Bob Knight, the Hall of Fame coach who guided Indiana University’s Men’s basketball programs to three NCAA national championships, has passed away after a serious of recent illnesses.
He was 83. His 902 career Division One men’s basketball wins, 662 of which came at Indiana, were an NCAA record at the time of his 2008 retirement and stand today as the 5th highest total all time.
Robert Montgomery Knight was born October 25, 1940, in Massillon, Ohio, the only child of Pat, a railroad worker, and Hazel, a teacher. Bob Knight was raised in nearby Orville, Ohio, his close relationship with his live in Grandmother cultivating in him a love for history and a strong drive for personal success. In the vane of the latter, he grew into a star basketball player at Orrville High, where he graduated in 1958.
The following fall, Knight joined the Ohio State University basketball team, coached by Hall of Famer Fred Taylor. Knight appeared in 21 games as a sophomore, averaging 3.7 points and 2.0 rebounds for the Buckeyes 25-3 championship team. He graduated with a degree in history and government in 1962.
After a year coaching high school, Knight enlisted in the U.S. Army, accepting a job as the assistant basketball coach for Army in 1963. At the age of 24, Knight was named the Head Coach of the Black Knights. He won 102 games in 6 seasons, leading Army to a top 15 ranking in the 1971 season.
In the Fall of 1971, Bob Knight was named the 24TH Head Coach in Indiana University’s 70 year basketball history. It was at Indiana where he became a sport and cultural icon. Retired Indiana Associate Athletic Director Chuck Crabb, who was the I.U. Assembly Hall Public Address announcer beginning in 1978, was a junior at the University when Knight arrived, He remembers the Ohioan from Army bringing a new flavor to Indiana basketball. “He came in as a young coach from the U.S. Military Academy and immediately changed the style of the ‘Hurryin’ Hoosiers’ from high scoring to defense, defense, defense and more defense”, Crabb recalls. The new style “rattled many longtime Hoosier fans until it started equating to victories and Big Ten Conference titles at a record rate.”
Win, they did.
Indiana went 17-8 in Knight’s first campaign in Bloomington. A year later, Knight won his first Big Ten regular season championship, guiding the Hoosiers to the 1973 NCAA Final Four, in St. Louis. The Hoosiers lost to eventual national champion UCLA in the national semifinals. They repeated as league champions in 1974, then began one of the most historic two season runs in college basketball history.
The 1975 season saw Indiana again win the Big Ten Conference, the result of an undefeated regular season, The Hoosiers were a perfect 31-0 when they were upset by Kentucky in the Regional Finals, playing shorthanded without injured star Scott May.
In 1976, Knight opened the season by challenging his veteran team. “If you will continue to work and follow what we want done”, he would later recount saying, “you have the ability to go undefeated, and anything less than that would not be the equivalent of what your capabilities were.” After repeating the previous year’s 31-0 start, Indiana found itself unbeaten heading into the 1976 NCAA Tournament title game against Michigan, a team they’d beaten twice in the regular season. Indiana trailed the Wolverines 35-29 at halftime, when Knight walked into the locker room of the Spectrum Arena in Philadelphia. “You’re in the process of throwing away something you’ve worked on all year”, Knight addressed to the Hoosiers, “You’re just wasting something here that you’ll remember forever.” Indiana outscored Michigan 57-33 in the second half to secure the 1976 National Championship. It is still the last unbeaten season in Men’s Division One college basketball.
The on-court success did not come without controversy. In 1979, Knight was named Head Coach of the United States team for the Pan American games in San Juan, Puerto Rico. During an alleged dispute over access to a practice court, Knight reportedly slapped a Puerto Rican police officer, He was charged with assault, but, after the United States won a Gold Medal in the games, he left the island before going to trial. He was tried and convicted of a misdemeanor in absentia and sentenced to 6 months in a Puerto Rican prison. Despite Puerto Rican efforts, Knight was never extradited, and in 1987 he offered a public written apology to German Rieckhoff, the president of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee.
