Knight, Bobby

views updated Jun 08 2018

Bobby Knight


American college basketball coach

Pete Axthelm of Newsweek has called Bobby Knight a "boiling blend of brilliance and loyalty, fanaticism and temper." And in fact, there isn't a college coach who can incite more debate and who can get the blood of fans boiling more (both his fans and those of opposing teams). Knight is one of those people about whom the phrase "either you love him or you hate him" seems to ring true. But regardless of what you think of Knight's actions and the way he handles his job, there is no denying that the coaching he has done for four decades now is anything short of amazing. Though his methods are, at times (indeed, often times) suspect, he gets results. He has led his teams to 25 NCAA tournament appearances, three NCAA Tournament Championships, and five Final Four appearances. He has also been one of only three coaches to win the Pan American Games gold and an Olympic gold medal.

Growing Up

Robert Montgomery Knight was born on October 25, 1940, in the small Ohio town of Orrville. His father was a railroad man (who died when Bobby was 29) and his mother taught elementary school across the street from his boyhood home. It was a small railroad town, but not isolated, with little more than 5,000 people. Knight grew up closest to his maternal grandmother, who lived with the family. She paid attention to him and, since his parents did not care about basketball, his grandmother was the one who listened and the one for whom he developed a great fondness.

In high school Knight was not a standout on the court or on the field, but nonetheless, he still participated in basketball, football and baseball. It has been said that he never would have become the winning coach he became if he had been a stellar athlete; he would have concentrated on his technique rather than focusing on improving the basketball games of others.

Knight had always wanted to coach. According to Frank DeFord of Sports Illustrated (and DeFord, it might be noted, has been an admirer of Bobby Knight for years), Knight "officially" expressed his desire to coach "in an autobiography he wrote when he was in junior high school." He soon developed a close relationship with his high school basketball coach, Bill Shunkwiler. "When other kids were hanging out [and] chasing girls," DeFord writes, "Bobby would come by Shunkwiler's house, and the two of them would sit and have milk and cookies and talk coach talk."

Knight graduated from high school and decided to attend Ohio State University, where he participated in the team's 1960 National Championship victory. Knight, however, was the 6th man on the team, and started only two games in his three years on the team. "He didn't amount to a hill of beans as a player," De-Ford writes. But in spite of Knight's inability to perform on the court, he still hassled the coach Fred Taylor, for playing time. Taylor in turn labeled Knight "the Brat from Orrville."

Youngest College Coach

Upon graduating from Ohio State in 1962, Knight immediately had two high school coaching offers to deal with. Though at one school he could have made more money coaching football as well as basketball, Knight chose instead to take the lesser of the two positions, wanting to focus his energies on the basketball program. He later told Sports Illustrated, "I thought, if I'm going to be a basketball coach, I can't be diverted. I wanted vertical concentration." Soon he was offered an assistant coaching position at the United States Military Academy, and by the time he was 24, Knight was the head coach at the Academy, becoming the youngest head coach in major college history.

Knight remained at the Military Academy for six years (he had to enlist in the Army to get the position). He was already compiling winning numbers that would follow him, for the most part, for the rest of his career. Army was never much of a basketball school, but in his six seasons there, Coach Knight took the team to four NIT playoffs, and ended his career at the school with a record of 102-50.

In 1971, Knight took a position with Indiana University, fulfilling his childhood dream of coaching at a Big Ten school. They took their basketball very seriously in Indiana (see the film Hoosiers ), and in Coach Knight they got a man who took the definition of serious to a completely different realm.

The Hoosier Era

Under Knight the Indiana program took off, and within ten years the Hoosiers had won six Big Ten titles, as well as an NIT and two NCAA championships. He took his team to yet another victory in the NCAA championships in 1987, wearing his trademark Bobby Knight red sweater and white collarand he also brought along his verbal tirades and technical fouls.


