Inspired by his father's final years, Pat Knight returns to coaching

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 01:  Head coach designate Pat Knight and head Coach Bobby Knight of Texas Tech watch from the bench as their team plays New Mexico at United Spirit Arena January 1, 2007 in Lubbock, Texas.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Pat Knight spent seven seasons working alongside his father Bobby Knight at Texas Tech. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Pat Knight thought he was done with coaching college basketball.

The now 53-year-old had spent seven years as a Division I college head coach at Texas Tech and Lamar. He worked previously for another 11 as an assistant, mostly under his legendary father, Bob. Prior to that, Pat had played at Indiana.

He’d left coaching in 2014 and spent the last decade in the front office of the Indiana Pacers, mostly as a West Coast scout. He and his wife Amanda were settled in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are one of the best organizations in professional sports. The team is winning. A contract extension was offered. Work was good. The future was bright.

The past few years, however, Pat had made repeated trips back to Indiana to care for his father. Bob Knight battled Alzheimer’s before dying last November at age 83.

It was there that Pat sorted through letters, fielded phone calls and welcomed guests coming to visit with his dad — mostly former players but even rival coaches, administrators and sometimes fans from Bob’s 42 years as a coaching icon.

Whether it was seeing Bob share laughs with Isiah Thomas at the kitchen table or reading a card from a kid on the 1963 Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) varsity team, his father’s influence was clear.

“Guys would come and swap stories — the good times and the bad times,” Pat said on Thursday. “There were stacks and stacks of letters that would arrive. Everything. It was really neat to see the impact he had on people, the real ways that he helped people, the real connections he made.”

The General was brutally demanding, occasionally controversial and often brilliant — a complicated man who won three national titles and held an outsized influence on the culture of America. Not all of his former players loved him, but those that did loved him as much as anyone ever loved their coach. Once the practice yelling was done, the bond was often unbreakable.

“I got to thinking, ‘I don’t really have that,’” Pat said. “I wasn’t at a place long enough. I am missing those relationships; having players call you to talk to them and help them in life. You don’t get that as an NBA scout or a general manager or even as a pro coach.

“The only way is to coach in college or high school, when you are around a team all the time, for three or four years.”

Bob Knight celebrates with his two sons Pat (left) and Tim (right) after winning the 1987 NCAA championship. (Rich Clarkson/Getty Images)
Bob Knight celebrates with his two sons Pat (left) and Tim (right) after winning the 1987 NCAA championship. (Rich Clarkson/Getty Images)

Suddenly Pat Knight wanted to coach again. Only not at the Division I level, where life has gotten transactional and the demands are endless. He’d done that. There was almost no stability. Instead he wanted a small college team, the chance to work with real student-athletes who just happened to love the game.

He wanted to be a coach in every sense of the word.

And so there Pat Knight was earlier this month, being introduced as the new head coach at Marian University, a 2,500-student Catholic school on the Northwest side of Indianapolis. Six months after Bob’s passing, a Knight is coaching college ball in Indiana again; this time at the NAIA level.

“It gives me the chance to go and honor my dad and everything he taught his players both about basketball and about life,” Pat said.

Pat had first discussed the concept of a small college job when Marian athletic director Steve Downing, who had been a member of some of Bob Knight’s early IU Final Four teams, came to pay Bob a visit. When Marian coach Scott Heady unexpectedly left after nine seasons to take over at the Division II University of Indianapolis, the whole plan just came together.

“One of the first things they asked me in the interview was, ‘Why would you want to leave the NBA?’ and, ‘This isn’t Division I, why would you want to come here?'” Pat said.

What Marian isn’t is actually what Knight wanted. It is serious about basketball — it has great fan support for that level and offers scholarships. It is also about education as well as competition, a place of perspective you can’t find in big-time college hoops. It was the perfect balance.

For instance, NAIA teams are allowed to practice all summer, but Pat had to fit the schedule around student internships and summer jobs. The roster is ideally filled with players who want to build winning teams, get a great education and, if they show out, move up to Division II or even Division I.

“I want to help get guys to where they want to be, whatever that is,” Pat said.

He’s spent a decade watching 3-5 college games a week, not to mention sitting in on countless high-major practices to help his previous experience. This level is as much about culture as anything else.

“I want gym rats, guys with a high basketball I.Q. and you can never have enough shooters,” Pat said, promising to run plenty of his dad’s famed motion offense if only because modern teams are inexperienced at defending it.

He’s now located, of course, in the state that is perhaps most famous for just that.

Mostly, though, he wants that feeling of running a program — from teaching the game, bringing the best out of young people and helping them throughout their lives. The NBA life was incredible, but there is nothing like a team.

And nothing like being their coach.