Had he managed to avoid confrontation instead of seeking it, his respect would be as widespread as John Wooden's, Dean Smith's and Mike Krzyzewski's. Because he's a better pure coach than Smith, at least as good as Krzyzewski and in the argument with Wooden. They all have had better talent than Knight.
It would be nice if Robert Montgomery Knight could simply be remembered and revered for three national titles, for 32-0, for the Olympic gold medal, for being the maestro of motion offense and the non-negotiable believer in man-to-man defense. It would be nice if the career highlight reel stopped after testimonials from Buckner and May and Benson and Isiah and Alford and Cheaney. It would be nice if Assembly Hall's court bore the name of Indiana's greatest coach.
But nice was never part of the package with Knight. Which is why he'll also be remembered for the thrown chair and the choked player and the grabbed student at the end in Bloomington. It's why the player testimonials will be interspersed with tape of bellowed profanities, head-butted players and more burned bridges than a brigade of pyromaniacs could produce. It's why the divorce from IU became so bitter, and why his name probably will never adorn that Assembly Hall hardwood.
In the end, it feels hollow for Bob Knight to shuffle offstage on a February Monday, far from the spotlight of his sport and nearly three years removed from his last NCAA Tournament victory. At least he did not exit in Woody Hayes fashion, as had often been feared and forecast, but there is something un-General-like about it.
Perhaps this it:
He is often championed by people who believe he stood for old-fashioned American values. Finishing what you start is one of those values, and now Bob Knight has contradicted his mythology one last time by walking out on the job.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.