I'm not saying Bob Knight should have gotten into a public argument with David Smith, the chancellor of Texas Tech and Knight's superior.
Getting into a public spat with your boss is risky behavior. Better to grin and bear it and then take it behind closed doors.
But then again, what the heck was David Smith thinking?
The details are fuzzy and likely will remain fuzzy. But from what I have been told and can gather, Smith ran into Knight at a local lunch spot. Knight was at the salad bar and Smith complimented Knight on doing a good job conducting himself this season. Knight responded that he thought he had conducted himself well for the past three seasons and then went around to the other side of the salad bar.
Smith followed and asked if Knight thought the two men had issues that should be discussed. And it went from there, with both men, who both have egos and are not close friends to begin with, shouting at each other.
By Monday night Smith had given Knight an ultimatum: Take a five-day suspension or be fired.
Technically, Smith had the right to do all of this. But in doing so he exhibited some horrendous management skills and showed absolutely no common sense.
A restaurant is no place to provide a performance evaluation or to discuss issues between a boss and an employee.
How would you like to be having lunch (with others around) and have your boss come by and basically say, "Hey, thanks for not screwing up lately"?
Not congratulations on having a top 15 team, a roster full of good kids and a sold-out arena.
I'd be angry, too.
And I'm not Bob Knight.
The fact that Smith thought this was a good approach to take with The General bolsters my long-held belief that the dumbest person on most college campuses is the chancellor. Sure, he has a bunch of doctorates, but basically he gets to the top by kissing up to the right people.
Who in their right mind provokes Bob Knight?
Any good boss knows the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of his employees. Some people need kid gloves. Others need strenuous motivating. Some should just be left alone.
It's no different on a college campus. Whether it is the brilliant yet self-conscious scientist or the volatile-yet-talented Hall of Fame basketball coach. You don't push the scientist to attend a lot of alumni functions and speak at graduation. You let him hide in his laboratory and try to win the school a Nobel Prize. That is his job. Let him do it.
With Knight, you just let him coach basketball.
I was in Lubbock just over a week ago for a game against the University of Texas. The United Spirit Arena had a record crowd of 15,250, national television was in the house and the school was receiving immense publicity that can't be bought.
Knight has put together a top team, a real Final Four contender come March. He has energized the alumni and student body. His players seem like terrific representatives of the school, a bunch of likable, tough-minded kids. Knight has raised millions of dollars not just for the athletic department coffers but also the school library. Just this week Knight got Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to come to West Texas and speak to the law school.
He is a big deal in little Lubbock.
He is doing everything he was hired to do.
A chancellor that goads him – or is too naive to realize he is goading him – is not a good chancellor. A boss that can't determine the appropriate place for this discussion is just as at fault as the employee who doesn't take it the right way, perhaps even more at fault because of his superior position.
Should Knight have smiled politely, taken the comment and arranged a meeting later where he calmly could have discussed his feelings on being approached that way?
But anyone who knows anything about Bob Knight knows that isn't how he operates.
So why didn't his boss know that as well?