1940Born October 25 in Massillon, Ohio
1958Graduated from Orrville (OH) High School
1958Enters Ohio State, where he'll play basketball for three years
1960Wins NCAA Championship as member of Ohio State basketball team
1962Graduates from Ohio State with a B.S. in History and Government
1962Becomes assistant basketball coach at Cuyahoga Falls High School (in Ohio)
1963Takes position as assistant basketball coach at U.S. Military Academy at West Point
1965Becomes head basketball coach at U.S. Military Academy at West Point (youngest varsity coach in major college history)
1971Decides to leave Army coaching job with a record of 102-50
1971Begins tenure as head coach at Indiana University
1973Leads Indiana to its first Big 10 conference title (they will win 11 titles under Knight)
1973Indiana plays in first Final Four (by the time he is fired he will have coached Indiana in five Final Fours)
1976Upset over a few turnovers, grabs sophomore Jim Wisman by jersey and jerks him into his seat
1976Records 200th career coaching victory
1976Leads Indiana to an undefeated season and wins first of three NCAA Championships
1979Leads Hoosiers to victory in NIT Tournament Championship
1979Coaches Pan-Am Team to Gold Medal
1979Tried and convicted (in absentia) for hitting a Puerto Rican policeman at Pan Am practice. Sentenced to six months in jail, which he does not serve because he has already left country
1980Earns 300th career win
1981Wins second NCAA Championship at Indiana
1981While at Final Four in Philadelphia, shoves an LSU fan into a garbage can
1983Stands at midcourt and swears at Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke over what Knight calls "the worst officiating I have seen in 12 years"
1984Coaches U.S. Olympic team to gold medal
1984Becomes one of three coaches in history to win "Triple Crown" of coaching (NCAA, NIT and Olympic Gold Medal)
1985Allows reporter John Feinstein access to Indiana's program for '85-'86 season. Feinstein would write about what he saw in A Season on the Brink
1986Recieves technical foul in a game against Illinois, then kicks a megaphone and yells at Indiana cheerleaders for disupting a free throw attempt by Steve Alford
1987Puerto Rico drops charges on Knight and ceases attempts to extradite him
1987Wins third NCAA Championship at Indiana
1988In interview with Connie Chung, Knight says, "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." Knight claims that the quote was taken out of context
1989Gets 500th win in a victory over Northwestern in January
1989Becomes winningest coach in Big 10 history
1991Had asked not to be considered for his induction into Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, calling his rejection in 1987 "a slap in the face"
1992Gives a mock whipping to Hoosier Calbert Cheaney. Claims it wasn't racially motivated and apoligizes; this same year he bars a female AP reporter from the Indiana locker room
1993Wins 600th career game; wins 11th Big Ten regular season title. Ties for first among all Big Ten coaches
1994Head-butts a player while screaming at him on the bench. Claims it was unintentional
1995Fined $30,000 for an outburst at a post-game news conference
1997Earns 700th victory on March 5
1999Accidentally shoots hunting partner in the back and is cited for failing to report incident
2000Accused of grabbing freshman Indiana student by the arm in fall of '99. Knight yelled at him for "disrespecting him." The student had said, "What's up, Knight."
2000Fired from Indiana University in September
2001Named head coach at Texas Tech University on March 23
2001Compiles a 23-10 record at Texas Tech in his first season as coach

During his tenure with Indiana, which ended after the 2000 basketball season, Knight had one of the most impressive coaching careers, on paper, in the record books. He led the Hoosiers to 24 NCAA tournament appearances and, although they won the championship three times, they appeared in the Final Four five times. In almost thirty years, Knight won eleven Big Ten Championships, coached 11 Big Ten Most Valuable Players, 13 All-Americans, and he was named the national Coach of the Year four times (in 1975, 1976, 1987, and 1989).

Knight, who coached the 1984 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal, was honored by being named into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991, in spite of his request that they disregard his name on the ballot (he was irritated that he had been passed over in 1987). Additionally, Knight was one of only two coaches to win NCAA championshipsas a player and coach. When he was fired from Indiana in September of 2000, Bobby Knight had amassed a career record of 763 wins and 290 losses. And he is still adding to it by compiling wins at Texas Tech, where he is currently head coach.

