Senior College Football Columnist

Why is former Rutgers coach Rice reviled and Bob Knight respected?


These days Bob Knight is a high-profile analyst, endorses products and has even rented the front of his sweater to the highest-paying sponsor like it was a pot-bellied billboard.

On Wednesday, Mike Rice was fired in shame.

One is, on some level, celebrated as a knowledgeable elder statesman.

More on Rutgers' Rice
Related links
More college hoops coverage

The other's reputation is dirt.

Both have been fired.

So why do we accept -- even respect -- one and cluck our tongues at the other? Both have laid hands on their players, bullied them and berated them. One thrives because of basketball. The other may never coach on the Division I level again.

The difference?

Bob Knight has won 785 more games in his career than Mike Rice.

Yes, what Rice, the former Rutgers coach did was bad, horrific. He shouldn't be allowed near college athletes. But Knight not only got a second chance at Texas Tech, but also a nice, cushy post-coaching career. That came after former Indiana president Myles Brand -- who would go on to head the NCAA -- finally stood up to the ultimate bully and his enablers.

Knight's reward? A lucrative coaching afterlife based on those 902 career victories. This isn't an ESPN rant. If not at the Worldwide Leader, Knight would be working somewhere. He is entitled to that right. But it does bring the discussion into sharper focus when the same network that brought Rice down also employs Knight.

Their firings dominated news cycles 13 years apart. What should be the difference in our level of disgust? Age? Time? Q rating?

We can argue about the volume of abuse, but what's the point? There seems to be more tape of Rice today than Knight back in the day. Video captured both coaches at least laying hands on players. Isn't that enough?

Knight's saving grace is that as a former coach somehow he -- perhaps we -- separated his coaching talent from his obvious character flaws. All it took was 900 wins and a slightly less irascible stance off the court to keep from making Jeremy Schaap the next Neil Reed.

Time heals all wounds, especially in America when you can coach. That's why Rice is most likely relegated to the sport's dust bin -- at least for the near future. He couldn't coach well enough to have the victories to cushion his fall from grace.

Knight? Time has made him a caricature of himself. Bullying in his coaching afterlife has, in some way, paid the bills. All Bob Knight has to do is play Bob Knight to get commercials and speaking engagements. According to this website, you can rent him for a "celebrity appearance" at $30,000-$50,000 a pop.

For Knight, motivational speaking seemingly has been redefined.

Not to say he should, but Rice will get none of that celebrity. Would things be different right now if Rutgers were, say, this year's Elite Eight darlings, Big East Cinderellas? The possibility of those things is why AD Tim Pernetti hired him. Rice won at Robert Morris. That was no doubt still dominating Pernetti's thoughts when he initially suspended his coach for three games and fined him $50,000.

But even when the road to victory makes us uncomfortable, the decades just seem to smooth things over. For some of us not named Neil Reed, who never had our coach's hand at our throats, Knight is the disciplined coach. Old school. The way things used to be.

It is both sad and uplifting, then, that Knight helped redefine the way things used to be. He was tolerated for 29 years at Indiana, until he wasn't.

Maybe Brand's firing itself ushered in a new era of awareness. It's not OK to berate defenseless players who may be more worried about scholarships than their dignity. Somehow in this age perhaps it was easier for the New Jersey governor to pile on. Would Chris Christie, as Indiana's governor in 1981, have taken on Knight at the height of his powers?

If you believe in Knight, then he won in part because of his coaching "tactics." If you don't believe in Rice, he lost because of some desperate need ... to become the next Bob Knight. To shoot for his accomplishments, to chase Final Fours.

Hey, it worked before.

Let's be clear: Rice lost his job Wednesday because he abused players. Knight won and abused players. Separate one from the other. One is coaching knowledge, the other is a personality defect. John Wooden saw it.

"I wouldn't want anyone I love," the great coach once said, "to play for Bob Knight."

For $30,000-$50,000 a pop, Knight might even give you a reaction to that statement.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

Biggest Stories

CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
Conversation powered by Livefyre


Most Popular