Knight Sets Mark for Men's College Basketball Wins

Bob Knight now sits alone atop the pecking order of men's college basketball. His Texas Tech team beat New Mexico 70-68 on Monday, giving Knight career victory number 880. That moves him past former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for most wins in Division I men's basketball.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Men's Division One college basketball has a new winningest coach. It's Bob Knight.

Mr. BOB KNIGHT (Basketball Coach, Texas Tech): I did it my way. And when I look back on it, I don't think my way was all that bad.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday, Bob Knight surpassed former North Carolina coach Dean Smith for the record. Knight's 880th victory came when his Texas Tech team beat New Mexico 70-68.

Commentator John Feinstein joins us now. Good morning, John.

JOHN FEINSTEIN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Well, it sounds significant. How much do you think it means, personally, to Knight? I mean how significant is this record?

FEINSTEIN: Well, the only record in college basketball that means more is John Wooden's ten national championships at UCLA, which no one is ever going to touch - no one even has five - after Wooden. So this is the next most significant record - most wins overall - he passes the great Dean Smith. And even though, for weeks, he's claimed that this wasn't a big deal, clearly it was. He was very emotional during the post game celebration.

He went on and on, during what is supposed to be a press conference, but turned out to just be a speech to the media afterwards, about doing it my way - which has always been a big deal to Knight. So this was a huge, huge thing for him and for college basketball.

MONTAGNE: So why do you think he go out of his way, earlier, to downplay how much this meant to him?

FEINSTEIN: Because he is such a contrarian. He doesn't want people to believe that he cares about things. He always has said, I don't care what the public thinks of me, what the media thinks of me - and he goes crazy whenever he's criticized. So this was typical Knight. People said this is an important record, so he came back and said no it's not. Of course, it's important. And it was important to him.

MONTAGNE: You spent a year with him. What do you think has made him such a great coach?

FEINSTEIN: Well, he's very, very bright. He could have been successful at anything he tried. He always had a great work ethic, but most important, even though we've heard all the stories about players who he emotionally abused -all true - he did have a way of getting through to his players to make them better basketball players, and ultimately, better people in, I'd say, 90 plus percent of the cases.

MONTAGNE: Okay, we'll talk about that, the flipside. Why has Bob Knight constantly gotten himself into trouble through the years?

FEINSTEIN: He's never learned that there are rules for everyone. He was a star as a kid. He was coddled by a mother and a grandmother as an only child. He became a head coach at the age of 24. And people have always told him that it's okay to throw chairs, it's okay to throw potted plants over the head of secretaries and grab kids by the neck - when in fact, it's not okay. But Knight has always believed in that piece of tape you heard, he said, I think I've done things my way and it's been a good way. Well, not always, but a lot of the time.

MONTAGNE: Well, finally, people who care about him worry that his career might end up badly, I guess you would say - Bob Knight loses temper, go out in an embarrassing manner. You think that might possibly happen?

FEINSTEIN: You know, Renée, I think it already did happen. That record yesterday should have been set in Indiana University where he coached for 29 years, but he got himself fired even though he won three national championship, graduated his players, and played by NCAA rules. That shouldn't have happened to Bob Knight, but it did. He shouldn't have been out at the middle of West Texas, at a football school, breaking his record. It's really a shame.

MONTAGNE: So final word on it? I mean this is quite a - you know, quite a record.

FEINSTEIN: Bob Knight goes down as one of the five greatest basketball coaches in history, with Wooden, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, and Mike Krzyzewski. It's a shame, though, that the rest of it will all be part of his legacy too.

MONTAGNE: John, thanks very much.

FEINSTEIN: Thanks, Renée.

MONTAGNE: The comments of John Feinstein, author of “A Season On the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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