Knight the Enigma

Knight's reputation was rather indifferent at the beginning of his career. While he was coaching for the Military Academy, the main pressure on him was that which he put on himself. When he made it to Indiana in 1971, however, he was for all intents and purposes where he wanted to bein the hotbed of college basketball. It was where he planned to stay for quite some time. But with the responsibility of a Big Ten team and the expectations of Indiana's fans, combined with Knight's perfectionism and his tendency to speak and act before he thought about the ramifications of his actions, Knight's brand of fameor infamysoon became the stuff of legend.

Beginning in 1976, Knight captured the eyes of America when he pulled guard Jim Wisman off the court by his jersey, much as an angry father would jerk aside a misbehaving son. As the nation watched, increased attention was bestowed upon Knight (also known as "The General"). Most parents, trusting that their kids were in good hands with their various sports after school, wondered how this man got away with it. Knight, in his defense, told Sport magazine, "When I grabbed Jimmy by the shirt on national t.v., the first person who said anything about it was Jimmy Wisman's mother. She said, 'If I had been there, I would have grabbed him too.'"

Pan Am Mishap

In spite of the great academic successes he had at Indiana (and nearly all of his players graduated, far above the national average) the press preferred to highlight the dramaticand occasionally violentinteractions between Knight on one hand and everyone else on the other. In 1979 at the Pan American Games, Knight, in a confrontation with a Puerto Rican police officer, punched the cop after Knight was ejected from a game on a technical foul. The Puerto Rican government then put out a warrant for Knight's arrest, but he could not be extradited from the U.S. In the late 1980s Puerto Rico recalled the warrant. Knight, quoted in Sports Illustrated at the time, said of the Puerto Ricans, "F'em, f'em all. The only thing they know how to do is grow bananas."

Awards and Accomplishments

1973Big Ten Coach of the Year
1975National Coach of the Year (unanimous choice); Big Ten Coach of the Year
1976National Coach of the Year honors by AP, UPI and Basketball Weekly ; Big Ten Coach of the Year
1980Big Ten Coach of the Year
1981Big Ten Coach of the Year
1987Named Naismith Coach of the Year
1989National Coach of the Year
1991Enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Indeed, Knight's list of notable mishaps seemed to get longer and longer, and as his team seemed to make earlier exits, the severity of actions grew in correlation with his team's failure to win in the NCAA tournament. He stuffed a fan from an opposing team (LSU) into a trash can. He told Connie Chung during an interview, "I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it," though he later said that Chung took the quotation completely out of context. He has told women, in general, "There's only two things you people are good for: having babies and frying bacon." He pretended to bullwhip his star player, who happened to be black. He tossed a chair across the court during a game, kicked his own son (a player for him at the time) in the leg, and head-butted a player on the sidelines in a game, later claiming that he slipped as he was approaching the bench.

In 1986 Knight, in an attempt to show the country that he was not as bad as he was made out to be, allowed reporter John Feinstein total access to the Hoosier locker room and practices. This was unprecedented for Knight, who typically closed his practices to the press and the public. When John Feinstein's tell-all book, A Season on the Brink, came out in 1987, Knight claimed Fienstein distorted the facts.

As the nineties drew to a close, Knight's position at Indiana grew tenuous in spite of his nearly three decades of success at the school. Though many people would have weathered any turbulence with The General at the helm (and many Indiana fans still remain loyal to Bobby Knight, regardless of the fact that he coaches a thousand miles away in Texas), his questionable actions seemed to grow in intensity. In 1999 he was accused of choking Indiana basketball player Neil Ried in a 1997 practice (the act was caught on videotape). The school investigated and issued Knight a warning, suspended him for three games, and fined him $30,000.

He was also issued what the University referred to as its "zero-tolerance" policy in the spring of 2000. In the media storm that erupted in the fall of that year, it seemed that the reign of Coach Knight would come to an end. But just how it would end, no one knew.

