Dean Smith vs. Bob Knight[UPDATED]

Bob Knight passed Dean Smith with his 880th win as Texas Tech defeated New Mexico 70-68. Knight now tops the wins list in NCAA Division I basketball. Here is raw comparison of the two coaches by the numbers:

  Dean Smith Bob Knight
Seasons 36 40+
Records 879-254 880-354
Games 1133 1234
Winning % .775 .713
NCAA Tournament Appearances 27 27
Consecutive Tourney Appearances 23 16
NCAA Tournament Record 65-28 44-25
Sweet Sixteens 21 10
Final Fours 11 5
NCAA Championships 2 3
First/Second Round Losses 5 7
Conference Titles ACC:
12 RS outright
5 RS tied
13 Tournment
Big Ten:
9 RS outright
2 RS tied
No Tourney

First of all this is not to detract from the things that Bob Knight has accomplished. I discussed the more controversial aspects of Knight’s personality but one of the annoying parts of this whole lead up to Knight passing Dean is how much Knight has been extolled for breaking the record with some disregard for the facts themselves. The numbers are not even close as to which coach won more consistently both in the regular season and the tournament. Knight did end up with one more NCAA title than Dean but his other NCAA Tournament teams had a penchant for losing early and ugly, in some cases to double digit seeds. Dean had two long streaks in the NCAA Tournament. The first is consecutive tourney apperances at 23 and the other is consecutive Sweet Sixteens which is 13. Knight does not come close to either of these. The performance of each coach in their respective conferences is also telling. UNC won 17 regular season ACC titles and 13 ACC Tournament titles. Indiana under Knight won nine Big Ten titles outright and tied for two others(the Big Ten only recently added a postseason tournament.) Since arriving at Texas Tech, Knight has not come close to winning a Big 12 title. I am also of the biased opinion that winning the ACC is a more difficult task than winning the Big Ten or the Big 12 which makes Dean’s performances all the more impressive.

Of course the most obvious difference between the two is the winning percentage with Dean being six percent better and the fact it took Knight over four more seasons and 100 extra games to get to the same win level as Dean Smith. In every respect Dean Smith and his teams have been consistently better than Knight coached teams. Couple this with Knight’s predelection to make a complete jerk of himself on a regular basis it would seem that Dean is superior to Knight in almost every way. Then again the pundits have made an incredible effort to spin Knight was someone who did more with less but I would counter that by saying that he did not spend most of his career at Texas Tech but at the self proclaimed basketball capital of the world in Indiana so it is not like he was coaching in a place where it was difficult to recruit. The fact of the matter is Knight coached teams were largely inconsistent whereas Dean put teams on the court that could win year in and year out at or near the top level of college basketball. While Knight might have the record in many important aspects he does not have the same resume as Dean Smith.

So, ESPN and Dick Vitale can pimp this as though Knight has suddenly ascended to the top of the college basketball world. My take on it is how great a record can it really be when you have to coach four plus seasons longer than the other guy to actually pass him?


One of the posters at IC, Rikster, pointed out I did not indicate which regular season titles were ties for Dean Smith, I have corrected that now in the chart. Also that reminded me that under Dean UNC finished below third in the ACC in his 1st and 3rd seasons and never again after that. Rikster also made a good point about one of the cases Len Elmore had been making on ESPN concerning Bob Knight’s Army days and how they would have contributed to the loss discrepancy between the two coaches:

One thing you don’t adress is the annoying comment Len Elmore made on the air the other day (and I think I have heard other talk radio folks make – that somehow Knight coaching at Army for his first 6 years accounts for the discrepency in losses between the two. In other words, asserting that Knight had a harder road and therefore the 100-loss difference should be ignored.

I looked at this on another thread and Knight’s record at Army was 102-50, while Dean’s first six years at UNC (coming off sanctions) he was 104-46. That is pretty much even. Just food for thought. [Inside Carolina]

So basically the losses that occurred during Knight’s six years at Army did not effect him any worse than Dean’s first few years at UNC coming off sanctions from the Frank McGuire era. I also would think that UNC’s schedule was probably more difficult than Army’s though I will confess I have not researched that in great detail.


24 Responses to Dean Smith vs. Bob Knight[UPDATED]

  1. Pat Knight says:

    More rings and more wins one of his rings against Dean, nuff said. Stats are for losers and fantasy leagues.

    Sour grapes???

  2. Wayne says:

    And no mention of the fact Indiana U. ran Bobby off and now he’s in exile in Texas.

  3. Tar Heel Fan says:

    “Stats are for losers and fantasy leagues.”

