A conversation between Bob Knight and Bill Parcells

Editor's note: ESPN's Rece Davis sat down earlier this week with Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Knight, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I men's basketball history, and two-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells. This is an edited transcript of their conversation:

Rece Davis: Bob, you've known Bill since your days at West Point. What would you say is the most important thing you've learned from each other about coaching?

Bob Knight: Well the thing I think I'll always look back upon, is just the amount of time we spent together talking about coaching. And what is important in coaching. We're both I think defensive-oriented, but we had a great time.

We used to, every Sunday afternoon in our basement, we'd basically watch the Packers play, because they were on television, every, every Sunday. We'd talk about what coaches did, and there's nobody that I've known in my background in coaching that I saw become a better coach and that I've had more respect for than Bill and his coaching.

Davis: Bill, what do you think you've learned in the relationship?

Sunday Conversations

To read Davis' interview with Knight and Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa, click here.

Bill Parcells: Well, you know, I was an assistant coach for many years, and Bob at a young age was a head coach. So I think we were both in our formative years in coaching at that time. And we're kind of sounding boards for one another.

And that's kind of gone on for many, many years now, that I knew I could always pick up the phone and call Bob and talk to him. Something that related to my football team, that he would identify with because of his coaching experience with basketball.

Knight: Hey, let me tell you. A lot of the conversations were … I'd call him, and he'd say, "What's going on?"

"We can't guard anybody. I mean, we give up points. We just, we can't guard anybody." So you know, he'd commiserate with me a little bit.

The next call, if he made it to me … "I got these three defensive backs that can't cover any … there's not a receiver in the league they can cover."

I mean, we have more things that we've talked about, more things that have went wrong with our teams than anything that was positive. And I think each of us were kind of good listeners when the other was having problems with something.

Davis: Is that kind of the nature of being a coach, when coaches talk to each other, they focus more on what went wrong over what went right?

Parcells: Oh yeah, I think so. I think most of us are kind of mistake-oriented and when your team that you're coaching is making mistakes, then you kind of have a personal viewpoint on that. But Bob and I would call and tease each other, too, because … he teased me with the types of offenses and defenses we were using in football. And I would of course, having more opportunities on a seasonal basis to tease him, the chances were that I was going to (go) one-up on the teasing by the time the season was over since he was playing 30 games, we're only playing 11.

Knight: What are we in that prevent defense for? Why are we in that prevent defense? It's preventing us from winning. And so, I made the mistake one time, of playing zone against Seton Hall. A trap, our half-court trap. You can tell the story.

Parcells: By the time we got out of that, we were down 24-6. Another time, he was opening up with Notre Dame, and I think Digger (Phelps), if I'm not mistaken, was coaching Notre Dame, right? And he says, well, we're going to play a little 2-3 zone, and he had been on me about the prevent defense, and I said (it) knowing what he was going to do but never really mentioning by name. I said coach, "what was the name of that defense where you kinda had two guys on the front and three down low defensively and they'd kind of take the ball throw it down low and let the guy turnaround and lay it in?"

Knight: That was the story I told you about Digger grabbing me before the game. And I told him, the best thing to do against him was a 2-3 zone. I got a a call from him the next day wondering, were you on the bench when this happened? He said I saw this thing, and as he explained it, that's how he diagrammed it.

Davis: Now, when you two guys have shared phone calls, what's the most memorable quality after a win, after a loss that you've gotten from Bill?

Knight: Well, I think it's been those times, I think, when you win. And you're just pleased. I know I've been pleased to know that he's followed us as we played. And maybe we won a conference championship. Or that time that we won the NCAA. And then there's been times when there's been a problem arise that I've had and he's called me and it's meant a lot when he has. And I hope that he would feel that I've called under the same circumstances.

Davis: What do you remember most about getting a call from Coach?

Parcells: Well, you know, I think what he said about the winning. As I reflect back, there are problems that come with that as well.