On September 7, 2000, Knight allegedly grabbed Indiana freshman Kent Harvey and screamed profanities at him. Harvey claimed that he'd only said, "Hey, what's up, Knight?" and then Knight proceeded to berate him for disrespecting his elders. The picture gets blurry, however, and the true story of what happenedwhether Knight used force or whether he merely held Harvey by the arm as he berated himare not known. Knight would not apologize, however.

Indiana University claimed this was the type of incident their zero-tolerance policy was meant to prevent. University officials declared Knight's behavior unacceptable, and fired their coach on September 10, 2000. The president of Indiana University, Miles Brand, said that no one incident broke the policy; rather, Knight's continued display of bad behavior was the cause of his dismissal.

In 2001, after six months away from college coaching (the first time he had been away from coaching in nearly four decades), Knight accepted the head coaching position with the Texas Tech Red Raiders, members of the Big 12 conference. In only two seasons he began turning around a program that was sinking and put the Knight pedigree on Texas basketball. Located in Lubbocka good distance from IndianaKnight still wears red (the Raiders colors), and his office happens to be on Indiana lane. It seems that he cannot escape his past.

In November of 2002 Knight filed a lawsuit against Indiana, claiming that the University owes him more than $2 million in lost income since they fired him. He still maintains that he was fired without just cause and that he never got a chance to defend himself properly.


Address: Coach Bob Knight, Texas Tech University, United Spirit Arena, Men's Basketball Office, 1701 Indiana Avenue, Lubbock, Texas 79409.

A Season on the Brink

Bobby Knight's 1985-86 NCAA season at Indiana is dramatized in this two-hour made-for-ESPN movie that first aired in the spring of 2002. In fact, it aired the night men's college basketball's "Selection Sunday" took place (when teams find out who will play in the tournament). Based on John Feinstein's in-depth and well-written book of the same name, A Season on the Brink is an adaptation that leaves much to be desired. Brian Dennehy stars as the red-sweatered Knightand though Dennehy is a pillar of stage and screen, and though his performance as Knight enraged at his players, or the media (or whoever else crossed his path) is far from hackneyedthe material with which cast and crew had to work turned Feinstien's book into a farce. "It is cartoonlike, more shriek than Shrek, more avalanche than Snow White," writes Stan Hochman in his review for Knight-Ridder Newspapers.


(With Bob Hammel) Knight: My Story. Thomas Dunne Books, 2002.



Alford, Steve and John Garrity. Playing for Knight: My Six Seasons With Coach Knight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Berger, Phil. Knight Fall: Bobby Knight, The Truth Behind America's Most Controversial Coach. Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2000.

"Bobby Knight." Contemporary Newsmakers 1985, (Issue Cumulation). Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1986.

Carpenter, Monte and Mike Towle. Quotable General. Towlehouse Publishers, 2001.

Feinstein, John. A Season on the Brink: A Year With Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers. New York: Pocket Books, 1987.

Hammel, Bob. Beyond the Brink With Indiana: 1987 NCAA Champions. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Isenhour, Jack. Same Knight, Different Channel: Basketball Legend Bob Knight at West Point and Today. Brassey's, 2003.

Knight, Bobby and Bob Hammel. Knight: My Story. Thomas Dunne Books, 2002.

Mellon, Joan. Bob Knight: His Own Man. Donald I. Fine, 1988.

Sulek, Robert Paul. Hoosier Honor: Bob Knight and Academic Success at Indiana University. Praeger Publishers, 1990.


Deitsch, Richard. "TV Talk." Sports Illustrated (March 18, 2002).

Hewitt, B. "Bobby Knight: Interview." Sport (February 1982).

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (March 5, 2002).

"The Rabbit Hunter." Sports Illustrated (January 10, 1994).


"Bobby Knight Sues Indiana University." CNN. (January 23, 2003).

Boehlert, Eric. "Why Bob Knight Should Bag It." Salon. (January 23, 2003).

Knight, Bobby. "Bobby Knight Basketball Clinic #1." Video. Katz Sports, 1983.

Shields, David. "Bob Knight, c'est moi." Salon. (January 23, 2003).

Sketch by Eric Lagergren