Remembering a time when a man defined an institution

  • 09/10/2010 11:30 am in

Somewhere in my father’s attic or basement, resting assumedly under my old Legos or a bevy of rusted tools, you will find one of a pair of box-framed pictures. They bear the likeness of a man I’m told is quite imposing in person, tall and broad. But in these pictures, he’s simply a tough face, frozen in action, stalking the sideline of an unrecognizable arena.

According to the Sharpie-written signature on the glossy front, the man is Bob Knight. Perhaps you know him?

This requires backstory: Growing up, I played church league basketball and indoor soccer, and I don’t believe there was a season in either during which I did not call my father “coach.” In basketball, in particular, he was very defense-first, which explains the reverence of Knight. And so it was that I came to know the man known as “the General,” from the man every son listens to most.

He was a tough coach, but a fair coach. He preached discipline, defense and respect — all the sorts of things a father teaches a son, or tries to. I’d like to think at least some of it took.

What didn’t take, in a manner of speaking, was what existed behind Knight, beyond him. I saw the man, and I saw his signature, and I tried to live his commandments, relayed to me through my father. But I had no idea where that sideline was. I wasn’t much more sure of where Indiana was, beyond the fact that my father’s late father was raised in Seymour. I hadn’t the foggiest idea Knight coached at Indiana, much less what had been accomplished there not through that man on my bedroom wall.

All I knew was Knight — his toughness, and his willingness, apparently, to answer a thankful letter with a pair of signed pictures and a short letter.

It’s odd to think that, to parts of the country where basketball wasn’t king, (college football rules) that’s what Indiana basketball was: simply a vehicle through which the public got to ingest more Bob Knight. The good, the bad and the ugly of the winningest coach in Division I history, that’s what so many people saw when they watched Indiana basketball. Not the Hoosiers, not the winning or the losing or the automatic All-Americans, but Bob Knight.

Was that a good thing? I don’t know. Was it a bad thing? I don’t know. It was what it was, I guess, and how Knight was ingested probably determined that.

And I’m surely not wrong in assuming someone from Seattle with the same background on Knight and Indiana would say something completely different. But even the most diehard Indiana fans would probably admit that, until that fateful day in the late summer of 2000, Indiana was Bob Knight, and not quite vice-versa.

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the man’s unceremonious firing from the university, a day still jammed unpleasantly in the memories of many Hoosier fans. And with the exception of a run to the national title game soon after his departure, those 10 years have been largely forgettable. Between Mike Davis’ shortcomings and Kelvin Sampson’s foolish failure, Indiana basketball has spent the better part of the last decade looking rather rudderless.

Such was the impact of Knight, a man whose specter loomed large over IU Athletics for 28 years. Those in the know will even tell you Indiana still hasn’t quite escaped that shadow, after all this time.

Has Indiana basketball suffered because of the way Knight was amputated from the program? Was all this turmoil born, at least in part, of not having the man who became a sort of talisman for the program he now publicly refuses? As someone who saw Indiana basketball not through Knight, but as Knight, basically until I came to campus, I would be inclined to say yes.

But that’s changing now. Where Mike Davis was too private, and Kelvin Sampson too surly, (or maybe not surly enough, considering his predecessors) Tom Crean has played the part considerably well since his time in Bloomington. In addition to his basketball bonafides, Crean had a strong reputation for an ability to take up a sort of figurehead position, rallying the troops — if you will — both on the court and in other public forums. What Knight once was, Crean is slowly becoming, without the temper, obviously.

It will obviously take time, which Crean has, and wins, which Crean should start rolling in more of this year. Maybe then — perhaps only then — will Indiana stop simply being “that placed where the angry man used to coach.” The program, and even the entire department, can emerge from this Knight-sized shadow, and forge a different path to the future.

Filed to:

  • The General is and always will be the GREATEST!

  • HoosierForLife

    Long Live The General!!!

