Work in Sports
Coach's tirades overshadowed titles until the end
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- An altercation with an Indiana University student may have been the final straw, but Bob Knight's firing on Sunday apparently had become a foregone conclusion.
After watching Knight's "pattern of unacceptable behavior" after the Univesity issued him a "zero-tolerance policy" for any future misconduct on May 15, Indiana fired Knight on Sunday. The decision ended his three tumultuous decades at a school where he was one of basketball's best coaches but also one of its most volatile.
"No one event rose to the occasion of breaking the policy," Indiana president Myles Brand said. "The problem is that we have a continued pattern of unacceptable behavior, similar to the pattern we had prior to May 15 -- except it had gotten worse."
Knight, who met with his players Sunday night, emerged from Assembly Hall just after midnight and addressed the throngs of students who had been gathered outside for hours.
"In the next couple days, I'm going to get together somewhere with as many students who want to come out, and them I'm going to tell you my side of this thing," Knight told the crowd, which responded with cheers. "And I think you'll be interested in hearing it."
In response to the firing, thousands gathered outside Assembly Hall, the arena where Knight won three national championships. The crowd marched through campus to Brand's home, yelling in unison: "Hey, hey, ho, ho. Myles Brand has got to go."
Horns blared across campus, makeshift signs and banners filled dorm windows and hung from fraternity balconies. Some read, "Bob Knight is God" or "Mr. Knight 4 Prez." Others were threatening messages to Harvey. Campus police arrested 10 people, most for disorderly conduct.
Brand, who announced the firing at a news conference, called Knight "defiant and hostile" and said the coach had shown a "continued unwillingness" to work within guidelines of the athletic department.
The end for Knight came down to a chance encounter with a freshman who greeted him in a way the Indiana coach deemed far too casual and disrespectful -- "Hey, what's up, Knight?"
Knight violated the school's "zero-tolerance" conduct policy by grabbing 19-year-old Kent Harvey by the arm last week to lecture him about manners.
"It doesn't shock me because I've been hearing all summer the various things that he's been doing," IU Board of Trustees member Stephen Backer said. "He's almost been taunting the president and the Board of Trustees to do something. He has not had the attitude that we hoped he would have over the course of time between May and now."
The 59-year-old Hall of Fame coach, famous for his red Hoosiers sweater and blue language as he bellowed at players from the sideline, was already in trouble for a history of outbursts at Indiana, where he won three national championships.
Knight was warned in May about his behavior after an investigation into accusations he choked one of his players during practice in 1997, an act caught on videotape.
But his conduct became even worse, Brand said. In the 17 weeks since the school put him on notice, Knight bad-mouthed the administration and alumni, threw a tirade at a female athletic department official in his office and refused to show up at a handful of important IU functions, the school president said.
"He did not fulfill the promises he gave me," Brand said, adding that Knight had the option of resigning but refused.
Brand stressed that Knight's run-in with Harvey on Thursday was not the only reason for the coach's dismissal.
"If that was the only instance that took place you would not be here today," Brand told reporters.
Knight held a news conference Friday to explain his side of the story, complete with a diagram on a blackboard and re-enactment of the encounter, with assistant coach Mike Davis playing Harvey.
Harvey, stepson of a Knight critic and former local talk-radio show host, had addressed the coach as they crossed paths at Assembly Hall.
The coach said he didn't curse at Harvey but did briefly hold his arm for the lecture.
"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 in public, as apparently it's been said that I did," Knight said at the time.
Even so, Brand noted that Knight initiated physical contact and "the two had an uncomfortable exchange."
"The angry contact with the student violates the spirit" of the school's conduct policy initiated in May, Brand said.
The search for a new coach will begin immediately and Brand said he did not yet have any candidates. Knight, who left for a fishing trip in Canada after his campus news conference Friday, will be paid for the final two years of his contract.
But Knight met with his players Sunday night at Assembly Hall, and some later criticized the university.
"Coach Knight has been treated badly," teary eyed junior guard Dane Fife told ESPN after the meeting. "The administration was pressured and wimped out."
The meeting was very emotional, said junior forward Jarrad Odle.
"Coach was crying in the locker room, we were crying," Odle told Indianapolis television station WTHR. "There's no way to explain it. 'It's just been a very sad day in our lives."
The case brings to mind Woody Hayes, the famous Ohio State football coach fired for punching an opposing player on the field at the 1978 Gator Bowl. Knight is an Ohio State alumnus who admired Hayes.
At Brand's news conference, the Indiana players stood along the wall, their arms folded with somber expressions on their faces. Kirk Haston wiped away tears as other players glared at reporters.
"This is really like a loss in the family," Haston said.
Reserve Tom Geyer said the school's zero-tolerance policy was unrealistic.
"It's awfully hard to live under the guidelines that the university gave him," said Geyer, one of Knight's biggest supporters. "I'm not really sure that I could live by those guidelines."
Brand said he stood by his decision not to fire Knight in May and to instead institute the conduct policy, calling it the "ethical and moral thing to do" because of Knight's contributions to the school.
"I still believe we had to give him one last chance," Brand said. "He failed to live up to that. That was his decision.
"His unacceptable behavior not only continued since then but increased."
Besides his three NCAA championships, Knight led the Hoosiers to 11 Big Ten titles and coached the U.S. men's basketball team to the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. However, the Hoosiers had struggled recently, failing to advance past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 1994.
Knight, known as an old-school disciplinarian, had a 661-240 record at Indiana and overall was 763-290, including six years at Army. He was often called "The General."
But his behavior, which included verbal and physical abuse of players, has been a problem and often an embarrassment since he took over the Hoosiers in 1971.
Knight has one of the game's most notorious tempers -- throwing chairs across the court, stuffing a fan in a garbage can, scuffling with Puerto Rico police and kicking his own son on the bench.
Last spring, he faced accusations he choked Neil Reed in practice in 1997. Following a school investigation, Knight was warned, suspended for three games and fined $30,000.
Still, despite his displays of anger, Knight had legions of defenders across the state. They pointed to a cleanly run program and high graduation rate at a time of widespread abuse in college sports.
Dane Fife said he and other Indiana players were "saddened and hurt" when they heard Knight was gone.
"But this team's a family," Fife said. "We still have two or three excellent coaches who will be part of this team."
Geyer said he and other players would have to decide whether to stay at Indiana. He said the players told Brand they want the assistant coaches to stay and lead the team.
Gov. Frank O'Bannon, who played at the state university before Knight arrived, said he was "saddened" but supported the school's decision.
Meanwhile, Harvey and his two brothers have received numerous threats by phone and e-mail, said their stepfather Mark Shaw.
He said the teens never wanted to see Knight fired. An apology from the coach was all they wanted.
Harvey and his brothers want to stay at Indiana, Shaw said, and university officials have assured their family they will do whatever is necessary to ensure the Harveys' safety.
"We'll have to see how that plays out. It's terrifying," Shaw said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.