Though it has been a few days since legendary former Texas Tech, Indiana, and Army basketball head coach, Bob Knight, passed away at the age of 83, people around the nation are still taking time to remember the unforgettable life he lived. Because Knight passed away on Wednesday, the night the Texas Rangers clinched the World Series and a day before the Red Raiders took on TCU at Jones Stadium, I didn’t immediately have as much time as I would have on a normal week to reflect on what he meant to Texas Tech and to me as a Red Raider.
However, over the weekend, as I watched coverage of his passing and the numerous tributes to his life and career, I came to realize that he was one of the pillars of my Red Raider fandom.
I was a student at Tech when Knight was hired in 2001. As a freshman in 1999, I was at the first game ever held at United Supermarkets Arena when he brought Indiana to Lubbock (just weeks after he accidentally shot a friend in a hunting accident leading thousands of students to show up in hunting gear and wearing or holding shooting targets) and in the time between that night and his debut as Texas Tech’s head coach, I probably attended only four or five Red Raider basketball games. Tech was just so awful those two years that it wasn’t worth the effort to support the program.
However, I remember seeing the news online that Knight was likely to be James Dickey’s replacement and I remember running into the living room of our rental house to tell my roommates. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we embraced and jumped around as if Tech had just won the Big 12 title on a last-second buzzer-beater.
From then on, I’ve been hooked on Texas Tech basketball. Just like Mike Leach helped me fall in love with the football program, Knight gave me a reason to emotionally invest in Red Raider hoops for the first time.
Almost two decades before I sat in U.S. Bank Stadium watching Tech play in the 2019 National Championship game, I used to line up hours before tip-off in the January and February cold of West Texas to get seats as close to the Red Raider bench as possible because my friends and I wanted to be as near to Knight as we could.
We wanted to hear every profanity, we wanted to see all of the facial contortions, we wanted to know what he said when berating an official. He was larger than life and we wanted a front-row seat to the circus.
Red Raider fans certainly received the full Bob Knight experience. There were dozens of unforgettable press conferences, plenty of off-court drama, and controversial actions. There was also a bunch of winning.
Knight’s .672 winning percentage at Tech is the third-best of any coach in program history behind Chris Beard and Mark Adams. What’s more, his 138 wins are fourth in Red Raider history despite the fact that he was head coach for only six and a half seasons.
There’s so much I’ll never forget about the Knight era. I will always remember the cheesy television commercials he’d do for local businesses, ads that were all shot with him sitting on the same stool in the same place in the arena with scripts he was obviously reading off of a cue card, scripts that were noticeably similar sometimes with only the name of the business or product changing from ad to ad.
I’ll never forget the reality television show he had on ESPN for one season. Called “Knight School” the premise of the show was to have a number of players go through what was essentially a training camp with Knight in order to win a spot as a walk-on with the program.
Most of all, though, I’ll never forget how much he made me love Texas Tech basketball. He was a character with a controversial reputation who you couldn’t turn away from regardless of how you felt about him. That was important for the program given that, at the time, Tech football was in the hands of “The Pirate” Mike Leach, also a character in his own right and a man who was revolutionizing the sport of football with his “Air Raid” offense.
Tech needed someone engaging and interesting to be the face of the basketball program as well and no one at the time could have drawn more attention than Bob Knight. When he was hired, I was taking a public relations class with legendary former Texas Tech professor, Dr. Bill Dean, who was also the head of the alumni association at the time, and he spent a week’s worth of classes using Knight as the subject of his lectures and teaching. Those were some of the most hotly debated and memorable class discussions I can remember having during my college career.
Knight was a complicated figure and putting his legacy into a nice, tidy box is impossible. You can’t ignore what happened on the court nor can you gloss over what happened away from it.
Everyone, though, had an opinion about the coach and that has not changed some two decades later. But, what we all can agree on is that he’s likely to be the last of his kind. There will never be another Robert Montgomery Knight and whether or not you think that’s a shame or a blessing is up to you.
Personally, I’ll always look favorably upon Knight. Did he have his flaws? Certainly. Was he a choir boy? Far from it. But he was an original and he was authentic and that’s why he resonated so well with the people of West Texas.
I’ll miss Coach Knight because the positive values he represented seem to be disappearing from our culture and also because he was one of those symbols of my college years, who, like Leach, is no longer with us. So today, on the eve of another Texas Tech basketball season, let’s take a look at ten unforgettable moments from Knight’s time as a Red Raider.
While the rest of the world is rightfully focusing most of its attention on what Knight did at Indiana (both good and bad), Red Raider fans also have fond memories of the legendary sports icon. In a way, I like that the focus has not been on his Red Raider tenure because it allows us to keep those memories in the family. So here are my top ten moments (in no particular order) of Knight’s time in West Texas.