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Column: Confident enough to invite comparisons, Pat Knight lets loose and gains respect
For three seasons and counting, people have gone out of their way to highlight the differences between Pat and Bob Knight. The resemblance, though, never seems stronger than when one or the other starts growling.
So go to YouTube, cue up the video of Pat Knight's nearly 8-minute rant about the seniors on his Lamar basketball team, then close your eyes and tell me he doesn't sound exactly like his dad. At one point, he even threatens to behave like the old man, too.
"When I played, if you acted the way some of these guys did, you got shoved in a locker with a forearm up against your neck and told: 'You don't do that. That's not how we do things at Indiana,'" he said. "And that's what we need."
Whatever it was Lamar needed to get back on track, consider it done. Since Knight's postgame dressing-down in late February ' after a dispirited loss at home to Stephen F. Austin ' the Cardinals have won six straight behind those same seniors and grabbed one of the last rungs of the NCAA tournament ladder. Lamar plays Vermont on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, with the winner facing mighty North Carolina in nearby Greensboro three nights later. No matter where this experiment in tough love ends, the younger Knight considers it a success already.
"The thing I learned from my first job is you can't coach scared," Knight said Monday after getting of the plane in Dayton. "What I did at Texas Tech was worry about the consequences ' what the media thinks, what the fans say ' instead of what's best for your program. And so two weeks ago, we'd just been having this horrible couple of days, I told my assistants before I went into the interview room, 'I'm going to get these guys' attention. I'm going to call them out to the media, really throw them under the bus and see what the response was.'
"I knew they were tough enough to do it," he added, then paused. "And they did."
Few things are more fascinating than watching a son step out of his father's shadow, but for most of his adult life, Pat Knight barely seemed to be trying. He played basketball for Bob at Indiana, and spent only one of his eight seasons as a college assistant with somebody else in charge. He inherited his first head coaching job from his father ' at Tech, two-thirds of the way through the 2008 season ' and employed the same motion offense and man-to-man defensive principles that Bob Knight pioneered and stubbornly stuck with for decades. The son earned his first ejection as the Red Raiders' boss just three games into the next season, storming back out of the tunnel right after getting tossed to continue the argument.
Soon after, though, reports out of Lubbock painted a different Pat Knight. He was much more subdued than his father had been in his heyday, especially around refs, and willing to experiment with an up-tempo style of play and even the occasional zone defense. But halfway measures produced middling results and he got fired at Tech with a 50-61 record and zero invites to the NCAA tournament. He was hired by Lamar less than a month later, prompting critics of both Knights to suggest the small Southland Conference school was simply looking to cash in on the family name. If so, Knight didn't care.
"I've never really looked at the downside. I'm not going to be one of those guys on reality TV or in rehab because my parents were famous. I hate to see that on TV. I am Bob Knight's son," he said defiantly at his introductory news conference. "I'm proud of it."
But behind the bravado was plenty of soul-searching, too.
"You take stock of everything when you get fired. I had that spring and all summer to think things over, and the two things at Tech that were mistakes is putting up with too much BS and coaching scared," Knight recalled. "What I promised myself was that in the new job, I was going to do things my way, whether that meant using the things I learned from my dad and all those other coaches or not. That's why I got into this business in the first place ' to start my own program, to run my own program, and build a program that I and all the people around me will be proud of."
If a winning record was all that required, Knight could have ridden the senior leadership he inherited and made few waves. As a first-year coach, especially one with a famous name, he was sure to enjoy a grace period even if the Cardinals couldn't manage a .500 mark. Instead, Knight was good as his word and made them play and behave his way right away, suspending three players during the season and when the moment called for it, calling out the seniors whose trust he needed most.
In short order, Mike James, the guard Knight dismissed from the podium before last month's tirade, went on to lock down MVP honors in the conference tourney and fellow seniors Devon Lamb and Anthony Miles started rebounding and handing out assists exactly the way Knight drew up the plays. For all the ways in which he was portrayed as being different from Bob, it wasn't until the moment he felt far enough away that he could be himself.
"When I told my dad I wanted to be a coach, he told me a story about going to see coach (Joe) Lapchick before he took his first job at West Point," Pat said. "Coach Lapchick asked him, 'Is it important for you to be liked?' My dad thought about it a second and said, 'No.' So coach Lapchick looked at him and says, 'Right. And if you have plans to be a coach for long, don't ever forget this: It's more important to be respected than liked.'"
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.