Perhaps even Bob Knight himself isn't fully aware of the diverse and often deviant ways of all these former assistants of his who are cropping up in head coaching positions across the land. Maybe someone should reintroduce him to...Tennessee's Don DeVoe, who attended Lamaze classes with his wife during the most recent recruiting period; and East Carolina's Charlie Harrison, who thinks he might someday like to try his hand at writing fiction; and Texas's Bob Weltlich, who once dissolved in tears before the press; and SMU's Dave Bliss, who looks to Henry David Thoreau for inspiration; and Illinois State's Bob Donewald, whose most offensive oath is "No stinkin' way!"; and Cornell's Tom Miller, who uses Ultimate Frisbee in his conditioning program; and South Alabama's Mike Hanks, who admits he kind of enjoys the sounds when his players crank their boxes full blast; and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who encourages his wife to call coaching "our career," not just his; and Evansville's Jim Crews, who has no use for hunting and fishing. So, Bob, what do you have to say to that?
Somebody get me a chair.
It should be an endowed chair, of course—one of those maroon, thronelike club deals with the wooden curlicues and brass doohickeys around the edges, the kind of chair that many men would have trouble lifting, let alone throwing. As Knight begins his 21st season as a head coach, he's creating a legacy that may ultimately flatter him more than any of his other considerable achievements will. Fifteen of the men who assisted him at Army and Indiana are currently coaching college teams. Most win. To do so—as far as we know—none sins.
November 20, 1985
Oh, Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps has sent on a few assistants of distinction. So has Villanova's Rollie Massimino. (Dean Smith's adjutants at North Carolina tend to stay put.) But when we take the nine Knight School grads who push clipboards in the big time and add to them the alums who toil below the Division I level—at Ohio Northern (Gale Daugherty), Brigham Young-Hawaii (Ted Chidester), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Ray Swetella), and at just about every point on the compass in the He-Showed-Me State (Missouri Southern's Chuck Williams, Northwest Missouri State's Lionel Sinn and Missouri Western's Skip Shear)—the man's record looks untouchable. In former DeVoe assistants Sonny Smith (Auburn) and Mack McCarthy (Tennessee-Chattanooga), there's even a second generation. And the paterfamilias is still a spry 45.
While he had them, Knight expected each to aspire to become a head coach. "It's almost like he kicks his assistants out," says Miller. "He gives them a nudge out of the nest to see if they can fly on their own." Knight had been exposed to the pedagogy of command from the very beginning of his own career, as the enlisted assistant to Tates Locke at West Point, where men are prepared for leadership. "He doesn't have a 'recruiter' and a 'scout' and a 'game coach,' " says Crews. "You deal with scheduling, running a camp, recruiting, films, preparing a practice plan—the whole shebang. He's grooming you."
But Knight's head men don't wear plaid. "The single most unfair thing to Bob Knight is that we're constantly being compared to him," says Weltlich, who's usually likened to Knight for his intensity. "Like teacher, like pupil. The fallacy of the whole thing! I'm responsible for my own screwups." And just as each is his own man now, none was permitted to be a yes-man as an assistant. "Sure, there's an intimidation factor while working for him," says Krzyzewski, who played for Knight, too. "But he overcomes that by prompting discussion, drawing you out."
As his own idiosyncratic reputation grows ever more daunting, Knight has sent his younger aides—Hanks, Miller and Crews, in addition to Krzyzewski—off with explicit encouragement to be themselves. Play a bleeping zone, if you see fit. Most do, at least once in a while. As Krzyzewski tells it, Knight wants to be sure credit for success goes to the individual instead of some monolithic "system." More important, when things go bad, he doesn't want his men shirking the responsibility for failure. Only by failing can one discover how not to fail again.
Of course, they don't fail often. Collectively, the filial 15—less Crews, who begins his head coaching career this season—have a 1,782-1,424 mark, but that's not primarily why former Knight assistants are in such demand. "University presidents today want winning programs, but they also want honorable ones," DeVoe says. "So Bob Knight, being the figurehead he is, is called. And what he says carries a lot of weight."
If ever there was a time for Knight's Moral Minority, this is it.