  • mike

    BOB will always be the best thing to happen to IU&the ncaa!

  • Bleeding Crimson

    GREAT writing. I loved and still love coach knight. Say what you will but Indiana basketball was Bob Knight…the Greatest Coach to coach college basketball. They were synonymous, you could not think one without the other. I do think we now have the right man for the job to take us back to the glory days.

  • Anonymous

    Mr Osterman, if this had been an assignment in our resident professor’s class I think he would tell you, job well done, I know I would. What say you Professor ?

    While I have grown tired of the BK arguments, both ways, this was a very well balanced and independent look back at a stretch of IU bball that will continue to be debated, probably the rest of our lives, and for sure never forgotten regardless of what side of the argument you come down on.

    Exactly what was right and what was wrong, which things were handled right, which things were handled wrong probably varies, at least a little bit, from one fan to the next which undeniably tells us what kind of impact BK had on IU, on and off the court, as a well as what kind of impact he had on college bball overall.

  • Bucky

    I once mailed a letter to Coach Knight about a Wisconsin high school player (Sam Okey), and received a terrific signed letter in return.

    All these years later, I still have it framed and hanging in the office.

    After that, Dan Dakich was kind enough to help me get Alan Henderson’s autographed picture, and sent it to me with the following hand-written note on his personal stationery: “This concludes the Dan Dakich autograph service.” Kept that, too.

  • Strummer

    A Legend !

  • Coach Knight is in my opinion the best coach in basketball. He was fair, tough and honest. The record at IU speaks for itself, but his ability to make players into men that lived up to their potential was his greatest strength. He was also a bit stubborn – which I attribute to the pride he manifested. The man stood tall, and was misunderstood by envious administrators. It was sad he left the way he did. The University will develop a better relationship with him over time – but the pride (and stubbornness) will make this remotely possible in the next 5 yrs. However IU hoops needs to move on and I agree with the sailboat metaphor…..but Knight not only provided direction (e.g. rudder) he also provide the keel to keep the ship on track. I hope IU and Knight can correct the schism and move on. IU is a great university and Knight is a great coach – as simple as that.
    Tom Crean is putting his own stamp on the program and it is clearly different from the general. Yet the foundation remains the same. It has to be built on integrity. The process is slow considering the erosion that has occurred but I suspect RMK is proud of the fact that CTC is doing it the right way. The next steps for CTC is to recruit good talent, then develop that talent into his system. Only then can we compare the two.

  • Anonymous

    This was a great article, Zach!
    Bobby Knight was an amazing coach. He has was not only a great coach, but he was a great man who did not stand for BS. He was hard and rough when he needed to be, yet kind-hearted and philanthropic to a community that adored the ground that he hallowed. My only regret for RMK is that he went to TX Tech where it became obvious that the game had passed him by. This is not an attack but a fact. All of the great ones, in any sport, reach a point at which they are a little less great than before. However, it is still a joy to here him comment and run analysis on games. RMK – You will always have a corner of every Hoosier’s heart!

  • Mariner

    As a Hoosier whose tenure began in 1976 and ended in 1981 I can tell you BK was thought of as more than the figurehead of IU. He was the first thing people around the country thought of when you mentioned the STATE. After graduation some friends and I moved to Dallas. Everytime someone asked where I was from and heard Indiana, the next words spoken would be BK. Texans are proud of Texas but I was proud of BK.

    It is a joy to me today that my father (5th generation IU grad) had the opportunity to see BK lead the Hoosiers for those 28 years. Cousins and nephews went to his camp. We have such a hard time putting it behind us because it defined us so.

    The last 10 years have been the inevitable leveling of Karma. Lets declare the slate clean.

