Texas head coach Chris Beard refers to his being hired by Bob Knight at Texas Tech in 2001 as the break of his life.
After spending two years as a coach in the junior college ranks, Beard joined Knight in Lubbock after he had met Knight and his son Pat when they were out recruiting. The elder Knight was also looking for a new assistant, and Beard made a quick impression and was eventually hired.
Like many, Beard understood Knight mostly through the filter of the media and his public persona. Because of that image, the now new head coach of Texas had a misguided view of who Knight was as a basketball coach.
“The first time I met Coach Knight I had this preconceived notion that we were going to be in shell drills for 30 minutes a day, but it really wasn’t like that,” Beard told Brendan Suhr on the Coaching U podcast last month. “To me it was the ultimate idea of preparation and going to win the game. Some nights we would win this way, some nights we would play another.”
Beard’s comments align with those of just about anyone who played under or coached with Knight.
Ask anyone in those categories what stood out above all with Knight, and more often than not one word will be central to the response — preparation.
And as Beard discovered, with preparation, came adjustments.
“When people think of Coach you think of discipline and you think of an unbending backbone, but I thought, in my time with Coach, he adjusted more than anybody,” Beard said. “To me, he tried to win the games. So you know, in our man-to-man defense, if this guy can’t shoot, we’re not pressuring him. If this guy can’t dribble we’re over-pressuring him, so there are a lot of individualized parts.”
But that isn’t to say that Knight was willing to adjust everything in his program.
When it came to strategy and personnel, there were new wrinkles for every game. But there were also elements of Knight’s program that never really changed.
“The non-negotiables were the commitment to defend, the commitment to rebound, the commitment to play the right way,” Beard said. “But there were always all sorts of adjustments going on, and if I had to say one thing that I learned from Coach Knight and Pat in terms of listing them out, I would say the idea of preparation and scouting and how we played different people different to win the game, we’re still doing those things here today at Texas.”
Knight’s influence on Beard goes beyond game preparation. On both ends of the floor Beard said there are elements of Knight’s approach in his philosophy.
“Obviously with Coach Knight, obviously, in my mind, the inventor of what I say the motion offense is, Beard said.
“What I think gets lost is how good he was defensively. … Some of the things I learned from Coach Knight, it wasn’t necessarily the tactics of jumping to the ball or fronting the post. To me it was just a commitment to defend. You coach your best player on the defensive end harder than anybody, you play the game, not the scoreboard.”
Beard has a reputation for being a tough on his players, something else no doubt influenced by Knight.
But he sees that as a form of preparation too — preparation for life.
“I think in some ways that is the definition of love to me, is hard coaching,” Beard said. “Telling your players the truth every single day, having the courage to coach your best players.”
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