    So instead of actually arguing any kind of relevant position you just decide to throw the whole thing out and concentrate on the two stats he beat Dean with. Yes he won one more title and one of those was against Dean but my point was the whole body of work needs to be considered. Knight has had tremendous success but for some reason with this record and many others in sports we tend to ignore the fact it took Knight four more years and 101 extra games to get to the same point. That means he was not as successful as often or consistently as Dean Smith which is an absolutely relevant point.

    You couple that with the fact Dean Smith was a gentleman and Bob Knight has shown an complete inability to at time interact with other people in a respectful and professional manner it is clear who has the better resume.

  4. THE Hoosier says:

    Since the only argument you Smithians can make is win percentage and conference titles, consider this:

    Point 1: Talent disparity. Dean Smith coached 11 NBA All-Stars…Knight coached 1.

    Point 2: Knight played tougher competition. Smith played in a top-heavy conference, Knight played in the deep Big Ten (10 out of 11 Big Ten teams have been to a Final Four, only 4 ACC teams have). 30 of the ACC’s 41 Final Fours were gained by UNC and Duke. 17 of the Big Ten’s 41 Final Fours were gained by the top two teams in Big Ten history (Indiana and Ohio State). The Big Ten from 1970 to 2000, had 94 teams ranked in the final AP top 25. The ACC had 89 in that span.

    Point 3: Dean Smith took over a good team to start his career at UNC. Smith took over for Frank McGuire’s squad that had gone 126-27 in the previous 5 years. Knight took over for Lou Watson, who was 55-66 over the same period.

    Point 4: Knight coached at Army and Texas Tech. While he made both school’s formidable teams, those programs certainly have recruiting obstacles.

    Point 5: Knight won 3 NCAA titles in 5 Final Four trips. Smith won 2 times in 11 trips. And they say Peyton Manning can’t win the big game?

    Point 6: It’s useless. Both were amazingly talented coaches. We can debate this all day long and still have someone make the point that John Wooden or Coach K. is the best coach ever. The fact of the matter is, Coach Knight deserves respect for a great accomplishment. An accomplishment made following the rules, playing team basketball, graduating players, and producing upstanding young men.

  5. Tar Heel Fan says:

    One major correction. Seven ACC teams have been to the Final Four with Florida State going in 1972 when they were not in the ACC. I assume you are referring to UNC, Duke, NC State, and Maryland who also have multiple FF appearances and with the exception of Maryland multiple titles. Georgia Tech and Virginia each have two FFs to their credit and Wake Forest went to the FF in 1963.

    As for Dean’s FF record, he was 2 for 11 but it also should be noted that Coach K is 3 for 10 which is only slightly better so are you telling me K is a choker too? I am of the opinion the number of titles is a less important stat than general consistency simply because I can name a long list of coaches who have won titles who are not worth a grain of salt: Steve Fisher and Jim Harrick come to mind in that regard.

    UNC was in the midst of sanctions and a de-emphasis on basketball when Dean took over.

    I also think it is a bit of a contradiction to trumpet talent disparity to bolster Knight’s case then claim Knight has had two schools were recruiting was an issue.

    NBA success of former players has little to do with college performance, just ask Coach K.

    And yes they are both great and did follow the rules, I just happen to think the numbers favor Dean a little more than Knight. The shame for Knight is he was not able to stay at a true basketball school and break the record which would have been a better deal.

  6. These Indiana people constantly brag about the quality of Indiana high school basketball and then whine that they have no talent, even though the roster is full of local stars. You can’t have it both ways, Hoosiers. Either IU has talent or Indiana high school basketball is bad.

    After reading Pat Knight’s comments, one wonders if English is required at IU.

    I think we can all agree that both coaches were great. I acknowledge that Knight was a great recruiter and motivator and was trying to incite better play out of his team when doing some of the things that caught the atttention of the press. Nevertheless, I would rather have Dean Smith represent my university than Knight, no matter how many wins the erstwhile Hoosier chalks up.

    Call your next case, brother.

  7. THE Hoosier says:

    The greatest thing about Indiana high school basketball isn’t great individuals….it’s great fundamentals and team play. We have never whined that IU didn’t have talent under Knight – that couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is Knight recruited kids who wanted to be student-athletes, not kids who wanted to spring to the NBA. He wanted players who enjoyed learning basketball, trying to get better, and had a sincere desire to get a college education. You won’t find many Rasheed Wallace-types recruited by Knight. Some of the best Indiana players when Knight was in Indiana didn’t even get looked at for that very reason (Shawn Kemp comes to mind).

    My favorite thing about your comment, Richard, is how you talk about positive institution representation…but write so abrasively. Talk about having it both ways….

