Indiana dismisses fiery Bob Knight

Students rally in show of support for basketball coach

September 11, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

In the end, the zero-tolerance policy Indiana University placed on basketball coach Bob Knight to stop his confrontational behavior had zero impact.

Knight, 59, was fired yesterday by university President Myles Brand, ending Knight's controversial 29-year career in Bloomington, Ind., which included winning three national championships.

The decision came less than a week after Knight made "inappropriate physical contact" with an Indiana freshman. Knight allegedly grabbed Kent Harvey outside Assembly Hall on campus after Harvey had called Knight by his last name.

It was the most public incident since the policy regarding Knight's behavior was put in place in May. But it was apparently not the only misstep Knight had made in the past four months.

According to Brand, Knight had also verbally abused a high-ranking female university administrator in his office, had privately and publicly criticized other university officials and, most recently, had ignored Brand's order to remain in Bloomington while police were investigating the incident involving Harvey.

"He did not fulfill the promises he gave us," Brand said. "We gave Bob Knight one last chance, and he failed."

Brand said he asked Knight during a telephone conversation yesterday to resign, but Knight declined. It was then that Brand told Knight he was being removed from the job. Brand said at a nationally televised news conference later in the day that Knight would be paid through 2002.

The zero-tolerance policy was put into place after several allegations were made against Knight, most notably that he had choked former Hoosiers player Neil Reed during a 1997 practice. Knight vehemently denied choking Reed, but videotape taken at practice clearly showed the coach's hand on the player's neck. The tape was released to the media by a former assistant who accused Knight of physically assaulting him last year. An internal investigation also found that Knight verbally harassed a secretary in the athletic department and had been heard by former players to use racial epithets at practice.

Brand said the incident involving Harvey, the stepson of a former Bloomington talk-show host and longtime critic of Knight's, would not alone have been grounds to fire the embattled coach.

"If that was the only instance that took place, you would not be here," Brand told reporters yesterday in Bloomington.

Mark Shaw told reporters that he and his three sons have received threatening phone calls and e-mails since the incident was reported last week. Shaw is seeking an apology from Knight. Knight was reportedly on a fishing trip in Canada and unavailable for comment.

Mike Davis, a first-year assistant at Indiana, said it was clear after a meeting between Brand and the team on Saturday that Knight was going to be fired.

"When we met with the president, he wasn't too happy," said Davis, who had publicly come to Knight's defense after the incident involving Harvey. "He went on that he was waiting to get the police report, but it was hard to believe that he was going to get rid of coach."

Knight's career at Indiana earned him selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame, the result of his 661 victories with the Hoosiers and 763 in a 35-year career that began at Army. Knight, who had been given a three-game suspension and was fined $30,000 by the university in May, is 116 victories behind the legendary Dean Smith, college basketball's all-time winner. Knight also kept his program free of NCAA violations and maintained a high graduation rate.

Last night, Knight supporters in the Indiana student body gathered at Assembly Hall, then marched about a half-mile to Brand's house while police in riot gear stood watch. The Associated Press estimated the crowd in the thousands. Earlier in Knight's career, incidents had occurred that could have resulted in a firing. In 1976, Knight allegedly knocked out his former sports information director. In 1979, he was arrested on charges of assaulting a Puerto Rican policeman during the Pan Am Games and later was convicted in absentia. He even kicked his son, Pat, on the bench during a game while the younger Knight was an Indiana player during the 1993-1994 season.

The latest incidents followed a pattern of behavior that Brand labeled "uncivil, defiant and unacceptable." Brand said the university would likely hire an interim coach for the season, which begins with practice in a little more than a month. Among those being mentioned for the job are Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino and Utah coach Rick Majerus.

Yesterday's announcement did not come as a surprise to some of Knight's players. Nor did the fact that a coach known for his fiery temper would have violated a zero-tolerance policy.

"It's awfully hard to live under the guidelines the university gave him," said Tom Geyer, a reserve on the Indiana team. "I'm not really sure that I could live by those guidelines."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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