High school football just got less interesting around here.
This isn’t the first time Tom Knotts has left Independence High – he once had an ill-fated stint as a Duke assistant coach – but this should be the last. Knotts, 53, has gone to coach at Dutch Fork (S.C.) High, apparently for financial and lifestyle reasons that I don’t really care about that much.
What I do care about is that Knotts is gone.
I’m sorry about that. It will make high school football here feel a little hollow for awhile. Knotts lived and coached on the edge here – always on the verge of some controversy – but he also produced dazzling football teams that mimicked his bravado.
Even when Independence wasn’t great – like this season, when Butler surpassed the Patriots and went on to win a state championship – Knotts kept blustering. After Butler beat Independence in the regular season, Knotts said: “I hope we play them once more in the playoffs. Because they won’t beat us again. I’m sure of that.”
It was gamesmanship. Knotts was trying to convince his own players with that one. And that time, it didn’t work. Butler used Knotts’ quote as bulletin-board material and then whipped Independence again, even worse, in the playoffs.
But that was one of the rare times Knotts couldn’t back up his talk. In the 2000s, Independence was nearly unbeatable. The school once went seven years and 109 games without a loss. At the time, it was the longest winning streak in the nation.
I named Knotts as one of my 10 most fascinating Carolinas sports figures of the decade last week, alongside far more well-known coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams. I really meant that. I certainly don’t agree with all of Knotts’ tactics, but they were fascinating to watch. Although some will be happy to see Knotts go, don’t count me among them.