The coach didn't turn into a pumpkin, but as the clock struck
midnight on Oct. 13 and Bob Knight emerged from the Texas Tech
locker room, he appeared to have assumed a new identity. At
Midnight Madness, Knight's first basketball practice since his
firing from Indiana 13 months earlier, he jogged onto the United
Spirit Arena floor to thunderous applause from a crowd of 9,400.
Clad in a white T-shirt and slimmer than in his last days in
Bloomington, Knight, 61, charged into the huddle and high-fived
his players. When a malfunctioning microphone interrupted his
address to the crowd, he kept his cool. "I've got a lot of
lines," he deadpanned, referring to his serial cursing of bygone
days, "but I'm trying to improve."
Could this hail-fellow-well-met possibly be the same man whose
behavior was so reprehensible on his last job that he was
subjected to a zero-tolerance policy, which he ran afoul of in a
mere four months? Could this be the same choleric coach who stood
accused of bleaching the fun out of basketball, who made no
secret of his disdain for the pageantry and packaging of college
sports? "Hey, there's something invigorating about changing
jobs," says Texas Tech president David Schmidly, who hired Knight
last March. "I'd be worried if he didn't use this as a chance to
do things--and view things--a little differently."
Although he denies adopting a kinder, gentler persona after his
season in exile, the General has launched a charm offensive in
windswept West Texas, careful to avoid the missteps that brought
about his demise with the Hoosiers after 29 seasons and three
national titles. Knight's downfall was hastened by a video that
depicted his throttling the neck of a player. His troops at Tech
claim he has been a teacher, not a tyrant. "He's the same guy all
the time," says senior center Andy Ellis, the Red Raiders' top
player. "He just wants the best effort."
While Knight feuded publicly with Indiana president Myles Brand,
he and Schmidly, 57, have already become fishing buddies. Indiana
officials say Knight was terminated in part because he failed to
uphold commitments to address meetings of the school's Varsity
Club. Since arriving in Lubbock, Knight has visited more than a
dozen Red Raider Club chapters throughout the state. His final
act of defiance in Bloomington was a confrontation with a
student. At Texas Tech he has volunteered to guest lecture an
undergraduate course in administration and will let the student
body vote on the color of the sweater he should wear for each
November 19, 2001
Not that Knight has undergone a complete makeover. For starters,
he has surrounded himself with a platoon of loyalists. His
younger son, Pat, is his top assistant. His elder son, Tim, and
Steve Downing, an Indiana star in the early 1970s, are new Texas
Tech associate athletic directors, in charge of special projects
and internal affairs, respectively. Knight was barely on the job
for a month before chasing off three players, including last
year's starting point guard, Jamal Brown. His reason? "They
needed to be dismissed," he said, "period."
His old-school regimen of discipline, unity and military
precision is also in evidence. As at Indiana, the players' names
are not sewed on the backs of their jerseys, a reminder that the
team takes precedence over the individual. At the first practice
Knight routinely interrupted play, his stentorian voice
resounding through the arena when his players missed defensive
assignments or failed to fight through screens. A sign in Tech's
well-appointed locker room reads, MOTION, MOTION, MOTION.
Another reminds players: ALL EYES ARE UPON YOU.
If nothing else, Knight has done wonders for the athletic
department's coffers. Last season the Red Raiders drew average
crowds of 9,619; this year no season tickets remain, and the
athletic department anticipates that all 15,050 seats will
regularly be filled. With Knight's working the rubber-chicken
circuit, membership in the Red Raider Club has increased roughly
50%, to 4,200. One appearance before the Knight faithful raised
$30,000 for Texas Tech--not remarkable, except that it was in
Owing to Knight's cachet, the school sold a new television
package of coaches' shows that guarantees the athletic department
$420,000. Wienerschnitzel, a fast-food chain, even paid $25,000
to sponsor a midcourt dachshund race at Midnight Madness.
Athletic director Gerald Myers estimates that Knight has already
brought more than $3 million to the school. "He's influenced
Texas Tech more in six months than anyone else in our history,"
says Myers. "Remember, we haven't played a game yet."
That might be a good thing. Although the air is redolent with
expectation, only four scholarship players are left from last
season's team, which went 9-19 and tied for last in the Big 12.
The rest of the roster comprises one scholarship freshman, two
freshman walk-ons, two seniors recently given scholarships and
four junior college transfers. At their first scrimmage it was
clear the Red Raiders are woefully undersized, marginally
talented and unaccustomed to playing together. When Knight told
the Midnight Madness crowd, "We have a chance to be competitive,"
he wasn't predicting greatness.
Even if he doesn't win his customary 20 games a season, Knight is
well within striking distance of Dean Smith's record for alltime
victories (879). However, his return to the sidelines is less
about the record--he needs another 115 victories to tie--than about
restoring his reputation. During his last six years at Indiana,
Knight's program was marked by a rash of transfers, quick exits
from the NCAA tournament and a growing perception that the pool
of players willing to endure his strictures and structure was
The skeptic wonders whether Knight will acquit himself any better
in Texas, where top recruits routinely leave the state and no
college team has made the Final Four since Houston in 1984. On
the other hand, breathing life into a moribund program, all the
while being deified by the locals, could be the capstone to
Knight's career. "He'll bring [in-state] prospects to Lubbock who
would have never considered going there before," says recruiting
guru Bob Gibbons. "Time will tell whether he'll be able to bring
in kids on a national basis."
The other question is whether a blown call, a missed layup or a
tendentious question from a reporter will provoke an embarrassing
eruption. His new bosses are unconcerned. "I hired him to be the
intense, aggressive coach that got him where he is," says Myers.
"If he does things as he did at Indiana, I'll be happy."
Adds Schmidly, "Put it this way: I don't go to bed worried about
the basketball program."
Whatever the case, college basketball's MacArthur has returned.
All eyes are again upon him.