LUBBOCK, Texas — The old coach shuffled onto midcourt, took one look at Timmy Horton's long blond locks, and told him point-blank: "I can't take anyone with long hair. You look like a (expletive) advertisement for women's products."
That's hardly how Horton, the 2000 Bassmaster Angler of the Year, is used to being addressed. But then, this was Bobby Knight talking. And Horton, along with fellow 2008 Bassmaster Classic qualifiers Gerald Swindle and Boyd Duckett, came to Texas Tech's campus to get a lesson from the General, knowing they could be tempting a dragon.
Knight next grilled Swindle, the 2004 Angler of the Year and winner of zero career BASS tournaments. He asked whether the bass pro had been in another business before he took up fishing. Swindle said he had been a carpenter.
"You must have been (expletive) good in business, because you haven't won anything in fishing," Knight barked back.
Then he noticed Boyd Duckett, the winner of last year's Classic, getting a chuckle.
"You think you're sitting here with two friends," Knight told Duckett. "These two guys are rooting against you like hell in this tournament, now. They don't want any repeat in this."
This scene unfolded in mid-January, the week after Knight had notched his 900th coaching victory, extending his career record for men's basketball. The anglers had agreed to join an ESPN crew to shoot promotional footage for the Classic, which will take place Feb. 22-24 on South Carolina's Lake Hartwell. (Those clips will begin airing with the Classic coverage Saturday, Feb. 23, at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2.)
At the time they didn't know Knight was less than two weeks from announcing his retirement. Nor did they know that, more than just playing the role of the irascible old cuss for the cameras, Knight, a dedicated angler himself, would offer them some genuine coaching.
Of course, to reach that point, they first had to take their licks.
"Do you recruit for Auburn?" Knight asked Horton, an avowed Tigers fan.
"No," Horton replied. "With NCAA rules, I can't …"
"Auburn's never paid any attention to NCAA rules," Knight replied. "Why would that be a problem for you?"
Horton turned to Swindle. "This is getting me pumped for the Classic," he told his friend. "What about you, G?"
"I'm getting beat down," Swindle said. "I'm going to need a counselor after this." He looked at Knight, and pointed to Horton. "He's the one who said he wasn't going to take any crap off you no matter what."
"They all say that until they come face to face," Knight said.
The coach soon eased. He's 67 years old, and just days before retirement, he had before him three of the best bass anglers on the planet. Afterward, Horton would say it best: "He was ready to go fishing. When we got away from the cameras, he wanted to talk fishing and turkey hunting. You could tell there's this other part of his life he's ready to start doing now."
Knight, who has been known at various times in his career not to play well with others, told the anglers foremost that he admired the autonomy of fishing. The responsibility, he said, is theirs alone — without anyone else to rely on, but also free of the danger of a kid chucking up a bad shot or throwing a pass out-of-bounds.
"What you do is similar to coaching," he said. "I have to plan the whole game. I can really relate to what you guys do, because you have a team of one. But you have a lot of players, too. Crankbaits are a player for you, plastic's a player for you, swimbaits are a player for you. Now how are you going to use these players?"
"You ain't missed a lot in 900 wins, now," Swindle told him. "I mean, I ain't won one. And sometimes when it's over, I'm thinking, 'How stupid am I?' It was right there in front of me, and I couldn't do nothing about it."
"I do that every time we play," Knight replied.
He considered for a moment the gravity of the Classic — "this is the NCAA Finals, it's the Super Bowl, it's the World Series" — and offered a basketball analogy for the anglers.
Before winding up (and down) with Texas Tech, before winning 661 games and three NCAA titles at Indiana, Knight coached six seasons at Army. Every year, he said, the biggest game was against Navy. In practices before that game, he would add new wrinkles to the offense — and then, mid-week, tell his players to forget every gimmick he had just taught them, and play only as they had always played.
"Darrell Royal" — the University of Texas football coach — "had a saying that you've got to end up dancing with who you brought to the dance," Knight said. "And it's kind of the same thing, I think, in any sport."
Reached this week, Horton said he recalled that advice as he practiced on Lake Hartwell.
"We'll see how that works out, but I thought back on that," Horton said. "I would catch myself trying to do something that was completely new to me, instead of sticking with things I was confident in."
Duckett has said that, since Knight's retirement, other anglers had needled him. "Word is on the street, it was trying to teach me and G to improve our jumpshots is what made him quit," he said.
On that day, though, Knight seemed game for anything. After their bull session, Swindle asked for pointers on shooting, and Knight obliged. As he was demonstrating a shot, he noticed that he had made three in a row.
So he challenged Swindle: "We'll play H-O-R-S-E for your boat or my car, how's that?"
"What you driving?" Swindle replied. "I'm just asking. Knowing you, you probably drive something low-key, see, you ain't pimpin' around in no big wheels."
This tickled Knight. "That shows me you could make it," he said, laughing. "You could play for me. You're pretty smart to find out. What I'm driving is a Schwinn.
"That's pretty good," Knight continued. "I'm impressed. How the hell can't you win?"
"I don't know, coach," Swindle said. "It's been a mystery."