Customer Reviews: Season on the Brink
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on June 23, 2005
Growing up, all I knew about legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight was that he would rant and rave, throw chairs, get arrested, scream in his players' faces and snap at the media. During college, upon taking a class called "Moral Reasoning In Sport," I conducted research on Bobby Knight and got to know Bobby Knight as a person better. The ironic thing was that he stood for good morals but what he practiced as a coach boardered on the immoral at times. I saw how wonderful a man he could be and how badly he could cut a person down. I was fascinated by his style.

My curiosity about Bobby Knight led me to "A Season On The Brink;" a book which describes the full 1985-86 season with Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. Author John Feinstein, who trooped along with the team complete with notepad and tape recorder, crafts this book in amazing detail with all the trimmings. We are given a real life look at the pressures that college basketball can bring to both coach and players, the trials and tribulations. We are given a taste of how addictive competition is and the emotional effects it can have.

"A Season On The Brink" describes Bobby Knight in a way that begs you to love him and begs you to hate him. Passionate about not failing, Knight pressures himself to succeed and is quick to think himself a failure each time he does not reach certain goals. His characteristic short fuse is always there to represent this. After the disastrous 1984-85 season where he performed the legendary chair throw that got him in trouble, he vowed not to go through a repeat season in 1985-86. He constantly reminded his players of that terrible season as fuel for them to create a better season in '85-'86.

We are literally taken to the "brink" of Knight's sanity at times as Feinstein describes Knight's techniques for getting his team prepared for games. The saga continues before each game for the Indiana players, from studying hours of opponent game tape in "the cave," to "walk-throughs" on the court of what will be conducted in the upcoming game, to appetizing pre-game meals of spaghetti and pancakes in the early morning. Practices are grueling as the players are screamed at by Knight; virtually every four-letter word flying in their faces each time one fails to get a certain rebound, set a certain screen or make a decent pass.

Then of course there are always the Bobby Knight mind games present, a term that Feinstein calls "B.K. Theater." Players like his all-stars, Steve Alford and Daryl Thomas will be targets of his ranting and raving of how horrible they are, how they don't care about playing and how he should never have gotten players like them on his team. You did not want to land in Knight's "doghouse" as Feinstein describes it. In fact, on some of Knight's worst days, the whole team is in the doghouse as he throws all of them out of practices while yelling his questioning of their commitment to the game.

Feinstein does an excellent job of describing the games themselves from the tension in the locker room before the game, during halftime and after the game, to the crowd noise and chants, to the arguments Knight has with officials. As for the players themselves, Feinstein chronicles virutally every key shot, mistake made, rebound and beautiful pass. As you read the book, you'll find your heart pounding as Indiana fights for the lead or fights to keep their lead as the clock quickly winds down to crunch time. You'll find yourself cheering for star players like Steve Alford when he drains another key shot and for Cinderella players like Steve Eyl when he makes two clutch free-throws.

But you'll also feel the despair the players feel if a win has not been grasped or a goal has not been reached, from the chilling silence of the locker room, to Knight screaming and storming out of it only to come back in and talk calmly. Sometimes Knight will resort to taking off to fish or hunt with friends, attending other basketball games or letting the other coaches run the team for a while, while he watches from the stands. And of course there are the situations that the players bring on themselves that creates tension and stress such as Alford's posing for a calander, Daryl Thomas's injuries and Andre Harris's skipping of classes.

You'll find out what Bobby Knight goes through with the media; how his past record continues to follow him and how the media jumps to conclusions and exaggerating. You'll also see Knight's recruiting process (players from high school and junior college) and the ups and downs that come with it. You'll hear Knight's own insecurity through talks with his other coaches over meals at late-night diners, on the plane trips and before games with words like "Do you think we're okay?" "Will we win again?" You will see Knight marking up important words on the chalkboard and trying different defensive and offensive set-ups that he wouldn't have done in the past. In short, you'll hear it, you'll feel it and you'll see it all.