    Onward CTC

  • Anonymous

    I know Coach Knight (dare I type “Knight” without “Coach” or “Mr.” preceding it…) is as proud and stubborn as anyone can be, but I hope if Coach Crean has or should ever attempt to reach out to him he is able to separate the person from the institution, because I know he would have to appreciate the dedication, determination, and class with which Coach Crean tends to legacy he created, not to mention the reverence to those who’ve come before him that Coach Knight showed with the ones to whom he looked up as innovators and standard-bearers (Hank Iba, Clair Bee, Pete Newell, etc.)
    I wouldn’t even be surprised if Coach Crean was able to get him to address the current team in person about that legacy and what the expectations are of anyone putting on those striped warm-ups. He may never come back to campus, but I think the possibility exists for a meeting at some point prior to a road game.

  • ArtistFormerlyKnownAs_Aceman07

    Every man has his faults. We were all created equally imperfect, but I’ll take this to my grave . . . There has never and will never be a coach who did things the “right way” quite like Coach Knight! He graduated his players, stuck by the ones who stuck by his program (i.e. – Landon Turner), and taught young boys to be men all the while winning like no other coach in the history of the game.

    For all of his faults, though he probably wouldn’t admit he has any, he has many more redeeming qualities and he has meant more to basketball at Indiana and in Indiana than any other person past, present, or future.

  • Anonymous

    The only one close to him would be one he taught—Krzyzewski (and it still kills me to give that much credit to a Duke guy.)

  • marsh21

    All the greatness talk aside for a moment. I think Coach Knight is an absolutely hysterical person who has made me laugh for many years. I attended his camps and got to speak with him a few times, watched all those games, interviews and even had the Sunday ritual with my Dad watching the Bob Knight show. The guy is one of the funniest people around unless you feel intimidated by him and in that case would have a different opinion.

    When Coach would walk into the gym during camps it was like the leader of the free world walked in. The kids were amazed by his presence and loved every second of it. I hope he knows what it would do for the people of Indiana for him to return for a game or something but as we all know that is up to the man.

    A truly unique personality and will be a legend in Indiana forever. They need a big 10 foot tall sculpture of Knight posed with his arm around a player, like we saw so many times on the sidelines, in front of Cook Hall.

    I believe our current Coach agrees with all of us about Knight as well and is doing everything he can to bring us back the correct way. There is no person I would rather have at IU than CTC now.

  • Ha ha, well, I’m a historian, so I’d make sure he examined original sources. 🙂 The prose is solid. I guess I’d look for a little more of the darker side of Knight (what led to the “zero tolerance” policy, etc.)… then we could make it a movie and call it The Dark Knight. Wait, what? Oh, the internet just told me that’s already taken.

    I guess I am just a little tired of the way a lot of IU “fans” want to make Knight’s tenure the halcyon days. I mean, sure, 1976 sure was, but what about 1996? That’s sometimes the problem with history: we gloss over the bad in favor of the good … but I think that’s human nature, and it’s especially noticeable in sports. However, I was annoyed — and still am — with the turncoats that quit rooting for IU when Knight was fired. I understand that he’s one of the greatest coaches ever — the dude is on the Mt. Rushmore of college bball — but I never placed him ahead of the university. I was always an IU fan first and a Knight fan second. I liked Knight because he coached IU, not IU because Knight was its coach. I love Peyton Manning, but if he ever got cut and went to another team, I wouldn’t quit being a Colts fan. I feel like Packer fans got that one right — they love[d] Favre, but they realized that he wasn’t bigger than the institution itself… and that’s how I feel about Knight.

    I’m certainly not arguing against Knight’s greatness here, but I guess he’s kind of like my Grandpa: the good he’s done (fighting in WW2) outweighs the bad (racism), so you love him anyway.

  • Anonymous

    Funny how a lot of it mirrors Knight’s alma mater, Ohio State, and Woody Hayes

  • Anonymous

    Love that idea, and I’d consider making the player Calbert Cheaney. I also would have to believe there’s some uber-talented art major who would take that challenge on.
    I personally think (and may have even said this previously,) that there should be a similar (maybe not 10-feet) statue outside of Cook Hall of any player named All-American at IU.

