For Texas Tech’s Knight, it’s win or go home
Texas Tech basketball coach Pat Knight may not be considered one of the elite coaches in the Big 12 – at least not yet. But he’s definitely at the top of the list when it comes to candor.
Before he was even asked to address his job status, Knight served up this gem to a group of reporters at Big 12 Media Day last week.
“To me,” the third-year coach said, “this is either a get-an-extension or a get-fired kind of year.”
Asked to expound on his comment a few hours later, Knight told Yahoo! Sports: “I think anyone [would feel pressure] when it’s your third year. I’m not going to hide from it. It doesn’t bother me. I think you should coach every year like you’re on a one-year contract.
“The bottom line is that this is my third year and I expect us to get something done.”
Texas Tech fans probably do, too.
The Red Raiders have gone 37-42 in the two-plus seasons since Knight took over for his legendary father, Bob.
They finished just 4-12 in league play last season but earned an NIT berth because of their 19-16 overall record. Still, the feeling is that, to save his job, Knight will probably need to get the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament next spring.
“That’s our goal,” point guard John Roberson said, and the statement hardly seemed far-fetched.
Texas Tech returns five of its top six scorers from 2009-10. Included in that mix are Roberson, who ranked second in the Big 12 in assists last season, and versatile forward Mike Singletary, who averaged a team-high 15 points.
Roberson and Singletary are among six seniors on the Red Raiders’ roster.
“This could be one of the better teams we’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been there,” said Knight, who arrived in Lubbock in 2001 as an assistant under his father. “Everything is in place for us to be successful.”
Excited as he is about his players, Knight said the biggest difference in this season’s Texas Tech squad may be himself.
Ever since replacing his Hall of Fame dad on the bench for the final 11 games of the 2007-08 season, Knight said he couldn’t quite figure out how to act. He knew how he wanted to coach.
But he also realized there was a way that people expected him to coach.
Instead of doing what felt right, Knight said he attempted to please others.
“It takes time,” Knight said. “Do you stand up [during games]? Do you sit down? It’s all the little things that go along with becoming a head coach. It takes about a year-and-a-half before you realize what’s comfortable for you.
“I was so concerned with not trying to be so much like my dad, maybe little more low-key. Now that I’ve been a head coach for two years, I realize I’m just a younger version of him.”
That side of Knight began to show toward the end of last season. After he was ejected for arguing a call against Nebraska, Knight ran from the tunnel and stormed onto the court to continue his tirade. By that point he’d already been suspended for a game for criticizing the officials following a loss to Texas A&M.
Roberson said he and his teammates prefer Knight’s tougher side.
“He’s a long way from where he first started,” Roberson said. “Two years ago he was hesitant to call people out. He didn’t want to hurt people’s feelings. He’s more of a communicator now. He’s stern, but he gets his point across.”
At 40, Knight is the third-youngest head coach in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel, who is 35, and Baylor’s Scott Drew, who is less than two months older than Knight.
“Everyone confuses my dad and I,” Knight said. “It’s like I’ve been coaching for 20 years or something. This is only my third year of being a head coach. Most guys get to work their way up in the MAC or a smaller conference. I’m just fortunate to have had my first job in such an easy league.”
Knight was joking, of course.
The Big 12 (along with the Big Ten) is considered one of the toughest conferences in America in 2010-11. Kansas, Baylor and Kansas State have all been ranked in various preseason Top 10 polls. And Texas and Missouri are both Top 25-caliber teams.
Still, Knight said the Red Raiders aren’t that far behind.
Texas Tech lost six games by four points or less last season, including two in overtime. Knight’s team opened the season with nine straight victories and had marquee wins against Washington, Stanford and Oklahoma State.
After beating Seton Hall and Jacksonville, Texas Tech’s season ended with a double-overtime loss to Ole Miss in the third round of the NIT.
“Playing in March really helped our confidence,” said Roberson, whose 503 career assists are the most in school history. “This year we’ve got everything we need to be a good team.”
Along with Roberson and Singletary, Knight is excited about the improved health of forward D’Walyn Roberts, who averaged just 19 minutes and 4.5 points in conference games last year because of a foot injury.
With Roberts banged up, Texas Tech lost its final seven regular-season games. Knight is also high on freshman guard Javarez Willis, who will either back up or share the court with Roberson. Knight said Willis brings a defensive presence to a team that allowed a league-worst 76.1 points per game last year.
“If we defend, good things will happen,” Knight said. “If not, it’s going to be a long year. In the Big 12, you can’t get into a shootout with Kansas or Texas. It’s like at the OK Corral … we wouldn’t be Wyatt Earp. We’d be the guys getting killed on the other end.”
Even a much-improved defense wouldn’t be enough to turn the Red Raiders into Big 12 title contenders. But it may be enough to catapult Texas Tech into fifth or sixth place in the league standings, which would almost certainly lead to an NCAA berth.
And save Knight’s job.
Knight’s current contract pays him $1.2 million per year. The decision about his future may be made by a new athletic director, as longtime A.D. Gerald Myers has announced his retirement effective May 31.
“This is why I got into it, because of the pressure,” Knight said. “We’re kind of sick individuals. We rely on 18-year-old kids for our well-being. But I miss the competition of playing. The closest thing to playing is coaching. It’s really an adrenaline rush.
“And I love it.”