But one thing that Feinstein enables us to see is the loveable Bobby Knight; he Bobby Knight who doesn't forget past players that he has befriended such as Quinn Buckner. The Bobby Knight who sympathized with a deaf kid and gave he and his family tickets to the basketball game. The Bobby Knight whom past players and friends call upon for advice or to have some strings pulled. As Feinstein pointed out in the book, nobody could have a more loyal friend than Bobby Knight. You ask him to do something and he would do just about anything for you. And granted we see plenty of Knight's softer side around his players from Steve Alford's final game as a Hoosier, to the heartfelt goodbye to Delray Brooks who would transfer to another school. And of course you'll really get a taste of Bobby Knight's sense of humor and quick wit. When times are going a little smoother for the team, you'll read of Knight making cracks with his coaches and players.

Feinstein even takes us right down the path to the crucial tournament games with heated rivals Ohio State and Michigan. The read is quite a nail-biting experience. Feinstein follows the chronicled 1985-86 season up with a fairly quick but detailed overview of the 1986-87 team on the way to a championship against Syracuse, where you will again start getting onto the court with the players as the key plays of this amazing championship game are described by Feinstein. Headed by new recruits such as a kid named Smart, the Hoosiers took home a championship and rendered Knight literally hoarse with emotion in the end.

Indeed, if you are a fan of sports and you love the game of basketball; especially the thrill of college basketball, you will love this book. Even for those who may despise Bobby Knight, I would still recommend you give this book a read. It's a wonderful basketball story and a read that gets you right into the heated games and the hardened practices with the team. It could quite possibly be the best trip to the brink a sports fan could want.
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on October 8, 2000 outstanding description of a year in the life of the maddeningly complex Robert Montgomery Knight. Using every motivational tool available to him (from psychological ploys, to unconditional compliments to incredibly painful and stressful drills), Knight drives the '86 Indiana Hoosiers relentlessly through a brutal Big Ten season.
With little in the way of athletic talent or height, Knight uses every approach he can devise to extract a moderately successful season from an underwhelming group of players. Knight coaxes, belittles, praises and drives the team forward with a style that is as unique as it is politically incorrect.
As an aside, I just read Jerry Kramer's _Instant Replay_ (his diary of the '67 Packers) and the parallels between Vince Lombardi and Knight are uncanny. In today's environment, it is unlikely that Lombardi would be allowed to coach in the same style he employed then.
Feinstein does a workmanlike job here, letting the subject and the cast of characters do the lion's share of the writing. Feinstein should thank Knight profusely for putting him on the map. For, as he has demonstrated in subsequent books, Knight made this book what it is: a precious historical perspective of a brilliant Coach in a bygone era.
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Feinstein received Coach Knight's permission to have almost total access to the Indiana University basketball program during the 1985-86 season. By then, Feinstein had earned and deserved his reputation as a first-rate journalist. Presumably that was one of the major reasons why Knight was agreeable. Later, Knight was very displeased with the book based on that season. (I am reminded of what Harry S Truman once said when someone urged him to "give 'em hell" during the 1948 Presidential campaign. "I just tell them the truth and they think it's hell.") Two points seem especially important to me as a controversy about A Season on the Brink continues: This is Feinstein's account of what he observed and experienced; also. Knight and everyone else involved (including Feinstein) are entitled to their own opinion as to how accurate (if not "fair") that account is. My own opinion is that prior to and then following the 1985-86 season, Knight's behavior (including public statements) suggests that Feinstein's account is mostly credible. Since his playing days at Ohio State and then coaching at the United States Military Academy, Knight left no doubt that he was an intense competitor who loved the game with passion and studied it with intensity. He arrived at Indiana University a known quantity and was remarkably consistent (for better or worse) throughout the years he coached there.
For every person who views Knight's values with contempt, there is probably someone else who admires those same values. He is obviously a complicated person. Also, as he himself has frequently conceded, he can be contradictory. (Years before the 1985-86 season, Knight observed "I don't agree with everything I do.") Many of the players whom he verbally abused the most were later treated with exceptional kindness and generosity. Feinstein's book suggests various forces which inform and direct Knight's behavior (commendable or otherwise) and I rate this book so highly because Feinstein enables his reader to accompany him during an extended association with Knight and the Indiana basketball program. Whatever your own opinion of Knight, Feinstein's book examines in depth a great basketball coach and demonstrably imperfect human being during a pivotal season more than 15 years ago.
My own opinion is that Knight, then and now, is not so contemptible as many insist nor as admirable as many others insist. Final point: Knight has always overseen a "clean" program and has coached, year after year, young men most of whom have earned earned a college degree. Presumably Feinstein respects that and so should we. Those who wish to know what Knight thinks about all this are urged to read his own book, Knight: My Story, which has just been published.
