Knight's Coaching Legacy: Success, Turmoil

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Bob Knight, whose teams won more games than any other NCAA Division I men's basketball coach, has abruptly resigned as basketball coach at Texas Tech University. With the wins came mixed emotions from players and peers about his coaching methods.

STEVE INSKEEP, host

If you are not a fan of the legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, this is your day to mark his resignation by saying, Bob Knight finally threw in the chair. But no matter what you thought of his outburst of temper, he won 902 college games. That is more than any Division I men's coach in history. And then yesterday, in the middle of the season at Texas Tech, Knight resigned. This morning we've reached John Feinstein; he wrote a book about one of Knight's most difficult seasons. John, good morning.

Mr. JOHN FEINSTEIN (Author): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I've been reading up on this story all morning and I still have no idea precisely why Bobby Knight would quit right now.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm not sure any of us does. Although, for some reason with these great legendary coaches, they seem to quit at strange times. Dean Smith quit the day before practice was supposed to begin in 1997, said he just didn't want to go to practice anymore. John Thompson, the great Georgetown coach, quit in January in the middle of the season several years ago. Lefty Driesell did the same thing.

I think what happens is these guys drive themselves so hard, Steve. Knight coached 42 years. And they reach a point, in Knight's case, where he knows this team is 12 and eight, it's not going anywhere, he's just worn out, and he says, my son Pat is in place to replace me, enough, I'm going to drive off into the sunset. As you said, he's the winningest coach of all time, and he's done.

INSKEEP: And that is the one quote that we do have by way of the Texas Tech chancellor. He says that Knight told him that he's, quote, "tired." Now, what's this man's legacy?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, that's a great question. I mean, obviously it is that he won three national championships, he won an Olympic gold medal, he won more games, as they said, than any college coach in history. But, right there in the intro, you mentioned the chair throw in 1985. All the temperamental outbursts - the two are linked. You can't escape one without the other. He was a great coach with great flaws.

When he was good, there was no one better than Bob Knight. He was generous, he cared about his players, he graduated his players, he was the best. When he was bad, there were few worse.

INSKEEP: Well, let me read a quote here. This is from John Wooden, the former UCLA coach who is one of the greats as well. He says, I don't always approve of his methods, but his players for the most part are very loyal to him. I would say that no player that ever played for him would not say that he did not come out a stronger person. And I want to come back to the beginning of that, I don't always approve of his methods. What were his methods?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Well, some of his methods can't be mentioned on the air, Steve. But he would rant, he would grab players, he cursed at them all the time. He called them names that 18, 19, 20-year-old young men should not be called. But as John Wooden points out, for most of them, it worked. They became better players, and they became better people.

INSKEEP: Steve Alford, the former Indiana star, said, he made me a better man, and for that I'm grateful.

Mr. FEINSTEIN: No one, Alford was there when I wrote, "Season on the Brink," and no one suffered more at the hands of Bob Knight than Steve Alford. No one was thrown out of practice more often, no one was called more names, and no one, when he was playing for Knight, hated Knight more than Steve Alford. And yet, I completely believe Steve is sincere about what he's saying this morning.

INSKEEP: Okay, was there some way that he was actually a nice guy?

Mr. FEINSTEIN: Oh, he was very charitable, all the time. He always went out of his way when he would meet fans. He would give things away to people, he would, you know, work with sick kids. You know, all the stuff you hear about his charitable side is true. He also followed the rules more than any college coach I've ever met. When I was at Indiana, he got word once that a gas station owner was giving his players free gas, he drove right to the gas station and told the guy, if I ever hear of this happening again, I'll run you out of town.

INSKEEP: Comments from John Feinstein; Bob Knight has resigned.

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