The satisfaction of winning and sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. Also, there are these other things where, other people start thinking they are responsible for everything, and the players' attitudes start changing somewhat.

And of course in my business, professional sports, the agents would get involved … thinking their guy was the reason the team was successful.

So, we could talk pretty much about any aspect of putting a team together, knowing full well that both of us face on a yearly basis all of those diverse things and others that are trying to pull the team apart.

Davis: You talk about dealing with the players. How does dealing with a player now differ from when you were dealing with a player when you first started coaching?

Parcells: Well, from my point of view, it's not the player that's so different. It's the peripheral people that are around him now, more on the professional level now.

Basically, (it was) the player and his family when we first started, now it's advisers and agents and consultants, and all these other peripheral people that have an influence on the player.

And no matter what you try to get across to the player, there are contrary opinions being given to the parley from other people.

And sometimes, that influences the player, and it doesn't happen in the case of all players, but it does influence the player in a negative way because the people that are voicing these opinions, most of the time have some kind of agenda.

Davis: How about you, Coach?

Knight: Well, I think that in basketball, and I have always kidded with Bill about this. I'd say, "You have never had to work with summer coaches and mothers and fathers that thought their kid was one step away from being in the NBA."

I think that kids are different today in the respect that for many kids -- and not many of them are going to be able to realize this -- college is like a year's stop going onto professional basketball. Maybe at the most two years. And the kids that try to do that and don't make it far outnumber those that have.

The smartest kid is the one that plays for a year and understands, "Boy, there are a lot of guys who can play this game. I'm going to get an education and stay." So as he fights agents … I think agents also with what Bill said, relative to professional sport, have come into the college game, too, persuading kids to leave a year early. And kids listen, as Bill suggested, to a lot more people and a lot different people today than they once did.

Davis: They listen to a lot of different people. Then what is the most effective way to motivate today's player?

Knight: Well, I think it has to come to a degree that starts with the kid himself or the kids on your team. And I think the most important ingredient you can have as a coach, with a kid on a team is he wants to win. I don't care whether it's basketball or football.

I think, if you've got some guys that are … here not just because it's a salary or a scholarship, they're here because (they say), "I want to win." And I think you, meaning Bill as a coach, or myself as a coach, you can help us win. And that's why I'm here.

Parcells: I would agree with that. I think it's always been the real good players that I've been fortunate enough to coach and I'm certain Bob would agree with this, we're achievement-oriented guys. And then I've stood up in front of my team many, many times and spoken very adamantly about the fact, you're not going to remember the money you've made, you're not going to remember any of those things you have gained from this game, but you are going to remember what you did and didn't do in the game. And it's going to be vivid, and those are the things I think that all of us that have been involved with any sport for a long time -- it's the memories of the achievement or lack of, in certain times that kind of stays with us rather than some of the benefits that go along with being in it.

Knight: I think one of the things that has been a common denominator for the both of us is that in high school we both played football, basketball and baseball. And we both really liked baseball, and I liked playing football, and he liked playing basketball.

We got a great mutual friend that Bill played for in high school named Mickey Corkrin. Mickey used to tell me about when he was playing basketball in Springfield College that his coach's name was John Bunn and he was kind of an autocratic sort of a guy. And a guy would sit behind the Springfield bench saying, "Bunny rabbit, John Bunn, bunny rabbit. You made Lou Saidey, blank, Lou Saidey made you bunny rabbit." So if Mickey's out there listening, he's going to get a look at his best post player right here. And I'm going to say "Mickey, Parcells made you as a high school basketball coach, and there's no question in his mind, or mine, about that. We love you, but you're looking at your post man right here."

Davis: What were your pickup games like at West Point?

Parcells: Volatile. (everyone laughs)

Davis: Imagine that, huh?

