He has his father’s profile, a jutting peninsula for a jaw and laser beams for eyes. He may be standing off-court, chatting idly about why he is here at the University of Calgary, but Pat Knight misses nothing, locks in on everything.
“Forwards on one side, guards on the other,” he shouts to an assistant running the shoot-around. The Lamar University Cardinals from Beaumont, Tex., do as instructed as their head coach with the most recognizable face and name in U.S. college basketball carries on his chat. He is relaxed and candid. Early on, he gives it to you straight: being Bobby Knight’s son has been hard at times, what with the expectations and name calling – let alone the old man’s antics.
But there’s been mostly good stuff. Getting to play at Indiana University. Becoming a coach. Following his dad to Texas Tech University as an assistant only to end up replacing him. And now this: venturing off on his own with a school willing to let him build a team his way, starting with a pair of exhibition games on foreign hardwood against the U of C Dinos.
“I’m really excited about this,” the Cardinals’ first-year coach explained. “We’re allowed 10 extra practices and five international games [by the NCAA] Coming here, the players get a chance to see how I am, my temperament and how I want them to play. . . . It’s a good deal.”
Being the offspring of a famous father doesn’t always work out so well, especially if the son decides to play for his iconic dad then follow him into the coaching profession. But for 40-year-old Pat Knight, life is what you make it and his life has always been about two things: basketball and a heritage that both draws and repels people.
Bobby Knight was as widely known for throwing chairs and angry outbursts as he was for his 902 career wins and three NCAA titles. His firing at Indiana was the messiest of divorces. Pat Knight was an assistant coach there after having played four years for his dad. If anything was going to scare the younger Knight away from coaching, all that drama and disaster would have been it.
But by then Pat Knight was already committed to a job that defined his father as much as his father defined it. He even broke a cardinal rule – never replace a coaching legend – by taking the reigns at Texas Tech after Bobby Knight’s retirement in 2008.
“Murry Bartow [who coached at the University of Alabama at Birmingham after his dad Gene]told me, ‘Be careful.’ Sean Sutton [who took over at Oklahoma State after his dad Eddie]is one of my best friends. He warned me, too,” Knight said. “It’s tough to say no. You get to be a head coach in the Big 12. You have to do it. That’s the way I was raised. We take chances.”
Knight is like his father yet very much his own man. At Texas Tech, he knew his third full season would be the clincher. He’d either get a new contract or be shown the door. He said as much at a news conference to start the year. His father was apoplectic. (Why load the gun for the school administrators?) By this past January, Knight knew it was over. He quietly cleaned out his office then asked the university to announce his departure prior to the Big 12 tournament in March. Knight dubbed it “a business decision” and left graciously.
He was hired by Lamar within a month knowing his last name had a lot to do with it.
“I can tell you that you won’t see me on Dr. Drew Celebrity Rehab,” Knight proclaimed. “I’m so tired of kids with famous parents who say that’s their problem. It’s a positive. It opens more doors. I’m proud to say I’m Bobby Knight’s son. That’s how I look at it.”
His U of C host, Dinos’ head coach Dan Vanhooren, once spent a week at Texas Tech at Bobby Knight’s invitation. Knight had been the guest speaker at a Calgary sports dinner six years ago, met Vanhooren and told him to come visit. Vanhooren said he can only imagine how difficult it is carrying the Knight name.
“I’m sure having that kind of spectre over top of you isn’t easy, especially when you’re in the same field,” Vanhooren said. “But Pat’s a great guy who cares about his players. I know how hard he works.”
What Knight has with Lamar is an opportunity to establish his own legacy, and his team’s. The Cardinals are young and in need of a strong hand. Knight will provide that. When he addresses his players at the end of the shoot-around, he makes concise points about the importance of body language and being responsible to each other.
He ends by saying when he played at Indiana he averaged two points a game and that if he returned to Bloomington he’d be treated like a conquering hero. Why? Because he played on great teams. Lamar’s ambition is to be that kind of team.
The coach with the most recognizable name in the game wouldn’t see it any other way.