  8. Tar Heel Fan says:

    However one point you made was that there was a talent disparity between Smith and Knight teams…now you are saying IU had talent when Knight was there. In my opinion looking at talent disparity from the perspective of NBA success of former players is a shallow argument since Duke is well know for not churning out NBA stars. I think the talent level is comparable between the three coaches but the brand of basketball being taught under Knight and K, while wildly successful on the college level, does not translate to the NBA whereas with Smith the players seem to have an easier time making the jump and being successful.

  9. THE Hoosier says:

    There has been a talent disparity between the Knight teams and the Smith teams…my point was that it was a calculated risk by Knight. The General definitely had some fine players (Benson, May, Alford, Cheaney, Guyton, Bailey, G. Graham, P. Graham, Henderson, Buckner, I. Thomas, etc.), but for the most part he recruited different types of players than those Smith did – namely when it comes to superstar-type players. It’s definitely hard to argue that 11 NBA All-Stars versus 1 isn’t a jaw-dropping stat. My point was not to say that Knight was playing with a bunch of scrubs…that couldn’t be further from the truth. Knight CERTAINLY didn’t have anything close to the individual talent Dean Smith enjoyed on his rosters, though.

    As for Duke, Ferry, Laettner, Brand, Maggette, Deng, Boozer, and G. Hill would likely argue that they’ve had plenty of NBA All-Star caliber talent in Durham.

  10. Tar Heel Fan says:

    Yes it is a jaw dropping stat in that regard but I think it is less of an issue as we all might think simply because the nature of college basketball, especially in a single elimination tournament tends to balance talent disparities out. Thought I think the argument you are making is that Smith won games faster because he had more talent whereas Knight took longer because he depended on certain types of players fitting into his system which means there would be down seasons for the sake of developing younger recruits. I think in the final analysis the numbers favor Smith however in many respects this is like arguing which was better Beethoven or Bach. In the end it comes down to which style you like and ultimately where your loyalties lie.

    In other words bias really govern how we debate these issues.

  11. Joey says:

    THE Hoosier, going back to your first post, at the end of Point 2 you said:

    “The Big Ten from 1970 to 2000, had 94 teams ranked in the final AP top 25. The ACC had 89 in that span.”

    If you consider that the Big 10 had 10 or 11 teams in its conference during this stretch, while the ACC had between 7 and 9 teams, then I think you have to mark this point in the ACC’s favor (and thus Smith’s favor), not the other way around.

    Also, Tar Heel Fan already addressed the error in Point 2 about the Final Four, but I’ll make another point similar to the one I just made. You say the Big Ten has 41 Final Fours and the ACC has 41 Final Fours. Again, given that the Big Ten has more teams in its conference, this is a clear advantage to the ACC.

  12. Wayne says:


  13. THE Hoosier says:

    We’re talking about competition…when two of your teams have 30 of the 41 FFs, you’re not talking about a competitive league – you’re talking about a top-heavy league. My error was a typo…there have been 7 ACC teams who made the FF while in the ACC, there have been 10 Big Ten teams. 7 different Big Ten teams have been National Runner Up to the ACC’s 4 (both conferences have had 12 total Runner-Ups).

    I agree with Tar Heel Fan’s Bach/Beethoven analogy – both great coaches. We have been fortunate to have both Knight and Smith as part of college basketball. Knight has always been very polarizing – you love him or hate him, no in-between. Don’t discount his accomplishments, though. Despite what the drive-by media tries to portray, Knight has been an overwhelmingly positive part of basketball history.

  14. Bleed Blue says:

    The point needs to be made that neither Knight nor Smith had as good a winning percentage as did Adolph Rupp. Rupp won 82.3% of his games and neither knight nor Smith would have passed Rupp had he (Rupp) coached as many games as the other two. Whereas Rupp had only a couple of seasons when his team played 30+ games, this was a common occurrence for the two others. In fact, there were some seasons where he played less than 20 games.

    Let’s face it. Neither compares with The Baron.

  15. Elijah says:

    Just how often did Smith resort to striking his players?

  16. Tar Heel Fan says:

    No but according to Jeff Lebo the month he quit smoking was a living hell.

  17. THE Hoosier says:

    As far as I know, Knight has as many assault & battery convictions as Dean Smith…0. It’s hilarious that you discount Knight’s accomplishments and then let a Kentucky fan sing the praises of potentially the most racist coach in NCAA history. One of the dirtiest programs in NCAA history, Kentucky should play no part in this discussion.

  18. Carmichael says:

    Dean Smith changed the way the game was played arguably more than any other coach (four corners led to the birth of the shot clock) and helped break down racial barriers. Knight and Smith were both great. The more interesting point in this discussion may have been overlooked: Smith’s legacy is alive and well as his prodigy (Roy Williams) will overtake all (including coach ksherzqupxwqygbhzsky) before he retires (around 2018).

