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Inside the red sweater

Knight evokes many opinions, but no middle ground

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Latest: Monday September 11, 2000 10:48 AM

  Bobby Knight Bobby Knight has not only been a controversial figure, but a coach who has won national titles and recruited top players. Todd Rosenberg/Allsport

ATLANTA (CNNSI.com) -- No gray exists in any portrait of Bob Knight.

Depending on who is wielding the brush, there is either black or white -- the tyrant who bullied his adversaries for 29 years at Indiana, or the teacher who won three national championship teams with his unwavering notion of how the game is to be played.

"When my time on earth is done, and my activities here are past," Knight once said in a memorable public address, "I want them to bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass."

An Ohio native and Ohio State alumnus, Knight began his 35-year head coaching career at Army in 1965. Among the West Point cadets under his tutelage was Mike Krzyzewski, the first in a series of players whom Knight would mentor into the coaching ranks.

The General arrived in Bloomington in 1971, bringing with him a fierce belief in tenacious defense. Titles and All-Americas soon followed. Within five years, he had built his first national championship team, the 1975-76 Hoosiers, who went 32-0 and remain one of only 12 undefeated teams in NCAA history.

But for all his gifts as a coach, Knight was already sowing the seeds of his downfall. Scowling in victory as well as defeat, his rages became as much a part of his image as his scarlet sweater.

During the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico, Knight assaulted a police officer, and he was sentenced in absentia to six months in jail.

His sideline tantrums were often explosive, and when he berated his players, not even his own son Pat was spared.

He never seemed quite satisfied with his own triumphs, but he never apologized for his excesses. And while his power grew in his adopted home state, some did not hesitate to challenge him.

"He's a classic bully, I'll tell you," former Illinois coach and current New Mexico State coach Lou Henson said in 1991. "He intimidates the Big Ten office, he tries to intimidate everybody. His entire life is based on intimidation."

Bob Knight stirred enduring loyalty in former players who had thrived in his system. After an Indiana victory in February, Knight turned to former Indiana Hoosier and television analyst Quinn Buckner and teased him about his allegiances.

"I hope Buckner gave us a little more credit on television tonight than he usually does," he told the crowd. In response, Buckner stood and bowed deeply toward his former coach as the fans cheered wildly.

But when he attacked outsiders it was with an uncommon viciousness. "This, this and that guy, is the greatest travesty I've ever seen in college basketball in 33 years as a head coach," Knight said about an official.

Through it all, Knight won. No other college coach can claim NIT and NCAA titles, as well as Pan American and Olympic gold medals.

On the court, Knight's legacy is staggering. The school's current 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances is the third-longest streak in the event's history, and Knight -- a National Basketball Hall of Famer -- is one of only 13 college coaches to win 700 games.

Off the court, the NCAA's most recent graduation survey validates the Hoosiers' 77 percent success rate -- 30 points above the national average. Indiana under Knight has never been the subject of an NCAA investigation, and across three decades the coach gave much of his time and money to charitable causes.

"It's not like he's had a history of just doing horrible things," said Krzyzewski. "Coach Knight's had a history of doing some great things. Has he been controversial? Absolutely. But he's also been a darn good coach and a great representative."

But even as he drew nearer to Dean Smith's all-time record for coaching victories, Knight began to find himself abandoned by some of his prime recruits and he was ultimately exposed as a man who could not exercise the self control and discipline that he demanded of those around him.

With each outburst, with each ugly incident left unexamined and unpunished, Knight became convinced of his own infallibility. The fleeting moments of introspection were inevitably countered by the bravado of three decades of unchallenged authority.

"Just like a pitcher when he releases a fastball that just doesn't come off his hand right, he wants to reach out and grab it," Knight once told an interviewer. "Or a guy makes a bad pass and he wants to dive after it; he can't bring it back. We all have those things. I think anybody that says, 'I don't have some regrets' is certainly not being truthful with himself or anyone else."

But at a press conference during the 1999 NCAA tournament, Knight gave a curt response when he was asked how he'd like to be remembered.

"The only thing I've ever really given a lot of thought to is where I'm going fishing next," Knight said.

He then rose and left the podium.

 
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