“Hey, what’s up, Knight?” started it all. A grabbed arm and lecture did the rest.
The end for Bob 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. On Sunday, the school decided Knight’s reaction to that greeting would be the final part of a “pattern of unacceptable behavior” and fired him.
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. University president Myles 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. Knight, who coached Michael Jordan and guided the U.S. men’s basketball team to the gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, also violated the school’s conduct policy by grabbing 19-year-old Kent Harvey by the arm last week to lecture him about manners. The 59-year-old Hall of Fame coach, famous for his red Hoosiers sweater and blue language as he bellowed at players and referees 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. Knight met with his players late Sunday night, then addressed throngs of students who had gathered outside Assembly Hall. “In the next couple days, I’m going to get together somewhere with as many students who want to come out, and then 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.” The firing brought a wave of protests on the Indiana campus in Bloomington as police in riot gear stood watch. Thousands marched on Brand’s home, with some yelling, “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Myles Brand has got to go.” “Burn in hell, Brand,” said a banner hanging from a balcony. One protester ignited an effigy of Harvey. Brand, however, stressed that Knight’s run-in with Harvey Thursday was not the sole reason for the coach’s dismissal. “If that was the only instance that took place you would not be here today,” Brand said. 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. 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. Even so, Brand noted that Knight initiated physical contact and, “The two had an uncomfortable exchange.” The search for a new coach will begin immediately. Knight will be paid for the final two years of his contract. Some of Knight’s players criticized the university. Teary-eyed junior guard Dane Fife told the national sports television station ESPN. “The administration was pressured and wimped up.” Junior forward Jarrad Odle told local TV station WTHR: “Coach was crying in the locker room, we were crying.” Besides his three NCAA championships, Knight led the Hoosiers to 11 Big Ten titles and was undefeated in 1976, the last time a college basketball team accomplished the feat. Knight had a 661-240 record at Indiana and overall was 763-290, including six years at Army. 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. University officials have assured their family they will the Harveys’ safety.