, Port Arthur, Texas

February 17, 2014

West column: Knight should know why he failed at Lamar

Bob West
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —      Good riddance to Pat Knight, the worst basketball coach and second worst football or basketball hire in the near 50 years I’ve been around Lamar University athletic programs.

    The  worst hire, football coach Ray Alborn, was so bad he presided over the demise of that sport in 1988. Knight, had he been allowed to finish his contract, would have buried basketball. As it is, he’s chauffeured it into the darkest place it could be without landing on some sort of probation.

    Knight, to me, was a fraud, though not in a criminal sense. I don’t think he really wanted to be a college basketball coach, because he wasn’t willing to put in the long, hard and sometimes thankless hours that go into recruiting. Because he didn’t, Lamar has been at the bottom of the college basketball barrel for two years, ranking among the very weakest of 351 Division 1 programs, while losing 50 of 56 games.

    Meanwhile, the guy who railed at players he inherited from Steve Roccaforte for “stealing money”   doesn’t seem to have a problem walking away with over $400,000 of coaching welfare. So now, who is “stealing money”? How ironic.        

    My guess is Knight will never coach again, at least not on the college level. Beyond his own desire or lack thereof, it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting a guy who lost 50 games in two years in one of  college basketball’s weaker conferences.

    Knight went out about like I’d expect, whining about having a lack of time to build a team from scratch, and saying he had no regrets. He even told ESPN he’d done what he’d wanted to do, having reached the NIT once with Texas Tech, and coached a team in the NCAA. He seemed to feel that vindicated his last name.

    Talk about setting the bar low.

    I’d love to put Bob Knight on a lie detector and see if he agrees.

    How disingenuous for Pat to hide behind building a team from scratch. After getting into the NCAA with Roccaforte’s players, he couldn’t have been better positioned to really get things going at Lamar. He had seven scholarships to give the next season. Plus, according to him, parents all over America were enamored with him for that infamous rant late in year one.

    That next recruiting class should have been the launching pad for a bright future. Instead, only four of those players remain and just one is a starter. I went to a Lamar practice prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, eager to see all the talent Knight had recruited. Instead of being encouraged, I was  stunned by the lack of athleticism. I knew then the Cardinals were in big, big trouble and it would be a waste of time watching them play.

    A year later, with Knight on the phone for the Southland Conference’s pre-season media conference call, I asked him if he’d learned anything about the level of talent necessary to compete in the Southland Conference. He didn’t like being put on the spot and, after saying he knew what it took, advised that part of the problem was nobody wanted to come to Lamar.

    Say what? Nobody wanted to come to a school that had just played in the NCAA tournament? A school with some serious basketball tradition? A school with arguably the best facility in its conference? A school whose  coach was the son of a man regarded as one of the best coaches in the game’s history? A school with the opportunity for immediate playing time?

    What a pile of manure.

    It’s no secret among my basketball sources that Knight didn’t like to beat the bushes in recruiting, which is an absolute must at a school like Lamar. The start of his downfall was giving a young assistant named Clif Carroll way too much responsibility to find players. And not just recruiting, but what Billy Tubbs often termed one of the most important parts of the job — scheduling.

    All too often when I’d call with a question, Knight would refer me to Carroll, who left after last season to become head coach at Division III McMurry. McMurry,  by the way, nearly beat Lamar in a November exhibition game, which was  an early indicator that things weren’t going to get much better for the Cardinals.

    Oh, well, at least the Knightmare is over. Lamar’s first year president, Dr. Ken Evans, did absolutely the right thing in making the change when he did. Beyond the main reason for doing so —  to jump-start the search for a new coach — Knight deserved the humiliation of being fired during the season. It’s something that almost never happens in college sports. He’s forever branded as such a lousy coach Lamar wouldn’t let him finish out the season.

    Yes, firing him comes at a terribly high cost, considering the buyout. Ultimately, however, it might have cost just as much to keep him around. From what I’ve been told, LU was looking at losing at least half of its season ticket base if he returned.

    As it was, actual in-house attendance many nights was well below 1,000, maybe no more than 500 or 600. Knight was a  plague that had to be eliminated before the healing process could begin. Naming Tic Price interim coach was a good place to start.

    Tic’s coaching credentials are better than Knight’s. Though he knows he’s up against a stacked deck, much like Wade Phillips was when named interim coach of the Houston Texans, he’s eager to make an impression that might lead to getting the job on a permanent basis.

    Lamar could — and on more than one occasion has — done a lot worse. And, if it doesn’t work out with Tic, there are some other pretty good options that will be debated in this space in the next few days.

    Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at