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February 04, 2004

Knight In Lunch-Time Shouting Incident

FROM THE SCRUB BRUSH OF ROWDY WEST TEXAS comes word of a one-way shouting attack delivered by Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight to Texas Tech Chancellor David Smith. The scene of the histrionics was a Lubbock grocery and lunch spot named Market Street.

Smith, three levels up the totem pole from Knight (he is the boss of Tech president Jon Whitmore, who is in turn the boss of Tech Athletic Director Gerald Myers, who is in turn Knight’s boss), was at the eatery and noticed that Myers was also there. Smith approached Myers and complimented him on Knight’s behavior. It just so happened that Knight was also at Market Street. Is there only one lunch spot in Lubbock? Myers told Smith that Knight was there and suggested that he (Smith) express his sentiments to Knight personally.

There are always two sides to every story. And it is at this juncture that the two stories veer away from one another. Regardless of what precipitated things, an eye-witness to the skirmish told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that it was Knight who lost his cool and started screaming that Smith was a liar. No physical contact was made, and police were not called.

The incident provided fodder for the anti-Knight forces on campus. Nancy Reed, head of the Texas Tech faculty senate, said, “How many times can you say I’m sorry? I think if a faculty member did this, they would be sent for psychiatric evaluation.”

Through the years Knight’s feisty, take-no-prisoners style has endeared him to many, but alienated him with others. He is not the only successful coach (826 career victories) with an overbearing leadership style. Other members of that club include Jim Calhoun (UConn), Pat Summitt (Tennessee), PJ Carlesimo (ex Seton Hall) and Gene Hackman (Hoosiers).

When coaches behave badly there is too often a rush to judgment that pre-supposes that the coach is the guilty party. In light of his tempestuous history, it would be too easy to summarily blame Knight for the lunch-time peccadillo.

Meanwhile, there are perhaps a hundred or so big-time college basketball and football coaches who are constantly subjected to an unrelenting, unbearable media onslaught. These elite programs attract entire armies of electronic and print reporters, some of whom delight in stalking and baiting coaches at a vulnerable moment. It’s amazing that we don’t see coaches erupting more frequently.

The most recent incidents before Lubbock involved UConn’s Jim Calhoun and St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli. Calhoun went off on a profanity-laced tirade when a reporter asked a slightly provocative question. Martelli screamed at a fan who was razzing him for pressing while he had a 25 point lead.

When coaches target their invective at players, other coaches, referees or reporters, those are regrettable occurrences, but at least they’re somewhat understandable,

However, in the Showdown at Market Street, Bob Knight took on his boss’s boss’s boss. That might have been a step or two too far.

(excerpted from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, 2-2-04)