Like Knight, Don DeVoe grew up an only child (a sister, Judy, is 17 years his junior) in small-town Ohio. He began his career in 1965 as an assistant at Army, where the 24-year-old Knight was then the youngest head coach in the country. Despite an array of handicaps that included the academy's then 6'6" height limit, he and Knight developed a knack for controlling tempo and winning with smaller players, something that has become DeVoe's hallmark at Tennessee. "Knight was taking physically spent kids and getting more out of them than the coaches whose kids slept in until noon," he says. "It made me say, 'If we can be successful here, we can be successful anywhere.' "
A Knoxville newspaperman who knows DeVoe describes him as "disgustingly normal." But he does have a strain of public self-righteousness that can cut both ways. On the one hand, his ripping of Southeastern Conference rival Georgia last season over that school's alleged overzealous-ness in the recruiting of Cedric Henderson led to some ugly sniping between DeVoe and Dawgs coach Hugh Durham. On the other hand, DeVoe has been the victim of his own exacting ethics. In 1976, as his contract at Virginia Tech wound down, DeVoe pursued the job at Ohio State, where he had played with Knight for a season. Tech officials, fearful of losing him, offered a new deal. But DeVoe didn't want to put himself in a position where he might have to break that pact should the job at his alma mater pan out. The Hokies hired someone else. So did the Buckeyes. DeVoe found himself out on the street, briefly, before finding a job at Wyoming. It should never happen again. In a survey of basketball writers conducted last, season by The Huntsville Times, DeVoe was voted the SEC's best coach.
Charlie Harrison was the most precocious of this group of early achievers. As a high school sophomore in Scotland Neck, N.C. with a bum left leg from a childhood bout with polio, he began coaching seventh-and eighth-graders. By 1971 Knight had taken him on as a graduate assistant at Indiana. "What do I have to do to get a job?" Harrison had asked. "Get a haircut," Knight replied.
Harrison has made a career as a sort of Knight errant. There's Harrison at 23, serving as Tates Locke's conscience at scandal-riddled Clemson. ("Tates, I don't know if that's right. Jesus, I don't know if that's right," Locke quotes Harrison as telling him in Caught In The Net, the cheating confessional that Harrison still hasn't been able to bring himself to read.) His restlessness led him to Oklahoma, to the NBA's Buffalo Braves, to a club team in Switzerland, and back to Norman before joining Norm Ellenberger at New Mexico in 1979. Then, at 29, he picked up the pieces there after the Lobos' transcript scandal; Harrison still won six games with a patchwork team of leftovers and intramural stars and was hailed for it by the governor, the legislature and the city council. He moved on to Iowa State, where for one year he enjoyed Johnny Orr's "unorthodoxy." Harrison is only 36, but he has the aphoristic way of someone much older. "Good players," he is fond of saying, "are easy to find and hard to get."
Nowhere is that dilemma more acutely felt than at East Carolina, a pocket of poverty amid the hoop riches of the ACC. Harrison is trying to deliver a winner to a restless campus whose basketball expectations have been warped by outsized success in football. He feels the pressure as he begins his fourth season, even though he had warned his superiors not to expect a winner for at least five. "If they fire me," he shrugs, "I'll go somewhere and become a writer."
Bob Weltlich and Dave Bliss were assistants together at Indiana, were roommates there and each was best man at the other's wedding. Coaching against each other in the Southwest Conference has not been a pleasant experience for either of them. Last spring Texas received a verbal commitment from Reginald Muhammad, a 6'9" center out of Dallas who proceeded to enroll at SMU. The SWC looked into a report of recruiting violations following that abrupt switch but found nothing. It was widely assumed in the SWC that Texas turned in SMU. Weltlich denies Texas did any such thing. But the episode brought into focus the close and competitive quarters in which Weltlich and Bliss work.
When Weltlich announced at his first press conference that titles are won "with good character—and not characters," much of Austin heard a slap at the tenure of Abe Lemons, the immensely popular wiseacre who had just been fired. Weltlich's standing among Texas followers hasn't improved since. In three seasons, "Kaiser Bob," as he is known, has presided over a 28-56 record, sluggish attendance and the departure of more than a dozen Longhorns, some of whom took parting shots at the coach's harsh practices and hypercritical motivational tactics. Yet Texas A.D. DeLoss Dodds has remained solidly in his coach's corner.
One reason Dodds is so forbearing may be that it took four seasons for Weltlich to turn a 6-21 Mississippi team into an NIT qualifier, and five to win an SEC title. Ole Miss might have won a second conference tournament in 1982 had it not been for a loss to Kentucky in which the Rebels were outshot 42-16 from the foul line. Afterward, Weltlich ripped the officials, uttering his memorable line, "Jesus Christ, what do you have to do?" before walking away in tears, sipping a Tab.
