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Handing over his record

Basketball coaching legend Dean Smith talks as Bobby Knight closes in on his all-time wins mark.

By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published December 12, 2006


North Carolina icon Dean Smith abruptly retired after the 1996-97 basketball season with a Division I men's record 879 wins, breaking Kentucky's Adolph Rupp's long-standing mark of 876 during a run to the NCAA Final Four. Now, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight stands at 877 and is poised to surpass Smith in the coming weeks. Smith, 75, met with the media Friday to discuss a changing of the guard, among other subjects.

What are your feelings about Coach Knight moving into first?

Bob is well deserving. He's been a tremendous coach. ... We do it for the team. Over in Winston-Salem (in the NCAAs and the win that moved Smith past Rupp), I went over to shake hands with (Colorado coach Ricardo Patton), and the next thing I know the players were celebrating. So they're excited. That's why we're in this field. I'm sure it wasn't one of his goals. It certainly wasn't one of mine.

How long have you known Coach Knight?

We go back so far. He was the head coach at Army, Larry Brown was my assistant coach. We were in Pittsburgh, and Coach Knight gave Larry and I a ride to Allentown to save money. We didn't have to rent a car. ... I've admired Bob. I'm happy for him. He's done a great job at every place he's been.

What's set him apart?

He certainly knows the game and works hard at it. And he's very good in the home recruiting. We used to share recruiting stories sometimes. ... One place, I said, "You better not go in there. They don't like you." The next thing I know, he tells me the grandmother quickly changed her mind. He's really successful in the home. ... I was there first, and he got him.

Ultimately, will Bob Knight be known for his volatile personality or for his coaching?

He'll always be known for coaching.

If my son is a gifted player, why should I send him to play for Knight?

If your child is a very good player, will be a great prospect, I'll guarantee you Coach Knight only goes into a few homes, and when he does, somehow they go there. He might take (wife) Karen with him.

Didn't Michael Jordan, who played for Coach Knight in the 1984 Olympics, once compare you and he?

He said, "They're similar. Except the language."

When you coached the '76 Olympic team, you had a couple of Knight's stars, Scott May and Quinn Buckner; what was that like?

Quinn and (UNC guard) Phil (Ford) were the co-captains. I had individual meetings with them, and with Scott, I remember he said, "One thing Coach; am I supposed to shoot more?" Coach Knight kind of gave him the green light. I said, "There's a caution light." ... We're still good friends.

What could you expect from a Knight-coached team?

You certainly knew they'd be well prepared. He always has been. And will be.

What do you remember from the 1981 NCAA championship game against Knight and Indiana?

(James) Worthy got in foul trouble. Isiah (Thomas) pulled him down (on one foul call). I never will forget that one play. ... They probably would have won anyway.

Do you miss coaching?

The reason I quit coaching, I wasn't upset with it, I just got tired of going into homes and hearing, "Will you coach my son for four years?" I had to say, "I don't know when I'll retire, but when I do, I hope they'll name one of my assistants." ... I thought that (constant question) was hurting the recruiting process. I thought it was a good time. I was 66 at the time."

BY BRIAN LANDMAN Times Staff Writer