I can’t use Knight’s exact words, but he basically told the coaches to get them before they got us.

The one idea that I did until my last practice in 2012 was to cut my drills to no more than five minutes for each drill.  Knight told us no matter how bad the drill was going, never go more than five minutes.  He told us we could come back to it later, but don’t get stuck because your players weren’t succeeding in one particular drill.

Using that advice, I couldn’t believe how fast practice seemed to go.  The players were constantly moving from one drill to another.  If they didn’t pay attention, they would be lost.  Players had to go in and out just to get enough repetitions.

The team responded immediately.  We went from 10 wins to 24 wins.  In the next 12 seasons, we never won less than 21 games.  Three times we played in the NAIA Final Four.

Did I suddenly become a genius on the hardwood? That was hardly the case.  If I look back and give credit where credit is due, it starts with good players.  Most of the rest of the credit goes to a book and a clinic by Coach Bob Knight.

Soon, we’ll see The Last Days of Knight.  Most people will think he was a bully and did anything to get his way.  He will look like a guy that just wouldn’t conform.  I’m sure that’s all partially true.  When I see The Last Days of Knight, it will be a sad end to one of the most inventive and talented coaches that ever lived.

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