On Monday, one of men’s college basketball’s most visible coaches announced he would not accept his salary this year because his team did not meet his high standards. The sum, a staggering $250,000, would be kept by the school instead of going to the coach. Now if you had one guess as to who might do such a noble deed, whom would you choose? Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski? After all, the Blue Devils lost to North Carolina last week and stumbled out of the top 10. Nope. How about Oregon coach Ernie Kent? His Ducks were once a top-10 team, but now the team is struggling in the weak Pac-10 conference and desperately need wins if they hope to make the NCAA tourney. Wrong again. Try Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight.

Jason Pesick

Yes, that Bobby Knight.

The Bobby Knight who once threw a chair onto the basketball court during a game, the Bobby Knight who “head butted” his own son on the sideline, the Bobby Knight who “choked” one of his players during practice, the Bobby Knight who shot his friend in a hunting accident – that’s the Bobby Knight known to most of America.

But there’s another side of Robert Montgomery Knight – the former Indiana coach who now calls Lubbock, Texas his home – that rarely gets mentioned in the media. The volatile coach donated thousands of dollars out of his pocket to the library at Indiana University throughout his career as the Hoosier’s coach. His graduation rate is impeccable. Knight prepares his athletes not just for the NBA, but also for life after basketball. He is first and foremost a teacher, then a basketball coach.

So why has Knight’s kind gesture been received with such surprise? It all goes back to the image of Knight crafted by the media over his tumultuous career. Despite his 800-plus wins (fourth highest total in men’s college basketball history) and three national championships, Knight is known more for his kicking and screaming than for his motion offense and stingy defense.

Remember the whole “choking” incident? Neil Reed – the bastard redheaded stepchild of the Indiana backcourt – claimed Knight assaulted him in practice. The former IU player told the media the legendary coach choked him in an afternoon practice and that assistant coaches had to pry the fiery coach away from Reed. When a video tape of the incident surfaced, Knight was put on the hot seat. Sure the video showed that Reed lied about the assistant coaches having to come to his rescue, but that was never mentioned on SportsCenter. The media instead focused on the actual “choking,” even though the video was hardly conclusive. Did you ever notice that every single news network played the infamous scene in slow motion? By slowing down the video, it gave the misleading impression Knight had his hand on Reed’s throat for several seconds. Not once was the clip played at regular speed – which would have clearly showed that Knight pushed Reed for a mere second.

Knight’s announcement comes at a time when several men’s college basketball coaches are under fire for violating NCAA rules. With Georgia coach Jim Harrick suspended and St. Bonaventure fired its coach, it’s refreshing to see good news in college hoops. Ask anyone in the sport and they’ll tell you Knight has always run a clean program.

For the past quarter century, Robert Montgomery Knight has been depicted as a ruthless dictator who abuses his players both physically and emotionally. Since his move to Texas Tech, media coverage of “The General” has been more positive than in previous years, with ESPN commentators Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas regularly commending Knight for his work on and off the court.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders got off to a great start for their 2002-2003 season, winning 10 of their first 11 games. The tide turned with the start of the Big 12 season where the team could only muster a 6-10 conference record. Now, at 16-11, Texas Tech is on the bubble for the big dance. Everyone should be rooting for the Red Raiders if they are able to get into the tourney. Can you imagine Texas Tech winning it all? Former Indiana President and current NCAA President Myles Brand would have to hand over the national championship trophy to the man he fired three years ago. The image would resonate on ESPN classic forever.

Perhaps I’m biased about Knight. I was born and raised in Southern Indiana, where college basketball is a religion and Bobby Knight was God. Living in Bloomington for several years undoubtedly had an effect on my view of college basketball’s most controversial coach, but it’s hard to ignore the facts.

Until I see another coach give up their salary and graduate all their players, I’m sticking with Bobby Knight as the best coach in sports today – angry chair tossing and all.

– Not a fan of Robert Montgomery Knight? You should be. Discuss the history of “The General” and Indiana basketball with Jeff at jsdicker@umich.edu.

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