The dichotomy of off court indiscretion with on court success formulated in making Knight perhaps the most polarizing and discussed figure in the history of Indiana sports. Long time print journalist Mark Montieth, who covered Knight’s Indiana teams for newspapers in Bloomington, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis: “I’ve always said, you couldn’t gather at least 3 sports journalists in a room without the conversation turning to Bob Knight. He was seemingly a constant in the public conscience.”
As Knight’s influence increased, so, too, did his work around the University. His dedication to the Indiana University library, a testament and tribute to his mother’s love of books, became a philanthropic staple of the 1980s, and reportedly raised nearly 5 million dollars throughout his time in Bloomington.
In 1981, shortly after Indiana won its 2nd consecutive Big Ten championship and the 2nd National Championship under Knight, Junior Forward Landon Turner was paralyzed in an auto accident. Knight immediately went to the bedside of the player with which he had once most sternly disciplined. “I remember there was a time Coach Knight told me I couldn’t help the basketball team; I couldn’t help Indiana University. He told me to leave. He told me to transfer”, Turner later recalled to ABC television. The threat lit a fire under Turner, who would later say ‘once I got my act together seemed like the whole team came together, We didn’t lose another game.” The turnaround inspired Knight, who would later call Turner “the heart of Indiana basketball.” Bob Knight contributed $60,000 to start the Landon Turner fund. Ultimately, he raised nearly half a million dollars to assist Turner, who still resides in Indianapolis.
Knight was selected to coach the 1984 Men’s basketball Olympic team, and, by June of 1984, he became the first coach in basketball history to have won an NCAA title, Pan American Gold Medal and Olympic Gold Medal. Within a year, however, controversy again ensued. Mired in what would become the losingest season of his 29 years at Indiana, on February 23, 1985 Knight’s Hoosiers were trailing rival Purdue when Sophomore Marty Simmons was called for a foul. Knight’s protest led to a technical foul from referee Fred Jaspers. As Knight’s rage continued to mount, he reached for his vacated red plastic chair and flung it across the court. His outstretched arms and airborne chair are one of the most indelible images of one of basketball’s most complex careers. It led Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps to quip, clairvoyantly at the time. to sportswriter John Feinstein “I worry he was going to go out like Mac Arthur did”, as documented by Sports Illustrated. “One day the president is going to say “General, enough. Come home. You are relieved of your command.”
The ends continued to justify the means. The following season, Knight allowed Feinstein unlimited access for Feinstein’s book ‘A Season on the Brink.” The book sold two million copies, and further cemented Bob Knight as one of the most discussed and enigmatic figures in the American sports landscape. His influence beyond the game of basketball was further illuminated by a chapter in the book documenting Knight’s visit to nearby Heltonville, Indiana to watch 8th grade prospect Damon Bailey. Knight’s praise made Bailey a basketball legend before he’d played a High School Varsity game. “I understood at the time the notoriety it would bring, and you knew Bob Knight was a big deal”, Bailey recalls. “It brought a tremendous amount of attention to me quickly, that stretched beyond Bloomington and Bedford, Indiana.”
In 1987, Indiana claimed the school’s 5th National Championship, it’s 3rd under Knight. Once again, it was two steps forward, two steps back. At the start of the 1988 season, Knight, upset with officiating in an exhibition game against the Soviet National team, removed his team in forfeit from the Assembly Hall floor. In April of that year, Bob Knight, for a television series on work related stress, told NBC’s Connie Chung, “If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.” While Knight immediately offered explanation and elaboration during the taped interview, it’s airing sparked a national firestorm. The women’s affairs office at Indiana condemned the comment, while University President Thomas Ehrlich issued a statement that Knight “was not speaking for the University. I deplore his reference to rape, and his coarse language was in very poor taste.” Knight was fined by the University, with fans publicly offering to cover the amount. Shortly after, Knight expressed public interest in the job opening at the University of New Mexico. He would, of course, stay at Indiana. Ehrlich retired as President in 1994.
