Bob Knight has been the game’s orneriest coach forever. Now he’s the winningest, too.
Knight earned career victory No. 880 the hard way when his Texas Tech Red Raiders blew a 20-point lead but withstood a 3-point miss at the buzzer to beat New Mexico 70-68 on Monday in a game lacking the fanfare of his first attempt.
None of Knight’s famous friends made it to West Texas to see him break the men’s Division I record he shared with former North Carolina coach Dean Smith. Steve Alford, John Havlicek and Fuzzy Zoeller were among about 30 buddies here when he tried Thursday night, but none of them stayed for a morning tipoff on New Year’s Day.
The Red Raiders (11-4) trailed 64-60 with 6:25 left, but went back ahead 70-68 on a 3-pointer by Jay Jackson with 2:04 left. Things were tense the rest of the way — including a controversial call that didn’t go in Knight’s favor — and it wasn’t until a long 3-pointer by J.R. Giddens bounced away at the buzzer that the celebration could begin.
Pat Knight, Bobby Knight’s son and successor-in-waiting, put an arm around his dad’s neck as they walked to shake hands with New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay. They looked as relieved to have won this game as to have the hoopla of the record behind them.
The crowd already was on its feet and the cheers turned louder. Knight did a television interview, then “My Way” by Frank Sinatra blared, a not-so-subtle reminder of Knight’s personal and professional credo.
Soon, red confetti fell and a ceremony began. Knight singled out Alan Voskuil, who made a key play down the stretch, then tapped the chin of forward Mike Prince, the player who Knight made contact with in a game earlier this season. He then motioned to his wife, Karen, to join him on the court.
“The first 15 minutes of the game was Karen’s game plan,” he said of his wife, a former high school coach. “The rest of it was mine, unfortunately. I just say thank you.”
Already a Hall of Famer, Knight’s overall record is 880-354 with three national championships, including a perfect season in 1976 that has yet to be duplicated. Of course, he’s just as well known for his run-ins with players, bosses, officials and others. He punched a policeman in Puerto Rico and sent a chair tumbling across a court in protest of a referee’s call.
Arizona’s Lute Olson is second among active coaches with 772 wins. But at 72, and also under contract through 2011, he is not likely to make up enough ground.
Krzyzewski has 765 wins and is 59. However, Coach K would be 64 in 2011 and might still be 100 wins behind.
Even if Knight only bumps the mark to 900, it would take 45 years of 20 wins per season to match that. At the unlikely rate of 25 wins per season, it would take 36 years.
Knight had the advantage of breaking into the business at Army when he was only 24. Hence his nickname, “The General.” While the mark is impressive, Knight admits it’s a byproduct of longevity. The ultimate standard of college basketball coaching excellence is the 10 national titles won by UCLA’s John Wooden, all in a 12-year span.
Also worth noting: Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt has won the most NCAA games, 925; and Harry Statham of NAIA McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill., has won the most men’s games at a four-year college, 925.
Summitt is an outstanding coach, but it’s an insult to Knight and the others to pretend that winning in the women’s game, which has until recently had zero competitive balance, is in any way comparable to what they have achieved.
I can’t imagine anyone will again be given a chance at coaching a Division I team at the age of 24, making Knight’s achievement almost impossible to equal. It’s not at all inconceivable that he will extend the record well past 900