May 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Detroit loses more than a coach in the slaying of Charles Knott

Slaying of Cody High basketball coach Knott means loss of good friend and lifetime mentor

The death of Cody High girls basketball coach Charles Knott has shaken the community where the slain coach was a mentor and a leader. )

High school coaches are royalty. They're respected in school and healers of the community.

They act as fathers, mothers, counselors and friends.

Wednesday, Detroit Public School League kids and adults alike mourned the killing of one of those coaches.

Charles Knott, Cody's girls basketball and softball coach, was killed late Tuesday night when the driver of another vehicle pulled alongside his car in the 11500 block of Petoskey, firing multiple times.

Not only did a man lose his life, but Detroit also lost a part of its heart and soul.

"He was a very candid individual," said Michigan assistant Bacari Alexander, who often talked to Knott during high school games. "He was a man of grace and candor. What everybody appreciated about Coach Knott is he was going to tell you what is on his mind in a subtle and direct way."

Knott knew his advice and opinions could change lives. He wanted kids to not only get the message, but he wanted it to stick — forever.

Now, it's gone. And, many kids won't benefit by his firm, yet gentle, hand.

Valuable lessons

Coaches are supposed to be untouchable. They're supposed to be there to help and lead.

They are revered, and hold special places in our hearts.

And it's not only when you're in school. It's throughout life.

"I still keep in touch with Coach (Harry) Harriston in terms of decisions I might make in life and not just basketball," said Wayne State assistant Lorenzo Neely, a Detroit Northern graduate (1987). "They play an important role in your life in terms of being a man. The things he taught me I not only use in my coaching but in my lifestyle in general."

Same goes for a guy like Cliff Russell.

Russell wanted to play basketball at Pershing, but was recruited by Sid Fox to go to Bloomfield Hills Roeper.

"All of a sudden, I am in a mostly white, affluent upper-class school and upper-class classmates," Russell said. "(Fox) was very influential in helping me navigate that and I learned lessons that I needed in that culture shock."

Russell said Fox taught him the team concept, something he used to succeed on the court — he played at UTEP and Wayne State — and off — he served as press secretary for former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and a radio talk show host and was the first African-American media relations member of the Tigers.

Making a difference

Russell also has tried to make a difference.

As the girls coach at Willow Run, he mentored his players on the court and off.

He was there for them.

High school coaches don't just coach games.

They play a role, guiding kids through their high school lives and providing as additional foundation for their future.

Detroit has one less coach making that difference.

And it's a shame.

"It gives you a bad taste in your mouth," Alexander said.

terry.foster@detroitnews.com

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