Parcells: Volatile. No, not just the two of us, we had some other contributors. We had Don DeVoe, who was one of Bob's, went on to coach many years on the collegiate level. Dave Bliss, another assistant for Bob for a long time. Then we had a football player named Bob Knightinger who was a Penn State guy, that played with San Diego Chargers. So we had some athletes who played.

Knight: Sam Koons played.

Parcells: Sam Koons played. General Schwarzkopf played with us. Arthur Ashe played. So we had some guys in the game that, from time to time, the competition level was up, and we were young and …

Knight: What wasn't good was our playing on opposite sides. One day, we'd go to lunch, and I think he initiated the conversation, and he said, "We gotta quit, we gotta figure out how we're going to play together. … All we do is argue with each other. We gotta play on the same team." So, we kind of made that one of our noontime features that he and I got to choose first. And if he chose, he'd choose me, and if I chose, I'd choose him, and then we went from there.

Davis: What was the most memorable argument you had before you came to this accord?

Knight: We'd argue about … I might be guarding him in the post (reaches and puts hands on Bill) I'd hang onto him. And he'd take a shot and say there's a foul, and I'd say, "I didn't touch you!" And then I'd shoot, he'd hit me in the wrist, or something like that. I'd say, "Man, I get hit in the wrist, nah, I didn't hit you!" We were a lot better off playing on the same team.

Davis: Bill, what do you remember about those games, does he have it straight?

Parcells: Yeah, he's got it straight. But he, he … he was an impossible adversary. He was tough to defeat mentally. We fought it out quite a bit but enjoyed doing it. I think my time at West Point, I was sitting on the bench as an observer from time to time, and sometimes in a very adjacent position like we are now. It was a good experience, not really a place I chose to be for about three times sitting next to him, I'd be getting hit and getting elbowed (Parcells elbowing Knight) a little bit. He'd be up and down, elbowing me. So finally I sat down with his son Tim at the end of the bench.

The all-time greatest is, we're playing one night, and I'm not going to say where we were playing, and we get beat. It was a really tough game, and we're walking down into the locker room talking to the team a little bit and Bill says, "I gotta talk to you." And I say, "What is it?" And he says, "Come over here." And so he proceeds to tell me that a guy was taking a swipe at me with a magazine or a rolled up something as we're walking off the floor from a balcony kind of over, it was an overhang to where we were going down into the locker room. And he said, "When he took that swipe at you, he missed you and I just (smacks his hands) whacked him back up into the stands." So he said, "You know they might be looking for me." I said, "Well just stay here, we'll figure this out."

You know, we had some kids, 6-5 or 6-6, and Bill's 6-2 or 6-3. The cadets wore those hats, the officers' caps, really. So we leave that particular gym to go to the bus, with Bill in the middle of them, and nobody can see Bill. And we get him to the bus, and I've always said he has an unpayable debt for me getting him out of that gym.

Davis: Statute of limitations having made that expired?

Parcells: That's expired, yeah. That loss, did that cost us the NIT?

Knight: No, we wound up getting in.

Parcells: We thought it was going to cost us.

Knight: We thought it was, because we had that game where we had a chance to get in. You know, one of the things that I have always talked about, and I think it would be of interest to sports fans out there and I'm going to ask you (Parcells) this question: Would you rather have a team as you go into the playoffs, just like the NCAA playoffs today, would you rather have a team that was very good defensively and adequate on offense, or a team that was adequate on defense and very good on offense?

Parcells: Well, you know the answer is going to be defense. I would rather have a team that could rebound and play good defense, because I know that's going to go to the game with me. My offensive shooting that night, no matter how good it has been over a period of time, may not be that same on that night. So I think that rebounding defense and the ability to turn the ball over defensively are very, very key ingredients for all of these.

And I would say this, and as these games become more and more important as we've seen in this collegiate basketball tournament, I've always felt like you have to … reidentify the strength of your team, and play to that strength during these games especially; because, you know you're talking about really what you thought about your team over a long period of time, and I think some coaches have the tendency to get away from that because of the magnitude of the contest and the such consequences of losing when you are in a one-time elimination here, they get a little distorted, and I've always tried to go back to, hey, what is the strength of this team as I've tried to identify it throughout the course of the entire season. And let me try to play to that, and let them try to beat that aspect of our team.

