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Litke: Bob Knight Still a Petty Tyrant

December 24, 2003

The best teachers don’t have to be bullies.

If anything, the long and distinguished history of college hoops suggests just the opposite is true.

The teacher with the most disciples in the game, Dean Smith, retired as the winningest coach in major college history and one of the classiest. The active coach with the most disciples, Mike Krzyzewski, is like Smith _ already both a proven winner and a gentleman.

So what is it about Bob Knight? The man who taught the game to Krzyzewski, among others, and may yet pass Smith in the ``W″ column continues to behave like the pettiest of tyrants.

On Monday, just a few hours before his Texas Tech Red Raiders were to play an Iowa team coached by Steve Alford, another of Knight’s disciples, the two sat down for an interview. Former coach and ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla asked Knight where his relationship with Alford, once rumored to be distant, stood now.

Knight’s answer?


With Alford squirming next to him, Knight then launched one of those very public rants where you half-expect one of his inner demons to peel back the skin on his scalp and pop into full view. What followed were several more ``bleeps,″ a few ``bleeping″ media references, and just for good measure, he reiterated how he and Alford got along was nobody’s ``bleeping″ business. Then he dared ESPN to run the piece in all its unedited glory.

The network didn’t bite, of course. It couldn’t. Not without opening itself up to heavy fines and a series of headslaps from the Federal Communications Commission. Knight knew that better than everyone on the set and at least as well as the higher-ups back at the studios.

But here’s the really aggravating part: Whatever passed between them since 1987, when they won the NCAA championship together as coach and star guard for the 1987 Indiana Hoosiers, Knight and Alford couldn’t be much closer today.

Why Knight refused to say so, only he knows. The truth is that he’s always been generous _ and then some _ to just about everybody who ever played or sat alongside him on the bench.

The rift with Alford, such as it was, dated to 1999. That’s when the student moved up in the coaching ranks from Southwest Missouri State to Iowa, which also moved him into the teacher’s Big Ten orbit. At the time, the two reportedly had not spoken for nearly a year, and there were at least three possible reasons for Knight’s rumored displeasure. One was a book Alford wrote, titled, ``Playing for Knight.″ The second was supposed to be comments Alford made about wanting to coach Indiana someday. The third was the transfer of former player Luke Recker, who had a tumultuous relationship with Knight and wound up at Iowa.

Whether any of that actually bothered Knight, he hasn’t let anyone know _ with the possible exception of Alford. But it certainly hasn’t changed the order of things. Just like the two previous meetings between their teams, Knight’s won the Monday night encounter. What was different, though, was Knight’s willingness to talk about the student-teacher relationship.

He remembered his own toughest coaching assignment, facing his mentor, Ohio State coach Fred Taylor.

``I look in the paper and look for scores every day for guys who have either played or coached for me,″ Knight said. ``If there are a bunch of them on the left hand column, then that’s a good day for me. I feel good about that. I don’t like to see our guys lose. I don’t like to see Steve lose this game.″

Knight is hardly the only coach to find it tough going against a friend, and not even the only one to do in the last two weeks. Louisville coach Rick Pitino beat his old student, Florida’s Billy Donovan, in their teams’ matchup. Though they were uncomfortable about their teams playing one another, both registered complaints about the hype leading up to the game without so much as a single bleep.

Even though the NCAA tournament selection committee takes an almost perverse delight in setting up the brackets to bring such games about, few teachers schedule their former assistants or players during the regular season unless there’s a very good reason. Pitino invited Donovan to a Louisville tournament to help out a charity established in the memory of close mutual friend. In Alford’s case, his career hit a rough patch last season and he sought out Knight over the summer for advice. That’s what led to the meeting in Dallas.

``He’s the best coach there is,″ Alford said afterward, and the results suggest Knight remains a pretty good mentor, besides.

Which begs the question: Since his students have learned to take the best of his lessons and leave the excesses behind, why can’t their teacher do the same?


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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