As an eighth grader in Orrville, Ohio, Weltlich had dutifully rebounded the practice shots of a senior hotshot named Bobby Knight. He's still something of a Knight caddie, swearing by the man-to-man and at his players. "Strangely, we're a year ahead of our schedule at Ole Miss but three years behind what's expected," he says. Little things rankle—a walk-on quits and the Austin American-Statesman puts the news on the front page of its sports section. But he's as committed to his way as ever. Says Weltlich, "We're moving things that don't belong on the front page off, and things that do belong on."
As Weltlich struggles in Austin, he knows the administration is behind him. Bliss, by contrast, has won, and in so doing has won over Dallas, but he hasn't been sure of where he stands with the SMU brass. The president and the A.D. who hired him left soon after his arrival. So Bliss aggressively sold his program to SMU fans, drawing on what he had learned about marketing at Procter & Gamble, where he had worked briefly on a campaign for Scope mouthwash.
He came up with a riveting swingman named Carl (World) Wright. Never mind that Wright would be picked up for $366 in unpaid traffic tickets before one game, walk off the court after being taken out of another game and tote a six-pack onto the team bus after yet another. Had this been Bloomington, Knight would have long ago run Wright off into the limestone quarries. Bliss not only indulged his star's indiscretions, but he also let his Ponies wheel, deal and drop back into an apostate zone. Last season they blew into Kentucky and North Carolina and won, yet lost at Chaminade. Bliss had lost control of part of his team. SMU self-destructed in the tournament.
As the Mustangs unraveled, Bliss struggled to keep from reverting to the "wild, raving maniac" he describes himself as having been earlier at SMU and, before that, at Oklahoma. A quote from Thoreau over his desk—"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation"—kept him savoring the moment, for better or worse. A baseball nut, he began identifying with former Red Sox pitcher Dick Radatz as, "a guy who was going great and then suddenly lost it." Phoning friends, he would leave messages that "Dick Radatz called."
He admits he compromised with Wright, bending not just Knight's principles but also his own. But Bliss says now, "The kid's got a great heart. He gets people in the seats. And I can't show some patience? We had to try to meet the needs of the moment and subtly fill in what the long term necessitated." SMU made its splash, Wright is gone this season, and now Bliss can start over. "You're going to see more of a Knight-style team," he promises.
While most coaches show up at the Final Four to work the hotel lobbies, kibitz and perhaps angle for a better job, Bob Donewald watches the games from his living room, munching popcorn with his wife, Kathy, and their four kids. He is unique among former Knight assistants in that he's a product of Indiana high school basketball—South Bend St. Joseph's, to be precise. Donewald's commitment to man-to-man defense is Knightian. His aversion to profanity isn't.
For transforming Illinois State into a Big Ten-style, brawn-and-defense power in the run-and-gun Missouri Valley, Donewald has received job inquiries from dozens of schools, including Purdue, Wake Forest and Arkansas. But he has resisted their blandishments, just as he turns down many offers to speak and hold clinics that could further his career. There may be a time, but this isn't it. Donewald is constantly choosing between what would be nice and what is necessary. "Some people have a hard time understanding that," he says. "Without question, it may be costing me professionally. But when I come back from a recruiting trip and see my 7-year-old girl fast asleep, I have to ask myself: 'What contribution have you made to that child's life in the last 24 hours?' "
Four years ago Ken Bantum was a 6'7", 235-pound Cornell freshman who was so frustrated by the tough treatment he got from coach Tom Miller that he seriously thought of giving up the game. Miller wasn't altogether unfamiliar with his center's feelings. "Coach Knight didn't break your back patting you on it," says Miller, who played at Army before working, at Indiana. Last season Cornell was in the running for the Ivy title going into the final weekend before finishing third, and Bantum was voted Ivy League Player of the Year.
Knight once said that Miller was "the most optimistic person I've ever met." To transform attitudes far above Cayuga's waters, where the names of his predecessors—Lace, Coma, Bluitt—seem to suggest the recent ineptitude of Big Red basketball, Miller has needed every ounce of that optimism. "It was like culture shock at first," he says. "Everyone was saying, 'We want to be respectable.' I didn't want to be respectable. I wanted to win." So he put curtains around the court in Barton Hall, insisted on punctuality (the team jokes about "Miller time," which comes 10 minutes early) and had his players do kung fu to enhance their stamina and balance. "He forced me to make the most of my ability, which no one had ever done," says Bantum, who now considers Miller a friend.
