Knight sees no long list of sins

Overall behavior defended, but coach knows he can't slip

May 31, 2000|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Bob Knight set the record straight last night.

The Indiana basketball coach did not apologize in a desperate bid to keep his job. Nor did Knight express contrition for 29 years of occasionally abusive, embarrassing behavior, as Indiana University president Myles Brand insisted Knight had.

Oh, and Knight said he doesn't have a problem with anger either.

In his first public appearance since Brand placed him under a "zero tolerance" policy 15 days ago, Knight expressed zero contrition and zero regrets for the actions that have embroiled him in the most serious controversy of his Hall of Fame career.

"I've obviously made a mistake here and I've made a mistake there, but I don't think those mistakes define the person," Knight, 59, told a live national cable audience.

"I've screwed up. I've made mistakes. I've done things poorly. I've done things wrong. Am I any different than a lot of other people in that context?"

Knight sat at center court in Assembly Hall for an hour and answered questions from ESPN's Roy Firestone and Digger Phelps. By the end of the program, it was clear Knight hasn't changed. Far from expressing contrition, Knight flashed his trademark defiance and sarcasm, leading a neutral observer to conclude that in Knight's eyes, the events of the past two months have been comic opera.

Asked to describe his understanding of "zero tolerance," Knight said, "My understanding is this: I've got to be able to do what coaching entails."

When Firestone wondered if that meant grabbing a player, Knight said, "What do you mean by grab a player?"

Told that many fans wonder how long Knight can go without exploding, Knight proposed establishing a lottery, with bettors trying to pick the date of his termination. Knight said the proceeds should go to the university's library.

"It would mean a lot of money for the library," Knight said.

When Firestone pressed Knight on whether he had "an ultimate regret," Knight shook his head.

"I kind of checked my record this morning," Knight said. "You know, I've never killed anybody. I've never [caused] a family to separate."

The interview raised suspicions that Knight will waste little time putting Brand's "zero tolerance" policy to the test. But Knight said he would live with the loosely worded guidelines.

Still, Knight seemed to dispute Brand's version of their May 13 meeting at Brand's residence on the Bloomington campus. Brand later said he had been prepared to fire Knight, but the coach's contrition and sincerity in expressing regrets had persuaded Brand to give Knight another chance.

Knight had a different take on the meeting. "It wasn't necessarily an apology in that circumstance," Knight said. "There were some things that had been set out, guidelines so to speak, that they expected me to do and wanted me to do. I wanted to discuss those guidelines with him, to let him know that, No. 1, guidelines are no problem for me. First of all, he's the guy that runs the university and I work for him -- basically.

"Here's a guy that's willing to say, I want you to coach basketball at Indiana, but here's what I want you to do along with that and here's what you have to do.'"

For starters, Knight will have to refrain from physically abusing players. Knight said he hadn't seen the videotape, aired by CNN/SI in March, that reveals him thrusting his hand at the throat of former Hoosiers player Neil Reed during an Assembly Hall practice.

"You have to acknowledge that you did grab him," Firestone said.

Knight acknowledged nothing of the sort.

""I didn't need to look at the tape to know that I didn't choke anybody, because I've never choked anyone."

When Firestone asked if Knight owed Reed an apology, Knight replied:

"What I did, and what I rest on in terms of apology is this: I released a note of apology. I've understood for a long time, maybe way back when I was even playing in high school, that temper is a problem for me. And I think that in many, many cases I've conquered it, and in some cases I haven't."

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