Sometime between 7:00 and 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Monday night, the news broke that Bob Knight had resigned as the head coach of Texas Tech. It was a historic moment, because Knight is the winningest Division I coach ever and was the college game's most polarizing figure for nearly four decades. You need no more evidence of Knight's importance than the fact that his resignation pushed one of the biggest Super Bowl upsets ever out of the sports news cycle less than 24 hours after the game concluded. This moment, however, will be forgotten rather quickly as well.
Bob Knight's impact on the college game was made in the '60s and '70s. While he leaves the game as the all-time wins leader with 902, his record is likely to be broken in four years by one of his first protégés, Mike Kryzyzewski. Knight's 1976 Indiana team, the last to finish a season unbeaten, more than likely will remain his enduring legacy. Knight's '75 team actually had the potential to pull off an even more dominant performance until Scott May broke his arm late that season. After that, there were two more titles, in '81 and '87. If Knight's impact was a function of his work in the '60s and '70s, his legend was largely built in the '70s and '80s.
The 1987 season was the first to have the three-point shot instituted across college basketball. That edition of the Hoosiers was led by Steve Alford, who was one of the early masters of the new rule. However, after that season, Knight basically ignored the rule the rest of his career. His offenses were built on attacking the basket, getting to the free-throw line, and taking care of the ball. Bobby Knight has the reputation of being stubborn, and certainly in the coaching sense he was. There's no question he was a great teacher of the game, but it's almost impossible in modern college basketball to have an elite offense without utilizing the three in some way. Despite this, Bob Knight coached the game the same way over the last 20 years of his career that he did over the first 20 years. Three-point shots were to be used late in the shot clock, and if the opposing team wanted to rely on three-pointers, that was fine with him.
Bobby Knight's version of the Red Raiders managed to capture the public's imagination once in March. In 2005, as a six-seed, Texas Tech knocked off UCLA in the first round and beat an over-seeded Gonzaga team in round two. Tech got another break when seven-seed West Virginia upset Wake Forest on the other side of the bracket.
That Sweet 16 game feature one of the most experienced coaches in the nation against one of the most inexperienced, at least in terms of the NCAA Tournament. WVU's John Beilein was just starting to get publicity for his offense, which depended on the three-point shot and a few back-door cuts. He had created an efficient machine using a bunch of ordinary players. The game was a contrast of styles, with the Mountaineers being among the most frequent three-point shooting teams in the country, and Texas Tech was among the least likely to shoot a three. WVU ended up winning 65-60, going 8-of-22 on threes to Tech's one of eight. Bobby Knight would not get another tournament victory, partly because he couldn't put an offense on the floor that could consistently compete against top competition.
The last time Bob Knight lost a coaching job was just prior to the 2000-2001 season at Indiana. It was big news then because it was somewhat expected, but it differed from yesterday's announcement in that Knight was fired from Indiana after a rather public spat with the school's president, Myles Brand. Any other sports news was shoved aside for a week while everyone chose sides on the matter. As it turned out, the firing of Knight was not such a big deal for Indiana's basketball team. Mike Davis took over and his six years as head coach in Bloomington were rocky, but not unlike anything in Knight's previous six years at the school. A look at each coach's NCAA Tournament seed and wins in the tourney over that span...
Year Seed Wins Year Seed Wins
2001 4 0 1995 9 0
2002 5 5 1996 6 0
2003 7 1 1997 8 0
2004 - - 1998 7 1
2005 - - 1999 6 1
2006 6 1 2000 6 0
The late '90s weren't exactly the glory years for Indiana basketball, and that was part of the reason Knight's tantrums made him expendable. Davis was given the unenviable task of succeeding a legend, mostly because of the timing of Knight's dismissal and the fact that his players demanded it. Overall, Davis's record was comparable to Knight's with the notable exception of the '02 run to the national title game.
The following season, Indiana won its first eight games and rose to #6 in the AP poll. In their ninth game, a showdown with Kentucky at Freedom Hall, Bracey Wright missed what would have been a go-ahead layup in the closing seconds. As play continued after Kentucky secured the rebound, Mike Davis ran to the middle of the floor to protest what he felt like was a foul on the play. He was ejected and eventually suspended over what was one of the most bizarre exhibitions of behavior by a coach in this decade. Starting with that game, IU would go 13-13 the rest of season, limp into the tournament as a seven-seed and lose in the second round. That season drove home the notion that not much had changed in Bloomington since Knight's departure. Coaching tirades and inconsistent hoops continued.
In 2008, the effect of Bob Knight leaving a program should be the same. Yesterday's news was historic because Bob Knight has been one of the most influential people in the game, but his influence over the last decade was negligible. His record in conference games while in Lubbock was 53-49. Pat Knight will take over a Red Raider team that is young and unlikely to get to the NCAA Tournament. Texas Tech basketball won't suffer without the elder Knight, and if the younger Knight is willing to incorporate the three-ball into his offense, it may just get better in the coming years.
Ken Pomeroy is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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