Meeting The General

Posted: February 12, 2020 in Coaching, Sports
Tags: , ,

Over my coaching career I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of good coaches and have become pretty good friends with a few of them. Huggs, Billy Hahn, Gary Williams, Jimmy Patsos, Mike Lonergan and some others are all friends and top notch coaches that I’ve learned a lot from. Through those connections I’ve been able to sit in on the practices of Coach K, Jerry Tarkanian (also had drinks with him and Dickie V but that’s a whole other blog), Tom Izzo (slept in his basement which was pretty cool), Thad Matta, Joe. B. Hall, Rick Barnes, Archie Miller, Keith Dambrot, Skip Prosser, Pete Gillen, Jay Wright, and The General himself – Bobby Knight.

With Coach Knight back in the news (he returned to Assembly Hall last weekend for the first time in 20-years) I was reminded of the first time I met him. It was w-a-y back in the fall of 1985 and I went to Bloomington for a weekend to watch practices. My head coach at the time had some connections, hence the allowance into the otherwise private practices.

As I recall the first practice was around 11:00 AM, and we arrived at Assembly Hall a good 30 to 45-minutes early. Somebody, I can’t recall who, walked us in and sat us at a table right at mid-court. Shortly after we sat down another guy walked in with a big kid in a letterman jacket and they were seated beside us.

The Indiana staff that year was comprised of Ron Felling, Kohn Smith, Royce Waltman and Joby Wright, and one of the graduate assistants was Dan Dakich, who I’ll get to shortly.

I remember Wright in particular was running around nervously, awaiting the arrival of The General and making sure the players were doing what they were supposed to be doing during pre-practice.

Finally, a few minutes before practice was to begin Coach Knight came strolling in wearing a fishing hat and vest. I’m being dead serious here. He’d clearly been doing some angling that morning and hadn’t gotten around to changing yet. After a couple laps around the court he stopped, shook our hands, told the kid beside me to take his hat off, even though coach was wearing a bucket hat with fishing lures stuck to it.

Everyone was scared to death, including me. Hey, I was not yet 30 and had seen The General on television. Hell, it was just 9-months prior when he did this:

Anyway, the dude was a little scary and I was a young coach who was completely intimidated by the legend that was Bob Knight.

He soon went back to the locker room, changed into his coaching gear, and proceeded to begin practice. As we watched, Knight was patrolling the court, making sure everything was done with pinpoint precision. At one point he stopped, pointed at grad assistant Dakich, and told him to move the line up in a drill he was running. Knight walked away, turned to look back, then went back to Dakich and let him have it:

“Damn it Dakich! I told you to move the line closer to the basket! If you can’t follow directions you’ll be running the damn steps!” 

I have to admit it was a little surprising, even to me. I mean, making players run stairs is one thing but I’d never seen a coach threaten an assistant with it. With that still on my mind, when we went to the locker room after practice I asked Dakich if Coach Knight had been serious and he said that absolutely he was, that it wouldn’t have been the first time a grad assistant had run the stairs.

Finally, we actually got to go into Coach Knight’s office and have a chat with him about practice and the state of the team. He was polite, answered questions, and all-in-all it was a nice visit.

A surprise came later though, when John Feinsten’s book “A Season on the Brink” was published. It was a best-seller that detailed Indiana’s 1985-1986 season, and Feinstein had been given unprecedented access to the team and coaching staff. As I read the book I came to a passage that detailed Knight yelling at Dakich and threatening him with running the stairs. Feinsten then recounted a “visiting coach” asking Dakich in the locker room if it was a serious threat and Dakich saying that indeed it was. I have no recollection of Feinstein being there, but apparently he was. Anyway, in a roundabout way I made it into the book. Wild stuff, man. Look it up.

So that was my one and only interaction with Bobby Knight. I saw him at a clinic a couple years later, said hello, he responded with a “Hmmprfgh” and went on his way. Apparently I hadn’t made much of an impression on him, or maybe he was just being an asshole. I have no idea.

And oh yeah, one more thing. Only later was I told that the kid beside me, the kid that Bobby Knight had instructed to take his hat off, was none other than high school sophomore Shawn Kemp. Yeah, that Shawn Kemp, the future 6-time NBA All-Star:

PS- I also saw Knight throw a high school coach out of one of his clinics for talking during his presentation. True story.

PPS- During that same clinic there were a couple aspiring officials in attendance who happened to be deaf. One of them asked Knight if he thought their handicap would present any problems for them as referees. His response was “I don’t know why it would. We have plenty of blind refs already.” Savage.

Gimme a holler.

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