Throughout the controversies, Knight stayed a loyal philanthropist. Stories of his kindness became ubiquitous around Indiana, and it was Knight who publicly accepted and embraced Indiana teen AIDS victim Ryan White during a time when naivety of the feared disease forced White to be ostracized by most of society.
The coaching brilliance continued as well. The Hoosiers won Big Ten Conference titles in 1989 and 1991 and earned a berth in the 1992 Final Four. In 1993, Knight’s Hoosiers finished the season ranked number one, while accumulating a 17-1 Conference record en route to another Big Ten title. It would be Knight’s last. After a Sweet 16 appearance in 1994, the 1995-2000 seasons netted a combined record of 123-67, a 64% clip, well under the 75% rate of Knight’s preceding record at Indiana. Additionally, Indiana President Myles Brand, who had replaced Ehrlich in 1994, was applying pressure for Knight to reform his disciplinary coaching tactics. When prized recruits Luke Recker and Jason Collier both elected to transfer from the Indiana program, division within Indiana’s fan base and administration alike began to mount. In 1999, transfer Neil Reed, on CNN television, accused Knight of choking him during a practice, and when the network provided a practice tape that appeared to corroborate Reid’s allegation, Brand publicly placed Knight on a vaguely defined “zero tolerance” policy.
In September of 2000, a student alleged that Knight grabbed him by the arm, leaving imprints on the skin, when the coach was alleged to have taken issue with the student greeting him by saying “What’s up Knight?”.
On September 10, 2000, Indiana University fired Bob Knight. He left after 29 seasons with the Hoosiers, having been named Big Ten coach of the year 8 times, National Coach of the Year in 4 seasons, while accumulating 11 Big Ten titles, 3 National titles, an NIT title, and 5 Final Four appearances.
Bob Knight was hired as the Texas Tech basketball Head Coach in 2001, and in 2002 he led the Red Raiders to the NCAA tournament. In 2005, Knight led Texas Tech to the Sweet 16. Om January 2, 2007, Texas Tech defeated New Mexico for Knight’s 880th career win, surpassing Adolph Rupp for the coaching mark for wins. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played in the Lubbock area as Knight addressed the crowd. “I don’t expect you people to have agreed with what I’ve done and, if I did (care), I would have asked your opinion. And I have never asked the opinions of very many. I’ve simply tried to do what I think is best in the way that I think you have to do it”, he said that evening.
“Midway through the 2008 season, with a 12-8 record, Knight resigned as Head Coach, handing the job to his son Pat, who had played for and coached with Knight at Indiana. He retired with an overall coaching record of 902-371.
ESPN hired Bob Knight as a college basketball studio and game analyst in 2010. He held the position until 2015. In 2019, Knight and his wife Karen moved from Lubbock, Texas to Bloomington, Indiana. He made frequent speaking appearances, many with former Purdue Coach Gene Keady, his former on court adversary who was the only Big Ten coach with a winning record versus Knight. “Everybody thinks you hate the other coach usually they’re one of your best friends”, Keady told 107.5 The Fan. “I respected Coach (Knight) so much that I knew we had to play great. We also needed a good referee so it would be a good game for us”, Keady joked.
On February 8, 2020, Bob Knight returned to Assembly Hall, showered with a nearly 7-minute ovation from the sold-out during halftime of Indiana’s game against Purdue. That evening, Knight, along with Keady, was honored in Indianapolis during halftime of the Indiana Pacers- New Orleans Pelicans game. It was the last scheduled public appearance for a man who’d spent his entire career under basketball’s watchful eye.
It is fair to question the necessity to address one’s transgressions at the time of their death. Bob Knight was one of basketball’s greatest tacticians, his coaching rooted in the demand of attention to detail on both ends of the court. A coach who demanded and instilled discipline in his players, to tell the story of one of basketball’s most iconic personalities is to tell both sides of the paradox. What is not in question is that basketball has lost one of its most brilliant minds. His off-court excess may have ultimately superseded his on-court success, but the pillars by which Bob Knight built his career remain his legacy for a game and fan base that collectively mourn his passing.
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