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on December 3, 2003
"A Season on the Brink"
A Season on the Brink, was a great book. This book was about a coaching legend. Bob Knight, is described by many sport fans as one of the best coaches of all time. This is not just a plain old book. This book is about a coach walking between extreme madness and a complete genius.
In August of 1984, Bob Knight of Indiana University, lead the U.S Olympic basketball team to the gold medal. At that time, this was a master achievement to add to his two NCAA tournament championships. Many coaches to this day have not accomplished anything like this.
In February of 1985, Bob Knight's sees glimpses of his career coming to an end. His team is struggling dramatically. The Hoosier supporters are curious to what is happening to their Indiana program. Now Knight is known to go a little haywire, so anything is possible. In February of 1985, Bobby Knight throws a chair across the floor as a Purdue player is preparing to take foul shots. A little haywire is absurd! This is something that one would watch in a hockey game, not a NCAA Basketball game. Knight was suspended for only one game after reacting like he did. After ending that season, Knight was to where sky was the limit, to rock bottom! Knight also knew if another season like this was to occur, that his career was on the edge. Entering the 1985-86 season, would be a season on the brink.
Bobby Knight had been preaching his team that they needed to get into position to be in position. The Hoosiers were 2-2 in the Big Ten. Their next game was at home, against the Ohio State Buckeyes. This was a deciding game for the Indiana Hoosiers. This would give them a chance to be in the run for the Big Ten race. Daryl Thomas had a severe sprained ankle, while Ohio State had a seven-foot center to guard. Amongst all of this, Bobby Knight ended up getting a technical foul. In the end, the Hoosiers somehow pulled the victory off. From there on out the tide had changed. I chose to write about this game, because Knight had told his team what needed to be done, and they conquered it with all the given obstacles.
The Indiana Hoosiers were back to being Hoosiers again!
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on September 5, 2002
As a huge sports fan, I couldn't wait to read this book and get an inside look into a college basketball season with Bob Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers. John Feinstein pulled off a minor miracle by convincing Knight to allow him to follow the whole team, players and coaches alike with his notepad and tape recorder throughout the 1985-86 season.
What you'll see is an inside look at the trials and tribulations of a big-time college basketball team and the sometime circus atmosphere created by their tempermental coach. The book starts off with a quick recap of the 1984-85 season which included the now famous chair throwing incident. Then you are lead through the offseason, training camp and regular season of 1985-86. Feinstein does a good job of keeping up the pace despite giving detailed recaps of every season's game. He ends the book with a brief summary of the national championship season of 1986-87.
There's no doubt who the center point of the whole book is: That of course is Bob Knight. I'm not an Indiana hoosier fan but I certainly was well aware of all the incidents Knight's been involved in over the years including the chair throwing, head butting, and choking. I can't say that my opinion of him changed at all after reading this book. The best word I can use to describe him is: complex.
In this book, you'll read how he verbally abuses players, especially Daryl Thomas. He'll play mind games like he did with Steve Alford, the team captain and best player. He'll be upbeat about the performance of the team one minute, and then the next he'll say how the team is horrible and will never win with these players. Warning: there is some profanity, but the f-words are "blanked" out.
But at the same time, this coach is extremely loyal to his players after they graduate. He'll do favors such as help get them jobs, etc. One of the most touching moments in the book is when he meets a family where the father and son are deaf-mute. Is his good side good enough to put up with his other nonsense? You be the judge!
Supposedly, BK was NOT very happy with the book. I don't know what he expected, but Feinstein clearly didn't take sides or had some kind of adgenda to [thrash] Knight. This is must read for all sports fans, Indiana Hoosiers or not.
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on July 18, 2013
I have long been interested in Bob Knight and what he is really like. This book certainly explained that. While I learned things that made me like, or maybe understand, Knight better, there was much that made me think he is a tyrant and bully. Maybe you have to be to win national championships. I thought it was awful that Knight got away with temper tantrums in games because the refs didn't want to deal with his temper or have to eject him and have to deal with that. The parts about Knight and his psyche were interesting, but I felt too much of the book was a blow by blow account of games. I am a fan, but that really didn't interest me a whole lot, except for when it cast light on Knight or a player.
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on November 1, 2011
Having first met Coach Knight in the summer of 1971 as a young camper, I became a loyal fan from that day forward. I read "Season on the Brink" immediately when it became available in 1986, and despite being captivated by the book, I vividly recall feeling somewhat uncomfortable with the often unflattering characterization of my old mentor, thinking, "this book did not describe the coach that I remember." It certainly did not describe the person that I later wrote about.

