- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2006

For Christmas, sports fans got the chance to celebrate Bobby Knight being on the brink of the standard by which all college basketball coaches should be measured.

Some fans will be elated. Many will want to return the gift, saying they are still happy with the standard set by Dean Smith.

They are linked at the top of their profession after Knight’s 879th career win Saturday — at least until Texas Tech wins another game.

With every mention of this event comes a wave of discomfort. Not even his supporters can argue Knight doesn’t make many people uncomfortable. Even his friends have admitted as much at times, though they profess their loyalty, warts and all, to Knight.

But save for the North Carolina haters, there were no mixed feelings when Smith passed Adolph Rupp to become the all-time wins leader. Heck, there was a feeling that perhaps justice had been served. There always had been a current of discomfort surrounding Rupp’s legacy of racial issues at Kentucky, highlighted again this year in the film “Glory Road,” about the 1966 NCAA championship game featuring Rupp’s all-white squad against Texas Western and a pioneering group of black players.

Fair or not, when Rupp was the winningest coach in college history, it reminded fans of college basketball’s past sins. He was the best and the worst, all packaged in one record.

That’s not true with Smith, though. With Smith, you got the greatest winner in college basketball wrapped up in a package full of character and humanity, a guilt-free celebration. For 10 years, whenever someone asked who was the winningest coach in college basketball history, who was the standard for the profession, Smith was the answer. It seemed as it should be.

Soon that question, whether it’s asked in a bar as a trivia question or in an argument, will bring a cringe. And when the answer comes up as Bobby Knight, no one will start talking about what an honorable coach he was or how he was not a cheater like so many in his profession or how his players had to keep up their academics or even how he won three national championships.

No, they will talk about how the winningest coach of all time once was arrested for assaulting a police officer during the Pan American Games in Puerto Rico. They will talk about the time he tossed a chair across a court because of a referee’s call. You know the clip well. You think sports television outlets will show the clip of Knight’s record-breaking win that many times?

And fans will talk about the video from Indiana showing Knight apparently hitting and choking Neil Reed in practice. (For those of you who thought it was nothing when he slapped Michael Prince under the chin to get him to make eye contact in November, think about what happens behind closed doors, when there aren’t thousands of people around to watch, when he has no reason to hold anything back.)

That’s just what people probably will remember. There’s a lot they will have forgotten, such as the name Thomas Mikunda, who filed a lawsuit in 2001 against Knight claiming the coach was negligent when he shot Mikunda while they were hunting in 1999. Mikunda also claimed Knight coerced him into falsifying details of the incident. Or maybe someone will pipe in and remember that one or the secretary at Indiana who accused Knight of throwing a potted plant at her.

This is the best in the business. It’s a standard other coaches will have a tough time living up to. Fortunately, it won’t be around for the same amount of time — 10 years — Smith held the standard. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has 764 career wins, and if Duke continues to win at its current rate, Coach K will pass his mentor in five or six years, depending on how long Knight can keep from pulling his inevitable Woody Hayes moment and flames out. And while that may make Duke haters crazy, Coach K’s smugness won’t be as uncomfortable as the history college basketball may get come Thursday night if Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders beat UNLV, officially kicking Dean Smith aside and putting Bobby Knight on the throne.

Merry Christmas.

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