  • Atlasteve2

    He was a jerk and a fathead. Period. A sour old man now.

    Also, I always loved his scheduling. 10 rollovers AND THEN NOT ONE, BUT TWO xmas classics, etc where I am not sure they ever lost a game. It was always nice to start off the season 14 and 0. You could do that at IU and KY. And after enough time, well you are a great coach. Lookat his Bg 10 W-L record. That should give you a better idea of how great he was. Oh, and Yeah, some one should really thank Kieth Smart for that 3rd NCAA title.

  • Just remember that he was an Army guy first, as was Knight, and that should make it easier to swallow.

  • Just remember that he was an Army guy first, as was Knight, and that should make it easier to swallow.

  • Baseball Montgomery Buc

    Robert Montgomery Knight Assembly Hall. Enough said.

  • Baseball Montgomery Buc

    Robert Montgomery Knight Assembly Hall. Enough said.

  • Baseball Montgomery Buc

    Robert Montgomery Knight Assembly Hall. Enough said.

  • Anonymous

    Time to climb back under your table at the bar on Chauncey Hill.

  • JerryCT

    Whether evaluating the man’s principles, his impact on players, his wins, championships, and approach to social justice ( black players allowed to play ) the greatest coach of all time was without any doubt JOHN WOODEN. Those that do not know can check Wikipedia

    I love Knight and I almost enjoyed his flaws because we all have them.

    If we IU fans want to make Knight the greatest coach on earth then Wooden is the greatest coach in the Universe .

  • Tpksummers

    I hate to take on what is actually one of the more balanced responses here, but you bring up a point that I think gets way overplayed, and it involves one of his more interesting flaws. If he taught boys to be men, he certainly didn’t do it in the most direct way which is by example. He was a disciplinarian who lacked discipline. He demanded his players show respect, behave politely and respectfully, follow the rules of the university and the ncaa without question, while he himself was childish, boorish, bullying, and disdainful of any form of authority that crossed him.
    Another purported way of turning boys to men is the bootcamp theory. That playing for him was so incredibly difficult and unpleasant that one emerged from it ready for life.
    But I’d say that the boys who went to IU thinking Knight would make them a man, or toughen them up, or get their act together are the ones who left early. I’d argue that the players who flourished under RMK were mostly pretty damn tough and mature when they made the decision to attend IU. He didn’t make them mature or make them tough. They survived because they were already pretty damn tough and mature. Exhibit A would be Quinn Buckner and Exhibit Z would be Tom Coverdale, and it’d be easy to fill in the rest of the alphabet in the intervening 30 years.

  • Jerry – Hard to argue with that. Dean Smith, Wooden and Knight are the top three and if you took a poll nationally Wooden would probably win. However if you had three teams and then rotated them among each coach in my fantasy tournament then I would bet that RMK would win more games than the others. Regardless, RMK is one of the best and since I witnessed first hand what he did with his teams and players I will stick with RMK.

  • JerryCT

    Some trivia . Growing up in Martinsville Wooden was a boyhood friend of Branch McCracken. Also coached at South Bend Central HS , the team casted in the final game of HOOSIERS.

    I assume you made the assumption RMK would not have run any player off the team. If not then he would lose. If so then he would still lose to Wooden for one main reason:

    Wooden altered his style of play to fit his team’s strengths ie zone press for some teams some not, high post for many teams then low post for others etc. RMK played one way regardless of players .

  • HoosierNshaker

    Dear Bob Knight,

    You defined Indiana basketball and became “the general” of leadership and toughness. Many of us have had you as a hero of our childhood. You remain a great example of Indiana basketball and will forever have a place in almost every Hoosier’s heart.

    Let’s hope Tom Crean can hang banner 6 in the same fashion in your honor.