Davis: You guys have done this for a while.

Parcells: That's an understatement. (laughing)

Knight: A long while.

Davis: What has it been like? Is it still the thrill of victory, or is it more relief to avoid the loss?

Parcells: I think as we've gotten older, and I've said this to players and to other coaches, as you get older, the games get more precious. The opportunities that you miss are more precious. It's like a, you know when you're young, "We'll get 'em next week." And when you get to be our age, and the seasons go on and on and on, and get upwards of 40 years doing this, you don't know that there's going to be another season. You don't know if there's gonna be another opportunity, or especially know, even if you have that, you're not going to be in the same place, that some of these teams are here again. They don't know when they are going back to the NCAA Sweet 16. They don't know that they are going back there anytime soon. So I think for all of us … it hurts more, I think the older you get to lose an opportunity when you're not certain you're ever going to get another one.

Knight: You know, I think both of us, as we've talked over the years and uh, I think both of us have a tougher time with losing than we get joy out of winning. I know when they win an early playoff game, and I'll call and say boy that was good, you're going into the second round or the third round, or you're going into the Super Bowl, or whatever. And those are great wins, and I know from talking to Bill, that those wins are never ever the equal of the game you lose that knocks you out of the playoffs.

Parcells: Absolutely.

Knight: That stays with you, longer than anything. One of the things I've talked to him a lot about over the years is preparation. And he talked about reidentifying strengths, and I think it's a great comment for coaches.

I also think that both of us have really believed in, where we get to a point where we got to take a lot of the physical work out of it. And they know what to do, but now let's show the strengths of the team we are playing and let's make sure we can cover this defensively. And I think if he were a basketball coach, I think the 3-point shot would be a supplement to his play. Just like I think, the passing game, and if I were a football coach, the passing game would be a supplement to my offense, I think.

I think that we both feel that it's important that we're really well prepared, but for the two of us I think being really well prepared is being mentally prepared. We've already prepared them physically, let's be mentally prepared, let's be focused on what they are going to do, and what this formation means in a football game, or what they are gonna do when they set up a ball screen to let somebody dribble off of it.

Davis: What would you say is the most important aspect of being a coach? Is it expertise in your sport or is it something else?

Knight: Well, I think I'd like to think guys like the two of us had played a lot of sports when we were young have a little bit of an idea on the overall picture of sports. And I think the most important thing that anybody can do is to get kids to concentrate and to go over it and over it and over it. And I think that's also the hardest thing to do.

Parcells: Basketball has a faster tempo, these things that have led to more scoring. Football has the spread offenses and those kind of things. At the end of everything, there is still certain fundamental things that cause you to lose games and certain fundamental things that allow you to win games. And, as a coach, you have to be able to convey those things to your team, and not only that they have to be able to take that discipline to the floor or the field. And you know one of the worst things I've heard in sports, and I'm sure Bob has too, "Oh coach, I was just trying to make a play." And that seems like kind of a cop out, for every bad judgment that someone could exercise, "Oh I thought I had an open shot" when really he was forcing, it's an excuse for poor judgment. And I think if you can eliminate that from your team's mentality, and get them to understand, "Hey, those things cost you the game, and don't allow you to win." And these things are what allow you to win, and try to implement that into your team.

Knight: And you know, just what he's saying, too, and I think you have to get these kids to understand that now that the season is over and we're in the playoffs, whether it's in the NCAA or the NFL, we don't have to do anything different than we've done to get here. We don't have to play better; we don't have to do different things. You don't have to be chasing the ball all over the floor; or you don't have to run and try and make an interception that as a defensive back, you can't get; or as a quarterback you don't have to try and throw the ball into a slot that you can't get; or you don't have to all of a sudden become a 3-point shooter. I think it's doing the things and I think this will be through these next four games that we are going to be watching in the NCAA tournament. That team that continues to play like it has played without adding anything to it is going to generate mistakes and is going to be a team that is going to be tough in its games.

