Knight, Robert Montgomery ("Bob")
KNIGHT, Robert Montgomery ("Bob")
(b. 25 October 1940 in Massillon, Ohio), college basketball coach who won three national championships during his twenty-nine seasons at Indiana University while gaining notoriety for his misconduct on and off the court.
Knight, the only child of Carroll "Pat" Knight, a railroad man, and Hazel Menthorne Knight, a homemaker, grew up in Orrville, Ohio. Early on he excelled in sports, playing little league baseball and then, from the sixth grade on, basketball. He was six feet, one inch tall by the eighth grade, and although he also played football and baseball at Orrville High School, his real love was basketball. He made the varsity team as a freshman and was the captain his senior year. He averaged twenty-four points per game and, now at six feet, four inches tall, was named the school's best male athlete. He was also an excellent student, intellectually curious and inquisitive, although he was sometimes outspoken—a conflict with his coach resulted in a one-game suspension his senior year. Knight's marriage to Nancy Falk, a classmate at Orrville High, produced two sons, one of whom later played for him at Indiana University.
Graduating eighth in a class of eighty in 1958, Knight was attracted to Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus by its tremendous basketball program under the coach Fred Taylor. OSU's team featured such stars as John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas. Knight, who played forward, was a good shooter but comparatively slow and prone to foul trouble. He started only a few games during his junior and senior seasons but was nonetheless named to the 1960 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship team. Perhaps his best moment as a college player came in the 1961 NCAA title game, when he scored his only basket, tying the game in the last minute, although Cincinnati went on to win in overtime.
As a student at OSU, Knight gravitated toward the subject of history, which remained a lifelong interest. Havlicek called him the smartest player on the team and Taylor, who admitted that Knight certainly was a character, used a less complimentary description, calling him "the brat from Orrville." After graduating with a B.S. in education and a minor in history and government in 1962, Knight was hired as a teacher and junior varsity basketball coach at Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) High School. His famous temper began to show itself almost immediately, when he broke a clipboard in frustration during his first game there.
The following year Taylor, who remained a lifelong mentor and friend, got wind of an opening on the coaching staff at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and informed Knight, who joined the staff in 1963 under the coach Tates Locke. In 1965, at age twenty-four, Knight became the youngest head coach in Division I basketball and proceeded to create the most successful era of basketball in Army history. His teams made four National Invitation Tournament (NIT) appearances during his six years as the coach, never lost to their arch rivals from the U.S. Naval Academy, led the nation in team defense, and earned a 22–6 record and their first-ever national ranking (sixteenth) in 1970—all this with a height limitation of six feet, six inches as well as a mandatory military commitment of five years of service upon graduation. The West Point authorities were displeased with Knight's volatile behavior during games, but this attracted little attention outside the academy.
During his time in New York, Knight studied the coaching philosophies and writings of the legendary West Point football coach Red Blaik and made contacts that developed into relationships with several of the older generation of football and basketball coaches, most notably Pete Newell, the retired coach of the 1959 NCAA championship team from the University of California. The two met in 1969 at the Cable Car Classic in San Francisco; Knight regarded Newell as the game's greatest coach and they collaborated regularly.
Knight returned to his Big Ten Conference roots in 1971 when he was named as the head coach at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington. In Knight's second season, the IU Hoosiers won twenty games, gained the Big Ten title, and made the Final Four, losing to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the semifinals. Knight's next team won another Big Ten crown and finished 23–5. His 1974–1975 team attracted the greatest attention yet, going 31–0 and gaining a number-one ranking before losing its regional final to the University of Kentucky, 92–90.
The Hoosiers were undefeated national champions in 1976, a feat not to be repeated in the rest of the twentieth century, with a team featuring Kent Benson, Tom Abernathy, and Scott May, all of whom went on to play for at least five years in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Indiana again won the NCAA title in 1981, led by the sophomore guard and future NBA star Isiah Thomas. In 1987 Knight won his third NCAA title with a team led by the Indiana high-school basketball legend and future college coach Steve Alford.
Knight stressed preparation, especially for big games, man-to-man defensive pressure, and the motion offense; he also used film and video to teach his players. He was known for getting the most out of his players, on whom he put great and constant pressure. Upon their graduation, former players were grateful for the caring and loyalty Knight expressed toward them. He closely adhered to the NCAA rules, recruiting only athletes willing to be students, monitored class attendance, and achieved a graduation rate of over 90 percent among those who stayed with the Indiana program.
Nicknamed "the general," Knight became a successful and entertaining speaker on the lecture circuit during the 1970s, both within and outside the coaching world, as well as a spokesman for academic values in college sports. He denounced gambling, complained about late weeknight games scheduled to accommodate television broadcasts, and publicly suggested that classroom teachers were grading their students far too easily and demanding far too little from them. He long resisted recruiting junior college players, but in the mid-1980s, deciding he had to change with the times, he began doing so, also adding some zone defenses to his trademark man-to-man. He coached the U.S. teams to gold medals at the 1979 Pan-American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His fame became international when a Brazilian student named Jamar Themoteo Silva wrote his master's thesis about Knight's coaching methods.
At San Juan in 1979 Knight was arrested and fined in a minor incident with a police officer, following his expulsion from a game for berating an official. The incident attracted great attention, sowing the seeds for the eventual end of his IU coaching career. Even casual sports fans began to know Knight as the coach who, when frustrated by officials' calls, threw a chair onto the Assembly Hall court in Bloomington during a 1985 game with Purdue University (he apologized the next day); the video of this incident dogged him for years. From then on he was a marked man by elements in the national media. His fall came in 2000 after the discovery of a three-year-old video showing him choking the player Neil Reed for over two seconds. This was too much for IU's trustees and he was suspended with the warning that no further outbursts would be tolerated. Four months later, on 10 September 2000, Knight was fired after he roughly grabbed a student by the arm. The IU president Myles Brand cited Knight's "pattern of unacceptable behavior" as the basis for his dismissal. On 23 March 2001 Knight was hired to coach at Texas Technological University in Lubbock.
Knight's coaching record was extraordinary. His 1976 Hoosier team was the only undefeated Division I men's team in the post–John Wooden era (33–0). He was one of only three coaches to win NCAA, NIT, and Olympic titles. His overall coaching record through the year 2000 was 763–290, a .725 winning percentage. Sixteen of his assistant coaches became head college coaches and his most famous player at West Point, Mike Krzyzewski, went on to become a successful coach at Duke University in North Carolina. Knight's highly publicized lack of self-control, however, gave him an unsavory reputation despite an enviable record. He was voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.
For details about Knight and his teams, see John Feinstein, A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers (1986), and Joan Mellen, Bob Knight: His Own Man (1988). Steve Alford gives a player's perspective in his memoir, written with John Garrity, Playing for Knight: My Six Seasons with Coach Knight (1989). Knight's dismissal from Indiana University is chronicled in Phil Berger, Knight Fall: Bobby Knight: The Truth Behind America's Most Controversial Coach (2000), which includes an appendix with Knight's complete public statement of 9 September 1979 regarding the San Juan incident. Knight's relationship with Pete Newell, among other things, is included in Bruce Jenkins, A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story (1999).