    You will be truly missed forever…

  • marsh21

    He scheduled cupcakes for sure in the early part of the season. But he did that because just about every B10 game during those years besides Northwestern were pretty difficult. The guy won three national championships and should have won three more but had kids who got hurt. A jerk and fathead? Did you know him? Every get to speak with him? Every sit down and have a few beer with the man to get to know him? No probably not, so you’re going to base a few hot moments throughout a 30+ year career and trash the guy.

    If you’re going to thank Keith Smart you might as well thank oh well let’s see, hum? Maybe 50 other great college players for all those W’s too. Just curious, what have you accomplished in life professionally better than three national championships? If you’re going to dish it out I want to hear it all baby.

  • marsh21

    I like it! If I had the cash I would pay for the entire cost myself. It would send chills up everyone’s spine to see those things guarding the Halls.

    If you have ever walk by the Korean momument in D.C. its the same thing. Just these huge warriors walking in the fields together. It’s amazing and would very cool in B-town!

  • Anonymous

    I’m afraid all I could contribute would be a poorly-done paper mache’ Kent Benson.

  • Anonymous

    But he doesn’t have to be truly missed. He could be truly appreciated if he would just come back and allow everyone to do it. The only person keeping most of this from happening at this point is Bob Knight, and that’s just sad because he deserves the accolades as much as the fans deserve the chance to give them to him. I know it’s too late this season, but I’m quite sure a game could be scheduled with Texas Tech, allowing Pat to be there for the whole thing, as well, if only Bob would give the thumbs up.

  • CutterInChicago

    Sorry Jerry and IMHO John Wooden looked the other way for years and years with Sam Gilbert. I have zero appreciation for that guy. Wooden either intentionally looked the other way for years as Sam Gilbert paid the UCLA players or Wooden was a clueless buffoon who did not know Gilbert was inappropriately involved with his program. Either way, his legacy is beyond tarnished. In a race to the bottom among NCAA coaches, only Adolph Rupp beats Wooden in my book.

  • JerryCT

    Cutter: As they say in sales training I now have you in a “full nelson” because I have a secret weapon …………… a guy I went K thru 12 with played and captained UCLA for 3 years. If I ask him about the suspected Gilbert involvement and he exonerates Wooden would you change your mind ? Certainly he would know Gilbert first hand. Or are you happy not knowing.?

    I will get the answer today but if you are happy keeping your view as it is I will keep the answer to myself and leave you alone

  • CutterInChicago

    Thanks Jerry but no need to try an exonerate Wooden for me, especially with someone like a former player/captain for Wooden sounds like a person who would have an obvious bias to protect the image that is John Wooden. It is well documented as to the history Sam Gilbert had with paying UCLA players from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s and exerting tremendous influence on the entire UCLA basketball program. They finally put UCLA on probation only after “Saint” Wooden retired. In the end, Wooden to me (like I suspect he is to people like Coach Knight) is a cheat and a crook who got a pass from an adoring media in large part because he managed to outlive his critics.

  • hoosiercrazy

    This is interesting to see a post on an Indiana thing that even states Bob Knight was a bad coach… bad temper maybe but i dont believe you are on the right website if you think this…. Maybe the schedule was easy but can you say the same for some teams that are good nowa days… you cant say that he wasnt a great coach bc only great coaches win nationonal championships… look at the coaches that have won national championships and tell me that not all of them are good or great coaches…

  • Atlasteve2

    nice post. But I’m not lost , sonny. You and Marsh21 seem to fix on the idea that Knight was a great coach because he won 3 NCAA championships. But, do you really believe that IU would have won the first two under Knight, if a much, much better Coach had not retired in 1975 after winning – what his 11th NCAA championship? C’mon, seriously. And Smart’s last second shot, did sort of “pull it out” in the final championship game. No coaching there, just a great shot.

  • Atlasteve2

    ha ha. So clever. A little personal attack? Well, sport, I’ve never been to your bar there; but, I will crawl back under the table there, when you crawl out of the closet. . .