Fast-forward 25 years and now reading the book a second time with a world of new perspective. This time, I found myself amazed that the story again grabbed me from page one without ever letting up. John Feinstein's skill is even more evident, and for me better appreciated as you live every game, survive every practice and are privy to the many team conversations and meetings. You realize that with the unprecedented access afforded Feinstein, this book gives you a unique and tremendous glimpse into the thinking and temperament of arguably one of the greatest basketball minds and coaches of all time.

My final conclusions are that "Season on the Brink" is a masterful account of the mindset and the sacrifices often necessary to be the best. The obvious question at this time is whether these techniques are effective or even appropriate in today's world. My conclusion would have been very different in 1986, but after reading the book this time around, I don't believe that the answer is as clear-cut as one would think. I now see that with incredible skill, Feinstein leads us to continually contemplate these uncertainties and others, leaving a number of final assessments up in the air. The book can be dissected and appreciated at many levels and this is to the credit of the author. It is fast paced and thought-provoking and from my standpoint, I enjoyed it even more the second time. This book is a tremendous contribution.
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on October 12, 2013
I am not a huge basketball fan and I found this book to be a wonderful read. I've heard about this book for years and now I know why.
You will be hard pressed to find a book that contains this amount of detail. The basketball scenes described are riveting. Knight though flawed comes across as a principled and loyal man who's inability to control his temper is baffling. I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested about the inner workings of a team.
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on May 12, 2014
A well written, interesting book about a complicated individual. I would recommend this book to any fan of sports writing. When the book came out in 1986, it created quite a bit of negative publicity around Coach Knight. I came away with a different impression than I think I would have if I had read it then. I came away thinking that while Knight obviously had a quick temper, he was also a great coach who was loyal to, and set and enforced strict academic standards for, his players. In this day of constant stories of academic cheating, philandering coaches and the big money that major universities make off the backs of their athletes, I found Feinstein's portrait of Knight to be that of a coach who probably had more to admire than seemed to be the case in 1986.
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on July 14, 1997
This is a fascinating look into the genius and the madness that is Bob Knight. Feinstein details what its like to play for the demanding hall of fame coach. He takes you behind the scenes and into the locker room. Once I started, I could not put this book down. This book is a must for any basketball fan
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