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Jumping ship

If one of Bob Knight's players had walked into his office with 10 games left in the season and said he was leaving the team because he just didn't have the passion to play anymore, here's what would have happened.

Knight probably would have insulted the kid's manhood, lectured him about the meaning of commitment and bellowed at him not to let the door hit him on the way out, all in language so profane that your brain should have an "explicit content" stamp just for imagining it.

But one of the clearest lessons we've learned from Knight, the Texas Tech coach who has always fancied himself an educator, is that he expects his players to do as he says, not as he does. So it should come as no surprise that once again he has behaved in a way that he would never condone from someone under his command.

By announcing his retirement on Monday, effective immediately, Knight abandoned his players with no warning, in the middle of the fight. At 12-8, 3-3 in the Big 12, the Red Raiders still have an outside shot to make the NCAA tournament, but they'll have to do it without the man they were counting on to lead them there. You would expect Knight, a man who coached at West Point and goes by the nickname of "The General," to have a better understanding of the importance of serving out his tour of duty.

Knight's apologists will say that this is just another example of his complexity, that he is a man of fascinating contradictions. That's a pleasant way of saying that Knight can be quite the hypocrite.

He preaches commitment and loyalty, then bails on his team at a crucial point of the season. He demands discipline and self-control, then flings a chair in anger over a referee's call, assaults a police officer in Puerto Rico, or grabs a student who has the temerity to address him only by his last name -- the last offense being the one that ended his tenure at Indiana.

He wants the young men to who play for him to be unconcerned with individual statistics or records, yet curiously, he doesn't give in to the urge to quit until just after he has reached the 900-victory milestone.

If, as the 67-year-old Knight says, there are no health issues or other private matters that brought about his abrupt departure, then this is a selfish act from a coach who always called for his teams to be selfless, a weak move from a man who valued players who were tough.

After 42 years of coaching it's certainly understandable that Knight's energy and passion aren't what they once were, but it's hard to believe that he was suddenly so worn down that he couldn't have given his players six more weeks of effort.

Does it seem harsh to criticize a man on his way out the door? Knight can take it, especially when he's had an inordinate amount of bouquets thrown his way during his controversial career.

It has always been baffling to see and hear so many otherwise reasonable people gush over Knight and minimize some of the inexcusable behavior he has exhibited over the years. He may have been hot-tempered and coarse and a bit of a bully, the defense goes, but he never cheated in recruiting and most of his players graduated.

Knight is to be commended for that, but isn't that what college coaches are supposed to do?

Should we forget the player he grabbed by the throat, the pettiness he has shown by giving colleagues like Mike Krzyzewski and Steve Alford the cold shoulder, and the general lack of civility he has displayed just because he met the basic standard that many of his colleagues somehow failed to meet?

Knight can match Xs and Os with any coach who ever lived -- his three national championships and NCAA-record 902 career victories are proof of that -- and he clearly has helped some of his players become better men. But let's not sugarcoat it -- he never really walked it as well as he talked it.

He was a coach who too often was unable to live up to the standards he set for others. So wish him well as he strides off into the sunset, but send some good wishes to the Texas Tech players he leaves in the lurch, as well.

To bring their season to a satisfying end, they will have to commit to each other, summon their very best effort, and no matter what, refuse to quit. Before he left, their ex-coach probably told them to do exactly that. It's a shame he won't be around to show them how.

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