  19. Chris says:

    The argument will go forever….and it’s an apples/oranges comparison. Knight is a person with an anger management problem which works OK in the NBA but not in college where the coach needs to be a mentor and role model. Knight was such a wonderful Hoosier role model that he got booted by IU and now coaches somewhere down south, where he had to make a deal that his son would take over after he leaves. If the son is such a great coach, I would assume that as is normally done, a proper selection committee would choose him appropriately instead of using this foolish legacy system. It didn’t work at DePaul and it will be fun to see how it works when the Bobster slaps his last player, or throws his last chair. As for Dean, he remains a beloved mentor and role model to all in Chapel Hill, and will remain so.

  20. The Baron Will never be topped says:

    To “THE Hoosier”:

    The only thing dirty Kentucky has ever done is mop the floor with your sorry @$$ Hoosiers. At least there is no record of people throwing chairs at student athletes or verbal/physical abuse of players at the University of Kentucky. The only record you will find in Lexington, is the best for a coach of any era. 82.3% for the Baron. Knight doesnt even deserve to claim the wins he has. He should be stripped of them and barred from coaching. Even Indiana recognized what a disgrace to the game he is and fired him. His postgame comments/ESPN interviews only further proove my point. He is a classless disgrace to the game of basketball. Get over yourself. And be somewhat knowledgable about the topic before making accusations.

  21. Not relevant, not admissible says:

    Not quite so fast with the final four comparison,. Your throwing a good bit of irrelevant data, and relying upon pre-1960 success in the Big ten. Over the time Bobby Knight Coached in the big 10, 1972-2000, the ACC had a 24-18 edge, despite fielding 7 teams for 7 years, and 8 teams from 1979-1991. In other words the ACC went 24/234. While the Big 10 had 10 teams from 1972-1990 and then 11 teams from 1991-2000, and went 17/300.

    The Big Ten did send 9 teams over that stretch to the ACC’s five. But ACC’s five are all repeat final four teams. Indiana, Mich. and michigan St. have 12 final four trips, while the other five are spread among six teams- Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio St., Minnesota, Purdue, and Illinois. Now those teams have been very competitve over the years, but it’s hard to say they’ve been more competitive than the ACC’s two-time teams – Ga. Tech, Virginia, and N.C. State – State had a great team in 1973 that couldn’t play in the NCAA, Ga. Tech had the likes of Mark Price, John Salley, Stephon Marbury and Travis Best go Final Four less; Virginia had Ralph Sampson for 4 years when he was the best college player in the game. Especially in the case of Wisconsin and Minnesota you’re talking two teams that were in the wilderness during much of this period. The others had periods of excellence but were not any stronger than the ACC’s teams.

    And then look beyond the Final Four teams – the ACC has Maryland had the likes of Tom Mcmillen, Len elmore, Lenny Bias, Joe Smith and two great coaches in Lefty Driessell. Wake of course had Tim Duncan, Rodney Rogers and Randolph Childress and was competitve in just about every year Bob Staak wasn’t around. The Big Ten – Northwestern, Penn. State? Personally I’d rather play those two programs than go into Clemson’s Littlejohn or play FSU.

    It’s a valid point you make re Final Four trips, but it’s more accurate to consider what the coach’s had to deal with.

    On the other hand, if your going to use NCAA tourney success as a barometer, Bobby Knight’s recent performance begs the question, did he stay too long in the game. Had he retired around 1994, the argument that he was the best all-time would be a lot easier to make, without those first/second round losses.

  22. Enlightened Tarheel... says:

    There’s an elephant in the room and he went to Purdue, and then moved out to California. He won one national title as a player (so did Dean) and then ten as a coach. Wow. If Wooden decided to coach a little bit longer, this all time win debate wouldn’t be an issue. Wooden owned Smith and Knight. And he went to Purdue! That must really grate on Hoosier nerves.

  23. Sam Gilbert says:

    Sure he would have Enlightened TarHeel if my money to his players hadn’t been cut off. We had a great system and run there. I forked over the cash and gifts to the players and he won the championships. One of his best pupils, Bill Walton, has told everyone of the perks of playing for Wooden. Wooden left town just in time before the NCAA came down on him.

  24. Displaced Heel says:

    I am wondering how many games Knight was thrown out of, and how many of those his team won.

    Still thinking… if rat bastard gets his record cleansed of the games he didn’t coach during his coaching tenure, shouldn’t the games Knight got tossed from be deleted, or at least marked with an *?

    BTW, thank you to whoever came up with the “rat bastard” moniker. It is all I ever use now. I wish I had thought of it.

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