OPINION: His former players fondly recall Pontotoc's Tom McKnight

If you don’t scan the Journal’s obituary page on a daily basis, you might have missed a brief one in Tuesday’s edition concerning the death of Tom McKnight, 76, of Pontotoc.
It said he was an avid gardener and a good man who loved his family. It also mentioned he coached and taught school for 33 years, 23 in Pontotoc.
All true, I’m sure, but there’s a lot more to Tom McKnight you should know. The man was a high school coaching icon in these parts. He also loved his players and they loved him.
So, here’s a little something extra his obit didn’t include:
- McKnight’s Pontotoc Warriorettes basketball won three consecutive MHSAA Class A state championships from 1975-77 and had a 91-19 record.
“We were a close-knit team all three seasons,” said former player, Annie Farr Crudup, a Head Start instructor in the Pontotoc school system. “We jelled. Everybody was good friends … and Coach McKnight was right there with us.”
- Yes, McKnight was the coach with one arm. He’d lost the other in an accident years before he entered coaching.
“He could drive, with his knees, and eat at the same time,” said another of his former Warriorettes, Itawamba Community College athletics director Carrie Ball-Williamson.
“The only thing he said he couldn’t do was push a wheelbarrow,” she added, then laughed. “He could tape an ankle better than anybody.”
Added Crudup, “He’d tear the tape with his teeth.”
- McKnight enjoyed his cigarettes.
“He’d smoke during practice,” Ball-Williamson said.
“We’d all smell like smoke,” Crudup added, then smiled.
- McKnight always had a towel over his shoulder when pacing the sideline. He waved it at officials to let them know when he wanted a timeout.
“Oh, yes. He always had that towel over his shoulder,” Ball-Williamson said. “We knew it was a timeout when he held that towel up.
“He’d pop you with that towel, too, every now and then.”
- McKnight was old school.
“We’d play a 1-3-1 zone, but he’d change to man if we needed to. We also zone pressed a lot. We ran a 1-2-1-1, full-court pressed and ran half-court traps,” said Ball-Williamson, who replaced him at PHS and later coached at ICC.
“On offense, we freelanced. We had a point guard, two wings and two forwards. Just about everything we did worked. Just about everything I did as a coach, I learned from him.”
- Most of all, McKnight had the respect of his players.
“We’d run to practice, past our friends waiting on the bus, so we wouldn’t be late,” Crudup said. “They’d say, ‘Run to practice with your daddy!’ We were family. We considered Coach McKnight our daddy.”
Added Ball-Williamson, “We thought he walked on water.”

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal