Good Knight To Bully Coach

By Desmond Connor
Updated: February 7, 2008

HARTFORD, Ct. — When it comes to legacy, some would say that a man’s good deeds will far outweigh the bad.

Believe that?

If you do, then you’ll buy all the warm and fuzzy talk that’s going on right now about Bob Knight, who resigned from his post as Texas Tech coach Monday afternoon.

So a career that included 902 wins, the most in men’s Division I history, by a man with a reputation as a tyrant has ended. A career in which he coached Indiana to three national titles — including the last undefeated men’s team in 1976 — but chucked a chair across the floor in anger during a game, was tossed and suspended. A career in which he won 11 Big Ten titles but grabbed a player by the throat during an IU practice. Yep, a career in which Knight popped a police officer before a Pan Am Games practice in 1979 but helped the U.S. team win a gold medal — and another in the Olympics in 1984 — is done. Make no mistake, some are glad he’s gone. And there are some who aren’t, many of whom made trips across the country to wherever he was to get X’s and O’s knowledge, which he was willing to share anytime, anywhere. The coaches are going to miss him and his contributions to the game greatly. Bob Knight, 67, has made many contributions to this game we love. And there’s no denying that he was a character-builder who was known for graduating his athletes. But he’s had just as many unbecoming accomplishments, the worst of all coming in 1992 with the mock whipping — with a bull whip — of Calbert Cheaney, a black player, during a practice for the NCAA Tournament, which incensed a lot of black leaders — and readers — something terrible. Of course Knight later denied any racial intentions. He said the players gave him the whip. We could go on and on and on about the things Bob Knight has done to infuriate people, but you have to talk about the good, too. You have to. Problem is, it’s almost all you’re hearing about, ad nauseam, as he hangs it up. Coaches from across the country are dropping sound bites all over the place, practically sainting Knight. “Those [controversies] I don’t even want to have to explain,” said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who considers Knight a good friend and remembers as a high school coach, taking a team from Dedham, Mass., to West Point, N.Y., to attend one of his clinics. “But what I should explain is all the great things he did, because in the final analysis, no one was hurt by the chair. No kid was physically injured by Bob Knight. Verbally, their ears probably hurt from things they never quite heard before, but he was a unique character in American sports, and I mean a character in a real good sense of the word. He had character and he has great values. “He’s complex. I’d be the first one to admit that, but he’s caring, cares about the sport, a true love for the sport. That’s why I think he walked away. I just think he had been on the mountain top so high, gold medals, national championships and undefeated seasons. And at this point, you don’t know if those things are going to happen anymore.” Calhoun detailed a fabulous story of being in a hotel room during the Final Four in Dallas in 1986 as the coach at Northeastern, while mulling an offer from Northwestern of the Big Ten. Calhoun said Knight told him not to take the job. “He knocks on my door and he and Pete Newell come into my room and he says, ‘Coach, you’re not taking the Northwestern job; and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he gave me about an hour’s worth of reasons why I should wait for a Big East job and talked me out of it, no question, because I was just about ready to take it. It was triple the money I would have been making. He just gave me all the reasons why it couldn’t happen there and why I should wait for a Big East coach’s job. Three weeks later, [UConn's] John Toner called and the rest is history. But he did those kinds of things for the coaches, people he cared about.” For Knight, the end came Monday, but the beginning of the end might have come in March 2000, when IU started investigating him over former player Neil Reed’s allegations that the coach choked him in 1997. Of course, two months after the investigation began, he was suspended for three games, barred from having physical contact with a player and a school employee by university president Myles Brand for a pattern of inappropriate behavior. Brand had slapped a zero-tolerance policy on Knight, and he violated it and was fired in September 2000. Now, there have been Knight and Calhoun comparisons in terms of their abrasiveness, berating refs and getting on players. But Calhoun has always been several notches below Knight on that totem pole. Think about the things Knight has done, many of which have made national headlines, compared to Calhoun. Are there any real comparisons? “Am I as demanding as Bob to my players? Probably. I don’t have any problem saying that, quite frankly,” Calhoun said. “Do I care about my kids? Yeah. I think I care about kids greatly, and I’ve always felt he cared about his kids. Beyond that, I think we’re two different people. “But are there parts of Bob Knight that would remind you of Jim Calhoun? Sure. We both love the game. We both do the best we possibly can. We both demand a great deal of our kids. We both expect them … we hold them to a higher standard basketball-wise and otherwise. And that’s where I think the similarities, somewhat end. We’re two different people.” Calhoun’s legacy will certainly outline his tough love. And it will certainly highlight an illustrious basketball career that includes building the UConn program from almost nothing into a national power. Those things are going to top the list. With Knight, will the good outweigh the bad? Only time will tell.