There’s brilliance behind Knight’s bluster

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 15, 2002

One thing is abundantly clear after watching ESPN’s productionof “A Season on the Brink,” a movie based on a book of the samename about former Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight.The coach sure has a foul mouth.

This, of course, should come as no surprise to anyone who’sremotely familiar with college basketball or the persistentcontroversy that surrounds the volatile coaching genius.

To be sure, though, every commercial break in the Sunday movieincluded an “intense adult language” warning. Furthermore, thenetwork offered a bleeped-out version of the movie on its sisternetwork ESPN2.

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Brian Dennehy, a fine actor, was merely OK as Knight. Seldom didthe portrayal offer anything more than to depict Knight as hard,gruff and overbearing.

Some of Knight’s critics contend that is all he is anyway. Myaunt, who has a passing interest in basketball, considers him “pondscum.”

I must say now that I am a Knight defender. I was in college in1987 when Indiana won its last national championship under Knight,and I read the book when it was released about the same time.

From the infamous chair throw in 1985 to the LSU fan gettingtrashed — literally — during an NCAA tournament to the allegedNeil Reed choking incident that set the ball in motion towardKnight’s dismissal from IU in 2000, the coach’s antics have beenwell chronicled.

They’ve been chronicled ad nauseum and are part of what I thinkis a double-standard when it comes to Knight and the media. If hedoes something unruly, it’s headlines; if another coach does thesame thing, it may warrant a mention at the bottom of asportscast.

Sunday’s movie did nothing to sway public opinion in favor ofKnight, who’s turned the Texas Tech Red Raiders into an NCAAtournament team. They play Southern Illinois Friday night.

Whatever insight into the coach the movie was trying to conveyfailed, I think, because it was lost in the language.

Television viewers simply are not used to hearing that many, asone sports reporter called them, “F-bombs” and other colorfulmetaphors in their evening entertainment. Granted, they’re hiswords, but only on the rarest of occasions are similar words heardon network television and very seldom are they heard on non-premiumchannel cable television.

I wonder whether the book was even worthy of a movieproduction.

I suspect viewers quickly changed the channel during one of theearlier televised tirades or just turned off the TV. Watching thebleep-fest on ESPN2, especially when you can tell what words arebeing said, would seem annoying to me.

While I was washing clothes the other day, a man noticed I wasreading a book of quotes by and about Knight. He commented on themovie and the amount of obscene language.

I acknowledged the language but also cited a factoid from thebook about Knight being one of only two coaches to win an NCAAtitle as a player (at Ohio State) and as a coach (three times atIndiana) and also to win an Olympic gold medal. Former Universityof North Carolina coach Dean Smith is the other.

Knight’s winning percentage, player graduation rates andadherence to NCAA rules are other testaments to the coach’sgreatness. He demands high standards for his players, and they knowthat when they’re recruited.

My point is that there is brilliance behind the bluster withKnight. While even the coach’s critics acknowledge the former, themedia’s treatment of Knight keeps people focused on the latter.

Write to News Editor Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551,Brookhaven, MS 39602.