Like his idol Hayes, Knight fights 'til end

Inability to back down undoes Indiana coach

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

Early on in his career, Bob Knight had a number of older coaches who became part of his inner circle. Some were legends in their own right, men such as Henry Iba and Pete Newell and Clair Bee. Others were career foot soldiers, such as Al LoBalbo, who helped Knight teach man-to-man defense in his first head coaching job at Army.

There was another former legend that Knight held in high regard, whom he ultimately patterned himself after more than any of the others. His name was Woody Hayes, who was one of college football's coaching gods at Ohio State when Knight played basketball there for the Buckeyes.

Fittingly, it will be with Hayes that Knight is linked forever.

Yesterday's announcement that Knight had been fired after 29 seasons and three national championships at Indiana brought back memories of Hayes' own departure more than two decades ago. Knight was dismissed for making "improper physical contact" with a student who had the audacity to call the 59-year-old coach by his last name.

Though Knight didn't slug Kent Harvey, as Hayes had done to Charlie Baumann after the Clemson linebacker returned an interception down the Ohio State sideline at the 1978 Peach Bowl, the marks left on Harvey's arm were enough evidence to do to Knight what Indiana president Myles Brand didn't initially have the courage to do back in May.

Those marks left by Knight were the final indelible impression left on his controversial career in Bloomington.

Knight had said at a hastily called news conference in his last-ditch attempt to save his job Friday that "I would have to be an absolute moron - an absolute moron - with the things that have been laid on me to grab a kid in public or curse at a kid, as apparently has been said I did."

And what was Knight when he appeared to choke former Indiana player Neil Reed during a 1997 practice at Assembly Hall? Though Knight's practices were closed and he lorded over the campus as if it were his own fiefdom, Indiana University is a public institution and the university gym was paid for by taxpayers' money.

How was Knight acting when he punched out a former sports information director 24 years ago or assaulted a Puerto Rican policeman during the 1979 Pan Am Games or threw a chair into the middle of the court or kicked his own son, Pat, then a Hoosiers player, during a game?

How was Knight behaving when he verbally abused his own athletic director or threw an ashtray in the direction of a secretary or wrestled a former assistant coach to the ground? The most recent incidents occurred in the past year or two, a sign that Knight hadn't changed and wouldn't change.

"I have absolutely no problem following those guidelines," Knight had said in May, when Brand and the school's board of trustees instituted a "no tolerance" policy regarding their coach's boorish behavior. "The establishment of those guidelines can in the long run help me coach."

Undoubtedly, Knight will coach again in pursuit of Dean Smith's NCAA record of 879 victories. Knight might have to go the route of going to a smaller school, which Lefty Driesell took when he was fired at Maryland after the death of Len Bias in 1986 and Jerry Tarkanian took after his Nevada-Las Vegas program nearly was shut down.

The only reason Knight likely returned to Indiana after he had been given a three-game suspension and a $30,000 fine was to win another 116 games and get his share of the record. And given the kid gloves with which he was treated for his entire career with the Hoosiers, Knight probably figured he was still bulletproof.

"It's going to be interesting," Newell told The Sun back in May. "I know him well enough that he's good at meeting challenges."

Except for one: walking away without getting in the last word. When Harvey uttered, "Hey, what's up, Knight?" after seeing the coach outside Assembly Hall last week, the coach should have kept on going. Given his own history, Knight should have been the last one to teach some wise guy college kid a lesson in "manners and civility," as Knight called it.

Those who say Knight was set up because Harvey's stepfather is a well-known local talk show host and longtime critic of the Indiana coach are as out of touch with reality as Knight himself. But Brand mentioned a number of other incidents that have taken place since May, all of which led to yesterday's decision.

Maybe there were a few Ohio State diehards who thought Hayes was similarly set up back at that long-forgotten Peach Bowl. But they are now forever linked, Knight and Hayes, not to mention Harvey and Baumann. In Knight's own warped view of the world, he might even consider it a compliment.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.