Giants legend Bill Parcells and the Bobby Knight most people never saw | Izenberg (2024)

It came across in the timber of his voice — and the pauses — as he searched the backroads of his mind for just the right memories to describe the “other side” of the man Bobby Knight almost never let people see.

Knight passed away at age 83 and, as always happens when you mourn a best friend lost, Bill Parcells took the hit hard. The first thing he said was, “He was not the Bobby Knight most people saw or knew.”

Parcells, the Hall of Fame Giant coach, was saying something that had taken me a long time to realize. I didn’t like Knight when he started to win big at Indiana — but then, except for the Indiana students and fanatical followers of Hoosier Nation, who did? You couldn’t quarrel with the numbers, impressive at first and then better than anyone else. In some ways, after he was fired at Indiana, his tenure was even more surprising at Texas Tech, where there was major basketball legacy. The baggage he acquired back then was well-reported:

The chair thrown on the floor, the referee-baiting beyond limits, the shoving match with a fan in a Philadelphia restaurant before the Final Four, the on-campus physical confrontation with a student whose bicycle he threw to the ground, the assault of a cop in Puerto Rico, the FBI investigation of allegations that he groped women during a spy agency visit. His behavior in interviews and at press conferences — and dozens of other incidents.

All of it was real and mostly verified.

But there came a night when I was channel-surfing and stopped at a local public television station when I saw Knight being interviewed. I had stumbled into the “other side” of Knight. It was the kind of soliloquy that should have been required watching for every coach (and there are a few) who bends or eradicates the rules, every coach whose boss or big-money booster who will look the other way if they are winning.

He spoke about the obligation of coach and school to educate their athletes, to stop giving them courses in playground games and to help them if they need it in life after graduation. And the more he spoke, the more I learned about what should have been obvious. And once hooked, I learned about players he helped and rules he enforced. Skip class, get on probation and you were off his team.

This was the side of Knight I didn’t know. At the time it motivated me to write about It, begging the question: Which was the real Bobby Knight? The answer is both, and it leads to an even deeper mystery.

I recalled a tip I got from the late highly respected St. John’s coach, Joe Lapchick when Knight was a rookie head coach at Army. “Watch this young man,” he told me. “We talk a lot. He asks the right questions. He is a coach of the future.”

There was an interesting link between Parcells and Knight. Parcells was a football genius who was a good high school basketball player. Knight was a basketball genius who had an outstanding desire to know more football. What brought them together was a ferocious respect for competition. Knight recognized the talent in the future head coach of the Giants and sent him out to scout Fordham, Princeton and Manhattan on Army’s schedule and told him , “Here is what they did last year. See if they do anything different this time.” Those reports formed a practical source of friendship. Knight grew to depend on them.

Each year when Parcells was coaching, he would attend the NFL Combine in Indianapolis and take time off to drive to Bloomington to spend the day with Knight when he was still at Indiana. Each was his own man, but in one sense the key commonality was a life spent on whatever competition was available.

I once told a colleague that if an Indiana basketball game and a Giants-Eagles game were being moved to the parking lot of a department store in Paramus, the only response from each would be, “What time?”

Jerry Izenberg is Columnist Emeritus for The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at ji*zenberg@starledger.com.

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Giants legend Bill Parcells and the Bobby Knight most people never saw | Izenberg (2024)
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