Mike Hanks needs only one Chip Hilton novel to complete his set. Some 22 volumes, all except Comeback Cagers, fill a shelf in his home in Mobile, where he's beginning his second season at South Alabama. His first several volumes were gifts from his dad, Sherrill, who was a high school coach in downstate Illinois. "But when Coach Knight introduced me to [Hilton author and coaching legend] Clair Bee, they became extra, extra special."
That's how Hanks talks. He's 32 and married to his high school sweetheart, but still has a beer-can collection numbering in the 700s. "When I first met him, I thought that golly-gee stuff was an act," says Harrison. "But he's really like that." Hanks has been serious with the Jaguars, upgrading their schedule while weeding out the bad actors and those not interested in earning degrees. "It's important to have kids you enjoy being around," he says. "I enjoy the bus trips and plane rides too much."
Knight had warned Hanks that because of his youth, players might try to challenge his authority. But Hanks doesn't brook any nonsense. "If you show you deserve respect," he says, "you'll get it." From Knight, he continues to get advice.
Mike Krzyzewski still gets unsettled when he's misquoted in print as referring to Knight as anything but "Coach." Krzyzewski was more than Knight's captain at Army: When Krzyzewski's dad died during Mike's senior year, Knight went to Chicago to be with Mike and his mother, Emily, for the funeral, missing three days of practice. It may have been because of the Knight connection, or just his West Point pedigree, but Krzyzewski recalls that when he went to Duke, "People expected me to drive up in a Jeep wearing fatigues."
In fact, Krzyzewski brought with him to Duke an even-tempered accessibility that has disarmed just about everyone, including Knight, who at first didn't approve of the fact that Krzyzewski has so involved his wife, Mickie, in his coachly life. "I try to put myself in her shoes," Mike says. "Mickie has talent. If I had talent, I wouldn't want to be just a housewife. If you don't set up outlets for talent, people get frustrated and grow apart." She helps out with his TV show and summer camp, and travels to most away games.
When Krzyzewski was hired in 1980, there was skepticism about his recruiting ability. Could he get people for Duke, a demanding school with a small in-state constituency? The doubts mounted after he came close on six kids his first recruiting season but signed none. He bagged half a dozen blue-chippers the following season and has collected an embarrassment of riches ever since. "Coach always gets on me for being a recruiter," Krzyzewski says. "But I'll tell him that at least I know my deficiencies as a coach can be overcome if I get better talent. The biggest adjustments were to go after fewer people, and go after them our own way. We have the best academic and basketball combination in the country. I never have to knock another school when I recruit. That's the way it should be."
Jim Crews is a Midwestern kid, the prototype of the scrappy player Knight chooses to try to win with at Indiana. He has spent 12 of the past 13 seasons with Knight at IU, four as part of Knight's first recruiting class, a group that won 108 of 120 games, and eight more as an assistant. His was the longest apprenticeship of the Knight aides who have gone it alone. "I was a slow learner," he says. One lesson Crews has learned by rote: "I asked him, 'Can I go to a Division I school, not cheat and still win? Not you,' I reminded him. 'Me.' And he paused and thought about it. And he said, 'Yes, if you work hard enough.' And I believe him.
"You know, if Coach Knight kept secrets, he'd be unbeatable."
Knight doesn't keep many secrets, and he certainly doesn't keep them from his star pupils. Knight, you see, is a constant pupil himself as the best teachers always are. "He listens well," says Crews, "and he has a great hunger for knowledge." And he seeks it from men like Pete Newell, Hank Iba, and Everett Dean, men who stand in relation to him as he does to his brood. At every Final Four, Knight assembles his elders for an evening of professional camaraderie and brain picking. And he always invites his youngers to participate. "He's a big history guy," Krzyzewski says. "And what better history books are there than Hank Iba and Pete Newell and Everett Dean?"
Add to that list the name of Professor Robert Montgomery Knight. Lecturer emeritus in Spleen. It may require some revisionism on our part to suddenly think of Mr. Chip-On-His-Shoulder as Mr. Chips. After all, of the many remarkable things he has done, very few have been done with grace. Still, somehow, it's not impossible to imagine him growing old with it.