For Lubbock, at least, a Knight to remember
West Texas town is basking in the national attention garnered by their new basketball coach: controversial legend Bobby Knight.
The unstoppable-motion offense was there. The never-good-enough attitude was there. Even the V-neck sweater was there, though this time in black.
In the end, the only disappointment for some of the thousands of Texas Tech basketball fans on opening night was that Bob Knight behaved himself.
No matter, they say, there are still 26 more games in the season.
"We're waiting for him to go crazy and throw a chair or something. That's what we want to see," says Ashley Schkade, a Tech freshman before last Friday's opener against William & Mary.
Like many Texans, Lubbock residents appreciate a "character." And Knight most definitely qualifies. But besides being famous for his outbursts on and off the court, he's always done well with his teams, becoming one of the winningest coaches in collegiate basketball history. While most Americans would be hard-pressed to point to Lubbock on a map, the school is hoping Knight's addition, as a coach and a persona, will change its anonymity.
"They have a lot to gain. He's a terrific coach who will certainly win basketball games for them," says Rich Nye, a sports anchor for WTHR TV in Indianapolis who was sent to Lubbock to cover Knight's return.
On the southern edge of the Texas panhandle, the land around Lubbock is as flat as a pancake and gets as hot as the griddle used to cook 'em.
Cotton, cattle, and oil make up the economy around this windswept town of 200,000 - and, as with most of Texas, football is king.
But that is about to change. Already, Lubbock has gained more national attention from Knight's arrival than any football game to date.
Within the first 48 hours of ticket sales, residents snatched up 12,000 season passes. They erected billboards hailing Knight's addition to the team. Packed auditoriums where he spoke. And dished out thousands of dollars at alumni fundraisers.
Before they'd seen him don the red and black of the Red Raiders, they were rabid fans of a coach that, up until now, they had only seen raging on the opposing bench.
But it isn't about Knight's prickly personality (though some, like Ms. Schkade, admit to secretly hoping for such an outburst). In the end, say Tech fans tired of finishing last in the Big 12, it's about winning. "Last season wasn't so much fun to watch," says sophomore Kevin Hinshaw. "I'll be glad when we start winning."
That is something Knight certainly knows how to do. In his 29 years at Indiana University, he won three national championships and took home three national coach-of-the-year titles. Plus, he led the US Olympic team to a gold medal in 1984.
But last year, he was fired from IU for violating a zero-tolerance policy for behavior, which the president of the university imposed after Knight was accused of choking one of his players. The school claims he then shoved a student who called him "Knight" instead of "Mr. Knight" or "Coach."
Back in Lubbock, at the Red Raider Outfitter's on campus, T-shirts are emblazoned with a folding chair and "Mr. Knight, we love your style" across the back. Another has Knight's contorted face across the front and "That's Mr. Knight to you" on the back.
The store can't keep them in stock, says owner and Tech alum John Spiegelberg, who is one of the thousands who got his season tickets early.
In addition to local sales, Mr. Spiegelberg says he has been sending large shipments to some 24 stores in Indiana, where many remain convinced of Knight's innocence. An Indiana group is suing the university, claiming Knight was unfairly fired. Some Hoosiers have even bought tickets to Tech games.
"Bob Knight is one of the most well-known and controversial figures in Indiana," says Mr. Nye, the sportscaster. "There is still tremendous interest in anything and everything he does."
Nye suspects that Texas Tech is a school that "is hungry for success" and was willing to accept a lot of the baggage that comes along with Knight. "Personally, I can't stand the guy. I don't think you have to belittle and intimidate people to win."
But while the winning was evident last Friday, there was little sign of intimidation during the Raiders' 75 to 55 win.
Looking comfortable on the Raider sidelines, Knight called players aside to lecture them on missteps. He protested a referee's call, but only briefly, patting him on the back later. He pumped his arms in disgust when Tech let their lead slide.
"I felt at home by my second day here," Knight said afterward. "I like the players, I like the student body, I like the enthusiasm."
Some students say the feeling is mutual. "He's attracted so much attention, it's kinda like he's been here for years," says Schkade.