Cus Words: Distance Makes Heart Grow Fonder

Bobby Knight was a lightning rod for most of his time in the public spotlight and quite often intertwined with Ohio State athletics, beginning with his time coming off the bench for Fred Taylor's 1960 national champion Buckeyes. BSB's Marcus Hartman shares his thoughts on the old coach.

Growing up in Ohio in the 1980s and '90s, what choice did I have but to loathe Bobby Knight?

He was rude, crude and coached one of the true bullies of the Big Ten during his years at Indiana.

He seemed to deem a crew cut and a cocky smirk must-have attributes when on the recruiting trail, and he rode officials so hard that you knew his team would get the lion's share of calls every night, even if the man himself acted as if he never got one.

Now I'm a member of the press, so I should probably dislike him even more.

He's tossed plenty of barbs at the Fourth Estate over the years ("We all learn to write in the second grade, but most of us move on to better things," is one of my favorites.) and even mocked a group of my scribe brethren earlier this year when he brought his grandson into a post-game press conference and reportedly asked the youngster, "Think anybody here knows anything but Grandpa about this game?"

But I must admit, since The General moved on, I have found him more likable all the time.

Maybe it's because of the raw deal they gave him at Indiana at the end of the line there. (He was fired for nothing after they let him get away with everything but murder for decades. I fail to see how that was an honorable way to deal with the man who built the program.)

Or perhaps it is because in the eight years since he left Bloomington true discipline and values seem to have been under fire more than ever.

I'm glad someone still stood for something, although I'm sure it helps that he moved more than 1,200 miles away, too. But such is life.

My one in-person dealing with Knight came when he made his last visit as a head coach to his alma mater.

Knight's Texas Tech squad came into Value City Arena on Jan. 4, 2004, and left with an 80-72 victory.

Ohio State had 26 offensive rebounds and took 26 more shots than did the Red Raiders. The Buckeyes committed just seven turnovers but were undone by shooting 32.9 percent from the floor while the visitors made a brisk 60.4 percent of their field goals.

It seemed for long stretches of the second half in particular the Buckeyes could not buy a basket despite countless opportunities to get back into the game.

Knight sat down in a packed postgame interview room, took a look at the stat sheet in front of him and declared that if before the game he had seen those numbers - minus the final score - he would have immediately headed back to Lubbock and let his son Pat handle the coaching duties for the day. (How about that for foreshadowing?)

After all, the weather was ideal back at his new home in Texas, he informed us, either for fishing or hunting (I can't remember which exactly).

But fortunately for Knight he was facing a team that got some of its best performances from a small freshman walk-on, Nick Dials, who led the Buckeyes that day with 15 points while the scholarship players tossed up brick after brick.

Dials, appropriately enough, was Knight's kind of player.

"He's a tough kid," Knight said. "He's going to be a really good player. He scraps and he scrambles. He looks like a defensive back."

Downright jovial, rather than the crusty old foulmouth I'd seen so many times on TV, Knight bantered with some reporters and said he had always appreciated the school at which he won a national title as a player for the legendary Fred Taylor.

"I think people have always been good to me here," he said. "I think there were a lot of people here who maybe rooted against me when I was playing here but for me whenever we played everybody else."

I remember being skeptical of that at the time he said it, but we'll let the old man have his opinion.

As for me, I started to root for him after that. Even if he was a victim of his own shortcomings - temper, in particular - I guess a little age has taught me most of us are and it's pointless to crucify others for such actions.

Few of us know our craft as well as Knight did his, nor earned as much respect from those around us as he did.

Though it is admittedly easier to do after a win, he showed a human side that day in the bowels of the Schott and that stuck with me.

In the future I decided I would rather have more old-school coaches around to keep up the discipline that seems to be eroding away in a sports world where you can't touch a quarterback without drawing a 15-yard penalty, you can hang on the rim as long as you want without fear of retribution, you can cry after getting hit by a pitch when you were crowding the plate and whiners are taking over most headlines, at least when they can bump the prima donna recruits off the front page.

I realize I might change my tune if I had to cover Knight's team every day - but that's no longer a worry, is it?

At any rate, here's hoping the "Brat from Orrville" enjoys his time off.

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