Davis: I've noticed throughout talking here, that at one point or another, you have referred to the other man's team as "we." What's it like when you're watching one of his teams play in the Super Bowl?

Knight: No, I don't like it unless we're way ahead. I mean, sometimes they've gotten into tight games. Tell me what's going on. You're there, and it's the same way with Tony's baseball team. I go to a lot of his games, I've been to several of Bill's games. One of my all-time favorites is I was on the sidelines when the Giants were playing the Eagles one time. And I had known that all kinds of stuff had been given to Lawrence Taylor and so forth. And I thought (Carl) Banks was damn near as good as Taylor was, and when Belichick had the defensive team in a little bit of the huddle I'd be standing behind Banks patting him on the shoulder from behind. (slaps Rece on the back)

And one of the things I've gotten the biggest kick out of in coaching is, at the halftime, I didn't want to bother or anything, I stood out at the Meadowlands and froze my rear end off, during the half, I'll never forget that, but going off at the halftime. Banks grabs Bill around midfield running in where the Giants locker room was. So I called him the next day and I said, "Hey, what did Banks grab you for?" And he said, "Well, he wondered where the hell you were? How come you weren't coming into the halftime with us?" That was my greatest moment in football from there.

Davis: (Asking Parcells) What was it like?

Parcells: Well, you know, it's just the same thing. You're always rooting for the guy. It's tough to make those foul shots from the couch. It's tough to make that last rebound from the couch. So, you know, you're twisting and jumping and doing a few things that you think might assist, but, I can only tell you that I've always had, that somehow, you know, they didn't all turn out how we wanted to; but somehow his team was gonna play better under pressure. I always had that feeling and that confidence. Somedays the shots just don't go in. But still, in all, I think if you're a coach and able to create those opportunities, and they all are in a position to execute.

Davis: A lot of guys run across each other in their career paths and they are close for a while, and they go different places and it fizzles away. Why do you think you guys have stayed so close?

Parcells: Well, I've told him, a friend is someone that knows all about you and likes you anyways. (Everyone laughs.)

Knight: And I just think we have really enjoyed, really enjoyed each other's company right from the beginning. We had a strong feeling for the other guy as a friend. … And I think the fact that we were in different sports was kind of unique, as I like football and he likes basketball. So what do I do during football season? I watch, I've thrown away Giants clothes, I've thrown away Jets clothes, I've thrown away Patriots clothes, and now I wonder where the hell my Dolphins clothes are?

Davis: (To Bill) You gotta get to work on that.

Parcells: Hey, we will. … Coaching, that's one thing, but friendship, that's another thing. And he's been a good friend to me over the years and helped me a lot. And I've always enjoyed him, and I think I can speak firsthand because I pretty much know all sides of Bob Knight. There is really a good human being sitting next to me.

Davis: Bob, what synopsis would you give for Bill as a coach?

Knight: You know, it isn't as a coach, it's as a teacher. You know he can teach the game of football as well as anybody that's ever coached the game, or taught the game. And beyond that, there are those rare guys that I think could coach any sport. And I think he's one. … I think that Bill and his attitude toward winning and his understanding of what it takes and what he has talked about relative to winning applies to these teams in the NCAA tournament. And I think he happened to be a football coach. There isn't a sport, a team sport for sure, that he couldn't have coached and coached really well.

Parcells: No, no, I think we both have interest in multiple sports. Besides the three Bob mentioned, I like boxing. Bob mentioned the fact that I like horse racing. I learn a lot from horse trainers. You know, they've got temperamental people, they've got achieving type. It's fun.

Knight: We know one that's got temperamental horses, Wayne Lucas.