Memorable Knight

In his first talk with SI in 10 years, college basketball's winningest coach reflects on his style, his regrets and his favorite burger joint
January 15, 2007

SI: You beat New Mexico on New Year's Day to break Dean Smith's record of 879 career victories. But your Texas Tech team blew a big lead, and for a while it looked like you might not get number 880. What were you thinking on the bench in the final minutes?

Bob Knight: I leaned over to my son [Tech assistant coach] Patrick, and said, "If we blow this thing, I have a loaded shotgun in the trunk of my car. Go get it and just shoot me because I won't be able to stand it if this thing with the record drags on any longer." Patrick looked at me and said, "The way this game is going, I'd probably miss." I thought that was pretty good. People kept telling me that all the stuff about the record was distracting to the team. I didn't believe it for a while; but now, looking back, I think it did distract them.

SI: All season you downplayed the record, yet you seemed genuinely touched by the postgame ceremonies and celebration.

Knight: I'd said all along it was for the players—every kid who had ever helped us win a game. When I was a player [at Ohio State from 1959 to '62], I didn't start many games. But whenever I played and made a bucket or did something to help us win, I was really pleased about that. So when I started thinking about all the kids who had done something to help us win a game—made a bucket or a free throw or steal, whatever—that's when I started thinking it was a neat thing.

SI: You once said, later in your career at Indiana, that you had never really stopped coaching at West Point. The world and the game have changed since then, but you haven't. Is that a fair assessment?

Knight: I made it hard and difficult for kids because they don't get anything out of it if it's easy. Kids have to get used to somebody telling them what to do because, when you leave college and go to work, there's always somebody telling you what to do. By learning that, they learn how to tell others what to do when they get into positions of leadership. I always laugh at people who get on me for getting on a kid. I wonder how many of them have ever gotten anything back from a kid saying, "You were the biggest positive influence in my life." That's why I never changed.

SI: Earlier this season, you were criticized for chucking a player under the chin as he came to the bench. Naturally this gave your detractors reason to trot out all the old stories about throwing chairs, grabbing players, etc. Your thoughts?

Knight: That was really a bunch of crap. Just ridiculous. When I was a young coach at West Point and we'd play in the Garden, I'd always catch [late St. John's coach] Joe Lapchick's eye as I was walking off the floor. He'd always put a thumb under his chin and push it up. The kid had his head down, and I was telling him to get his head up. A couple of days after that, I saw another coach do far worse than that. But nobody mentioned that.

SI: Considering how basketball and society have changed since you became a head coach in 1965, would you still go into coaching if you were a young man just getting out of college?

Knight: Had I played for the same kind of coaches in high school and college that I played for then, had my mom been a school-teacher, I probably would do the same thing. Nothing really has ever intrigued me as much as coaching has, although I could see myself being in charge of the DEA or the counterterrorism effort. Those are jobs where you really have to think and come up with a lot of options.

SI: Should someone from Indiana have been there for the celebration when you broke the record?

Knight: I got enough notes and things from people around the state of Indiana who appreciate what I did there. I don't think the university has any appreciation of it, but that's all right.

SI: You thought seriously about retiring in 1981, when CBS offered you more money to become an analyst than you were making at IU. You also thought about taking the New Mexico job in 1988. How many times have you considered retiring or going someplace else?

Knight: All coaches, when things aren't going very well, think, What the hell, what am I doing this for? But it always comes back to being a teacher. John Wooden called me and made a good comment. He said, "We went about things a different way, but we're both really teachers at heart." I agree with that.

SI: Regrets?

Knight: Sure, maybe because I didn't do as good a job with a player or a team as I should have. I also regret tremendously that I stayed at Indiana as long as I did. The last six years there were not good for me. At every one of the three schools, I've worked for really good people. But at every one, there's also been a sorry bastard or two. I should have left Indiana when the sorry bastards came into power.

SI: You had a special relationship with the fans in Indiana, especially the rural ones. You seemed to reflect their old-fashioned values.

Knight: I would hope that's true. It's also true here. When [Tech A.D.] Gerald Myers called me, [Knight's wife] Karen said, "Well, I'll tell you one thing: The people of West Texas will feel very comfortable with you, and you will feel comfortable with them." She was right. This is a great place to live and work. The people are really good. They have an independent streak in 'em that you really have to like.

SI: In Bloomington your favorite lunch spot was Smitty's, an out-of-the-way joint where you'd come in the back door and walk through the kitchen to see what was cooking before you sat down to eat. Have you found a Smitty's in Lubbock?

Knight: Oh, I've got four or five of them. No, that's not right. I'll probably never find a place as good as Smitty's. Put that in there, will you?

SI: You've already worked it out that Patrick, who is 36, will replace you when you retire. But when will that be? What's your motivation to keep going?

Knight: Like any coach I'd like to take a team to the Final Four. I was talking to Bill Parcells about that. When you do it once, you want to do it again. Not many coaches have that opportunity even once. Otherwise, I still like to plan for the games, plan the practices and see what we can do to get better. I still enjoy that. The least enjoyable thing is when I see something and I can't figure out how to correct it. How do you get a player from here to there? I know you can't make every player good, but I want us to be as good as we can be. When we're not so good, I can be a real pain in the ass.

SI: Really? Funny that nobody has ever mentioned that. Finally, anything you'd like to say about the media, including SI? You have feuded with the magazine for years.

Knight: I won't talk to some of the writers and don't like to have them around simply because they're bad guys. But I'd say that nobody has gotten along better than me with people in the media who are really good at what they do. I had no bigger fan or friend than [late broadcaster] Curt Gowdy. If Curt Gowdy feels like that about me, what should I worry about what anybody else in that business thinks?

ONLY AT SI.COM More from William F. Reed's Q&A with Bobby Knight at SI.com/scorecard.

"Police said the USC kicker's death was 'either an accident or suicide.'"
—FOR THE RECORD, PAGE 18

PHOTOCHRIS OBERHOLTZ/THE KANSAS CITY STAR (KNIGHT WITH JOHN WOODEN) PHOTOCOURTESY U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY (KNIGHT AT WEST POINT) PHOTOLM OTERO/AP (BANNER) PHOTOERIC GAY/AP (BOB & PAT KNIGHT) PHOTOCOLUMBUS DISPATCH (KNIGHT AT OHIO STATE) PHOTORICH CLARKSON (KNIGHT WITH OFFICIAL)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)