Why Bob Knight Was a Great Coach

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that Bob Knight is (or was) a great college basketball coach. Born Robert Montgomery Knight, and known as the “General” to his peers and players, he is the winningest coach in Division I basketball history.

Coach Knight’s career spanned 43 years (1965 – 2008) and he amassed a record of 902 wins and 371 losses (.708%). He won 3 national championships, one National Invitation Tournament (NIT) championship, eleven Big Ten Conference championships, was awarded the Naismith College Coach of the Year in 1987. The list goes on and on. I’ve watched Coach Knight’s teams play throughout the years and studied his philosophy, but the thing that impresses me the most is his ability to teach kids how to play the game of basketball.

The art of teaching college athletes the fundamentals of basketball sure doesn’t get much attention in this day and age. The media fixates on the top ranked point guard in this year’s senior class, the top player in 8th grade, or the list of current parade All-Americans. There are television programs, websites, camps, and publications dedicated to rating and ranking the best players. Assistant coaches scour the country (and the globe) to find the best athletes, but we often don’t hear much about the coaches who focus on the purity of the game of basketball. That’s why I like Bob Knight. Sure, his name pops up from time to time, but not for what he has contributed to the game of basketball on the court.

If you’ve ever watched Coach Knight’s teams run their motion offense, it is one of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see. He doesn’t teach his players 20 – 30 basketball plays only to have them executed one after another throughout the course of a game, he teaches his kids how to play the game. When his team gets into a rhythm, it’s poetry in motion.

Coach Knight believes in teaching kids how to read the defense and gives his players options to counter what the defense is trying to do. He teaches discipline and demands that his team carry out their strategy. I’m a huge fan of motion offense because your opponent can scout your team, but they can’t be prepared for everything you do. I’m amazed that coaches don’t run this type of offense more. Most programs have 2 – 3 coaches, managers, or video coordinators who break down film each week and put together a defensive strategy. They have practices dedicated to walking through the opponent’s plays. I’ve even seen a team completely shut down their opponent’s offensive strategy simply by scouting and teaching their players what the other team is going to do. I often wonder if this is why Coach Knight built his system around motion offense. No matter how well a team prepared, they couldn’t predict everything Coach Knight’s squad was going to do.

Here are some principles of a good motion offense.

Spacing – No matter what type of motion offense you are running (5 man, 3 out 2 in, or 4 around 1), your players must have good spacing. Meaning, the kids can’t be too close to each other. They need room to move around the court without clogging up certain areas of the floor. A team that runs their offense with good spacing will also balance the floor well, which means the players are equally dispersed on all sides of the court.

Constant Movement – Coach Knight’s players were rarely caught standing in one place. They moved about the court constantly and they always had a purpose for their movement. In a motion offense, the worse thing a player can do is stand around and watch his other four teammates move about the floor. Encourage all of your players to constantly move, screen, cut, pass, rebound, etc.

Pass the Ball – Almost every player would rather dribble the ball than pass it, but a team that runs a solid motion offense understands that passing the ball creates opportunities to score. A team’s ability to move the ball around the court by passing increases their likely hood of breaking down the defense. Coach Knight’s teams rarely came down the floor only to have a one pass and a shot.

Counters – Reading (watching) the defense and countering what they do is the most important aspect of motion offense. The unpredictability a counter creates gives the offense an advance. For example, if a player screens another, the player receiving the screen can curl, flair, pop, or back screen. That’s four options the player can choose from based on what he or she thinks the defender will do. The probability of the defender anticipating the correct move is 1 in 4 or 25% of the time. Not the greatest odds if you ask me. The chips are stacked against the defender.

I like running motion offense because you don’t need the most talented players to execute on the four principles outlined above. Sure, a talented player will boost your offense, but it doesn’t make or break it. Coach Knight has had some talented players in his time, but he didn’t rely on talent only. He focused on execution, strategy, and teaching his players how to play the game in its purest sense. It’s no wonder that he is the winning coach of all time. He approached the game from a different angel and was successful because of this.

So, no matter what your feelings are on Bob’s Knight career, it’s good to reflect on what he has done for the game of basketball. It has certainly changed over the years and I believe he played a big part. I’m sure we’ll see someone break his win record, but for now, he’s one of the best to ever coach the game.