Knight known for titles, temper
"If [Bobby Knight] is provoked, he is going to challenge it and the a lot of times the best thing to do is walk away. But with him, he likes to see a resolution to the situation," says former Ohio State teammate John Havlicek on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
Controversial and colorful, combustible and combative, Bobby Knight is one of the most successful coaches in college basketball history.
Before becoming Texas Tech's coach in 2001, the man in the red sweater guided Indiana to three national championships - in 1976, 1981 and 1987. On New Year's Day 2007, Knight became all the all-time winningest coach in Division I men's basketball history, surpassing Dean Smith's record of 879 victories. Knight also coached the U.S. to gold medals at the 1984 Olympics and the 1979 Pan-American Games.
When Knight wasn't canned in May, Alexander Woolf wrote in Sports Illustrated: "For 29 years people beyond Bloomington, seeing only the hurled chairs, the churlish bullying, the physical and verbal abuse, wondered why Indiana put up with Knight. If only you knew him as we do, his defenders replied, citing his loyalty, honesty and devotion to stout standards for a players in a world gone lax."
Knight's supporters point out that more than 90 percent of his players who have stayed four years have graduated and that they stay clean off the court. While other coaches offer enticements to recruits, Knight's players say he promised them only indentured servitude and unlimited practice.
Knight seems to thrive in the role of out-of-control dictator, like when he brandished soiled toilet paper at his team or when he pushed longtime assistant Ron Felling into a bookshelf before firing him in 1999.
An only child, Robert Montgomery Knight was born on Oct. 25, 1940 in Orrville, Ohio. His father Pat was a railroad man who was raised on an Oklahoma farm and his mother Hazel was a school teacher.
Knight emerged as a baseball, basketball and football standout at Orrville High School, where he also excelled academically. Graduating eighth in a class of 80, he never received lower than a B. By his senior year, he had grown to 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds and earned a scholarship to Ohio State in 1958.
Knight's role didn't increase as an upperclassman. He began his senior year as a starter, but soon found himself on the bench. In his three seasons, the Buckeyes went 76-8, reached three NCAA finals (losing in 1961 and 1962 to Cincinnati) and won three Big Ten titles.
After graduating from Ohio State in 1962 with a degree in history and government, he accepted an assistant coaching position at Cuyahoga Falls High School in Ohio, where he also taught history. A year later, he entered the Army and was assigned to West Point as an assistant to head basketball coach Tates Locke.
When Locke left West Point in 1965 for Miami of Ohio, Army promoted Knight. At 24, he was the youngest Division I head coach in the country.
In his first season, the Cadets went 18-8, reaching the NIT. He led Army to five consecutive winning years, including two 20-win seasons and four NIT appearances. His six-year record at West Point was 102-50, with the Cadets leading the nation in scoring defense three times.
In 1971, Knight became Indiana's first head coach in 48 years who didn't play for the school. The Hoosiers' winning percentage increased gradually over his first five seasons, peaking at 1.000 in 1975-76 when Indiana went 32-0, defeating Michigan 86-68 for the national championship. Both the 1974-75 and 1975-76 teams were undefeated in winning the Big Ten.
When Indiana didn't qualify for the 1979 NCAA Tournament, it won the NIT. That summer, Knight guided the U.S. Pan-American team to a gold medal. But Knight made more news off the court in Puerto Rico, as he was charged with striking a police officer before a practice session. Knight was tried and convicted in absentia, and sentenced to six months in jail. Finally, in 1987, the Puerto Rican government gave up trying to extradite him.
Despite the incident in Puerto Rico, Knight received enough backing to be named the U.S. Olympic coach for 1984. In Los Angeles, he led a team that included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Sam Perkins to a gold medal, defeating Spain 101-68 in the final.
Knight's temper boiled over again in 1985, when he tossed a chair across the court in a game against Purdue. After being suspended for one game by the Big Ten, Knight apologized for his action.
In 1987, Knight coached his team to a third national championship, as Keith Smart's jump shot with five seconds left gave the rallying Hoosiers a 74-73 victory over Syracuse. However, before winning the title, Knight showed his nasty side in a regional tournament game against LSU when he banged his fist on the scorer's table after being assessed a technical. He was reprimanded and the university was fined $10,000 by the NCAA.
The following November, Knight had another temper tantrum. After being ejected for arguing with a referee, he pulled his team off the court during the second half against the Soviet National team. The Soviets, who were leading, won on a forfeit. In 1988, during an NBC interview with Connie Chung, he was asked how he handled stress. "I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it," he replied.
He said he was talking about something beyond one's control and not the act of rape. The remark triggered protests and a march of about 300 people on the Indiana campus.
During the 1988-89 season, Knight became the winningest coach in Big Ten history when he surpassed the 213 conference victories of Purdue's Piggy Lambert. Knight also won his 500th game.
Knight was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in May 1991. A year later, his Hoosiers reached the Final Four for the fifth time, but they lost to Duke 81-78 in the semifinals.
Indiana advanced to the Sweet 16 in 1994, but then began an NCAA Tournament nosedive. From 1995-2000, the Hoosiers never advanced beyond the second round, being bounced from the tournament in the first round four times. During the 1995 tournament, Knight was reprimanded and the university was fined $30,000 by the NCAA for a Knight outburst during a postgame press conference.
Allegations arose early in 2000 that Knight had physically assaulted several of his players, including thrusting his hand into the neck of guard Neil Reed during a practice in 1997. Other instances of misconduct were cited during a university investigation. While some believed Knight should have been fired, Indiana president Myles Brand punished Knight with a $30,000 fine and a three-game suspension for the 2000-01 season.
Brand also handed down his "zero tolerance" edict. In the following four months, Knight was as defiant and hostile as ever. Brand said the coach showed a "continued unwillingness" to work within guidelines of the athletic department and that he badmouthed the administration and alumni. On September 7, when 19-year-old Kent Harvey was rude to him, Knight grabbed the student by the arm and lectured him about manners.
That was the last straw. Three days later, he was fired.
After a season away from basketball, Knight became Texas Tech's coach in March 2001. In each of his first four campaigns, the Red Raiders won more than 20 games. However, they fell to 15-17 in 2005-2006, Knight's first losing season since his 1970-71 Army team went 11-13.
But they were celebrating in Lubbock on Jan. 1, 2007 when Texas Tech defeated New Mexico, 70-68, giving Knight 880 victories and moving him ahead of Smith for first all-time. The Red Raiders finished the season 21-13, boosting Knight's record to 890-363 (.710).