- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

LUBBOCK, Texas — The Texas Tech student senate was on a lunch break when a visitor arrived. Eyes opened wide and jaws dropped as Bob Knight walked straight to senate president Kelli Stumbo and asked what he should say to the students.
"Just say, 'Hi,'" she replied.
"Hi," Knight said, and he promptly headed for the exit.
In their first meeting with the school's new basketball coach, the 42 students thought they were seeing his ugly side, the one that got him fired from Indiana after 29 years and three national championships.
"Excuse me!" Stumbo said, stopping Knight in his tracks and calling his bluff.
Knight went back, put his arm around her and gave her tips on introducing a speaker. Following his advice, Stumbo addressed the coach by his proper name she didn't dare say, "What's up, Knight?" and was more direct about what she wanted him to discuss.
Knight delighted the students for 20 minutes. The chat, on the Saturday after the September 11 terrorist attacks, concluded with a passionate explanation of why he thought sports should've gone on that weekend.
The students got the full Bob Knight Experience.
He was intimidating and instructive. A disciplinarian. Sarcastic and opinionated, yet insightful, emotional and patriotic.
That's exactly the complex personality Texas Tech hired in March, the one administrators expect will turn around a struggling men's program and lift it to the level of the school's thriving women's team.
So far, the Hall of Fame coach has boosted the school's profile and stirred unprecedented excitement for the Red Raiders, who went 9-19 last season but are off to a 2-0 start this season heading into last night's game against Southern Methodist. He's brought in a lot of money to the athletic department and suggested ways to get more.
He's gotten students 1,000 more tickets a game and asked them to vote on what color sweater he'll wear on the sideline. He's also raised $70,000 for their campus library.
His generosity and interest in the school and the community have won over many critics, but not all. Some are taking a wait-and-see approach, noting he hasn't lost a game yet. One of his infamous tantrums, they fear, will undo the good he's done.
His temper certainly will be tested this season.
For the first time since 1971, Knight has a team that's never been in his system. He expects mistakes and is trying to tolerate them as part of the learning process. He's still critical and lets them know when he's angry. But his boiling point might be higher.
The bottom line: Knight is happy.
Happy to be coaching after a year away. Happy to be in Lubbock, surrounded by easygoing West Texans who don't care that he once hurled a chair across the court during a game and grabbed a player by the neck during practice. Happy to be at Texas Tech, working for an athletic director and school president who are as fond of him as he is of them.
"It's worked out well for both parties," Tech president David Schmidly said. "And I'm quite sure it's only going to get better."
With typical bluster, Knight said he missed coaching the same way he'd miss pheasant hunting if he didn't do that for a year. He rejects the notion he's been rejuvenated.
"I've always had a lot of energy," he said. "I didn't need to go to the Virgin Islands to be recycled or anything. I was all right."
But once he starts talking, Knight seems to let his guard down, revealing the new spark those closest to him say they've detected.
"I've enjoyed what's happened in practice, the responses and the reaction, the things that come back to my mind about what we have to do," Knight said. "I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I enjoy coaching now, again."
Last season was the first in which Knight didn't coach since he was a student at Ohio State in the early 1960s.
He also had his share of transgressions. There was the time he punched an officer in Puerto Rico and the many run-ins with players, administrators and media.
He'd been squabbling with his bosses at Indiana when a videotape surfaced in early 2000 showing Knight with his hand on a player's neck during a 1997 practice.
The school investigated and school president Myles Brand instituted a "zero-tolerance" policy. Knight was fired four months later after he grabbed the arm of a student who greeted him by saying, "What's up, Knight?"
Pat Knight remembers watching his father agonize before, during and after his firing. For months, he thought his father might never return. Then Bob Knight spent time at Akron, where his son was an assistant coach, and his outlook improved.
"It reminded him of what Indiana used to be and kind of gave him a sense of hope," said Pat, now a Texas Tech assistant. "I kept telling him, 'If you go somewhere new, you could have the same thing.'"
Tech athletic director Gerald Myers, a friend of Knight's for 30 years, called in March. When the courtship began, Knight's wife, Karen, who grew up in Oklahoma, told him: "There's no place in America where people will better understand you than West Texas."
Knight felt so comfortable he signed a five-year contract. He also surrounded himself with a solid support system.
His other son, Tim, was hired as an assistant athletic director. Tech also hired Mary Ann Davis, his administrative assistant the past 24 years, and his media liaison is Randy Farley, a friend with no background in publicity who moved 12,000 miles from Asia to Lubbock.
Pat said his father hasn't been so content since 1992-93, when Pat played alongside Calbert Cheaney on the team that won Knight his 11th and final Big Ten title.
Knight also is more relaxed, Pat said, especially around players. He noted a recent practice when players were passing the ball where they shouldn't. The assistant coaches were fuming. Knight wasn't. Assistants were still talking about his lack of a reaction the next day.
"They've got to learn how to play," the coach said. "There's no sense in me getting upset while they're trying to learn."
Surely, though, Knight hasn't turned into someone who passes out treats in the locker room after a loss, like he does in an orange juice commercial?
"No, no, no. He hasn't changed like that at all," Pat said, laughing. "But I do think his patience is going to be a lot better. He's had a year to reflect.
"He is trying not to let things he can't control bother him. He's trying hard not to get upset about stuff, being understanding about things.
"But mellow? No. He still wants to win as bad as anybody."
Myers, Tech's basketball coach from 1971 to '91, is counting on it. He hired Knight to be the same guy he's known for more than three decades.
"We're not interested in what happened at Indiana or any of those things. We're interested in what he's doing at Texas Tech," Myers said.
"I don't want him to change. I want him to be focused, I want him to have an intense desire to win. I think that's what makes him a great coach."
Big 12 coaches picked Tech to finish 10th this season. That would be an improvement from last year, when the Red Raiders tied for last.
Pat Knight said they have the talent to improve, saying the players "are kids we would've recruited if we were anywhere." However, they have a long way to go before grasping, much less mastering, Knight's motion offense and tight man defense.
They also have to get to know each other. Of the six holdovers, one sat out last season and another was a walk-on who barely played. The seven additions include four junior college transfers, two freshmen and a walk-on.
Each will eventually have a specific role. Now, they're trying to figure out who will do what.
"I think I'm going to be setting a lot more screens," said center Andy Ellis, Tech's top scorer and second-best rebounder last season. "I think we're picking up on what coach wants pretty well. Only games will tell."
Knight explained his rules regarding conditioning and academics the day after he was hired. A week later, a starter and two freshmen were cut. A fourth player was allowed to leave.


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